I remember two churches from my early childhood: Calvary Baptist Church in Alcoa, Tennessee, and a little country church I attended a few times with my grandmother – one room, corners curtained off for Sunday School, outhouses, and probably also Baptist. I think I may have sometimes gone to Calvary with my older siblings, and with Grandma’s neighbor Mrs. Farmer, who was my Sunday School teacher, and later walking the one block by myself. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, we moved to California when I was seven; that doesn’t relate to today’s story.
I don’t remember a lot about church from when I was that young. I remember the coloring pages we were given in Sunday School, drawn in color instead of black so we would know which crayons to use. I suppose it didn’t exactly encourage creativity and individuality! I vaguely remember reciting scriptures and singing in programs in front of the congregation. I don’t really remember what I was taught or what I heard in the preacher’s sermons, although I do remember having a bad dream that Jesus was coming to get me. I’m pretty sure that really isn’t meant to be scary, but it may be a reflection of 1960s fundamentalist Southern Baptist dogma!
I also don’t remember how old I was when I got my first dog, but she was my best friend. Blackie was a little black dog with floppy ears. My Uncle George, for some reason, decided to crop her tail. (Uncle George was a mean drunk.) I sure loved that little dog! I can remember wandering through the woods with her after Grandma moved to Rockwood. It was an incident when we all lived in Alcoa, though, that informed my understanding of what it meant to be Christian.
I think I was four. One evening, my mother and I walked to the local Kroger. Blackie followed us, and as we were walking home in the dark she darted into the street and was hit by a car. I was inconsolable. A car stopped, driven by a young man in a suit; his wife was in the car. He asked if it was my dog that was hit by the car, and my mother said “yes.” He told us that he didn’t think she was dead; he had seen her run into the ditch. He climbed down into the ditch – wearing his good suit – to rescue my injured dog, and then climbed up with her carefully cradled in his arms and showed me how to hold her so I could carry her home.
On the way home, as I cradled my precious dog in my arms, my mother commented that she had seen a Bible on the dashboard of the car; she thought the young couple were probably on their way to church. Blackie survived. I learned that Christians were people who cared more about little girls and injured dogs than about their Sunday clothes.