In the deep recesses of my mind, tucked in a well-protected crevasse is Heartland. Memories of my boyhood reside there. It is a place where a boy’s picturesque view of his world makes time stand still. I do not often go there, but when I do a warm memory always welcomes me. Let’s go there now. A memory of my boyhood is waiting for us.
“Hold my hand,” Mom says. As we start descending the steep stairway to the musty basement of the Methodist Church. Holding my hand, a plate of fresh baked cornbread balancing on her other hand, Mom deftly navigates each step despite wearing her highest heels. Her floral dress celebrates the peony blooms that punctuate our little town on this sunny day in June.
It is a first Friday. Women’s Circle meets this day each month. Mom, by virtue of marriage to the church’s pastor, must attend.
“Hurry up. We mustn’t be late!” Mom says as we reach the last step. Scooting down the hallway, fellowship hall in sight, she reminds me of the unspoken, but strictly enforced rule about meetings of the church ladies. They wait until Mom arrives. A rule, that with ten minutes to spare, we do not invoke this morning.
At precisely eleven o-clock, Mildred, the chief church lady stands. She says, “Bow your heads, let’s pray.” She then proceeds to lay a blessing for everybody and everything on the 37 women and 9 children present. Prayer done, the ladies line up for lunch. Bertha, with blue hair and a gingham dress to match, begins gathering us children together.
Now, I may be only five-years old and have yet to experience many meetings, but I do have eyes. As I look around, the mannerisms of the ladies—a whisper here, a chat there, a few hugs, and some teary eyes—reveal that this is not a meeting in the usual sense of the word. Rather, it is a much-needed respite from the day-to-day toils of the small town life. Each weekday morning their husbands head off to work. They remain home, caring for children and family, preparing meals, tending gardens, and minding the house. Some make clothes and quilts. A few work jobs outside the home like the men do.
You need not be an adult to see the Circle’s highly evolved nature. What began, as a bible study group—with periodic projects—is now a convenient place for women to support each other, exchange gossip, and break bread. The real business of the circle is women making other women’s business their business.
Children, like me, are a big part of the women’s business and a reason they need support. To enable women with young children to attend meetings, older women volunteer to care for the children. This day, Bertha is up. In a room near the Fellowship Hall, Bertha enthusiastically teaches us about Zacchaeus, how to play Button-Button, and sing Jacob’s Ladder. We, like our mothers and their compatriots, have a grand time.
Or so I thought.
Later, during dinner, Mom tells Dad about a comment that a woman at the meeting had made to her. Then she tells how another woman had made a similar comment at the meeting last month, as had yet another woman at the meeting before that one. The thrice repeated-comments pertain to me, “I’m so sorry about Mark Edward” (Dad and I have the same name so that is what the church ladies call me). With furrowed brow, Dad says, “Come to think of it, several people have said that to me too.”
Unable to discern the comments’ meaning, to bed I go. Leaving Dad and Mom to solve the problem. Next morning, sitting at the kitchen table, digging through a bowl of cheerios, I wonder why everyone is sorry.
My wondering stops suddenly when Dad rushes in. Just back from the café on the square where he shared coffee with some men, Dad says, “Mystery solved.” Then tells Mom, Pamela, and I that people feel sorry for he and Mom, and do so because they believe I am slow for my age…emotionally, socially, physically, and intellectually inept.
Mom smiles. Dad laughs. Both talk about how my height—taller than boys two years older than me—might lead people who see me with older, same height boys to conclude I am slow and clumsy.
Mom, being my mom, knows there is nothing slow about me. The gleam in her eyes says she looks forward to the many accomplishments of her big boy and to future encounters with the church ladies. The makings of a poignant sermon are percolating in Dad’s head.
As for me, in my Heartland, and in my long journey of joy and adversity, my family knows me best. Slow or tall, their unconditional love lights the path and charts the course for Mark Edward, and that feels perfect.
Note: This is the second post in the Heartland Series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.