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After Work: Huh?

...I’ve never had a grasp of theological debate, and I especially lacked the understanding of nuances of language at age five. I was very literal...

Dona Gibbs says that though she can now quote scripture like any Southerner of her generation, she makes sure not to quote it to the young. "You never know what notions they’ll get.''

To read more of Dona's perceptive and entertaining columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

When my hair threatened to clog the drain and an energetic brushing yielded enough to begin a sweater, I thought upon that Biblical quote from Matthew: “ But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

Biblical quotes don’t leap from my lips under ordinary circumstances, but I am Southern and I appreciate good stories and the delicious roll of cadences. Now I understand that the verse was meant to be comforting. It was much, much different to a pre-schooler.

I’ve never had a grasp of theological debate, and I especially lacked the understanding of nuances of language at age five. I was very literal.

The phrase about “hairs on your head’ got all jumbled in my mind with “your days are numbered.”

Why, I asked my earnest Sunday school teacher, couldn’t we know how long we’d live? We could simply count our strands of hair. My take on the reference was “your days are numbered as are the hairs of your head.”

She probably sighed and delicately blew her nose on the lace-edged handkerchief she kept tucked up her sleeve.

“It doesn’t work that way. You never know when it’s your time.”

Ah, suspense. Incomprehension. A dash of disbelief. Combine that with a morbid curiosity and that makes for a little girl that tried the soul of even the most dedicated of Southern lady Sunday school teachers, especially in the rural South of the 1950s.

That proved to be the first of many misunderstandings between our neighborhood Southern Baptist Church and me. My next questions had to do with the children’s hymn “Come into to my Heart”. I found what I took to be the message an invasive and truly terrifying prospect, whether Jesus was there or not.

The next year or so I bumbled along-- misunderstanding. It was all stumble and annoying questions.

No one understood how literal I was.

My parents were the first to catch on.

It came about through “The Arthur Godfrey” radio program. Arthur Godfrey was a popular radio and television personality in the US during the fifties. He referred to himself as “the old redhead.” His on-air persona was folksy and warm. His morning talk show program featured a number of different acts, all wholesome. Godfrey slipped in an occasional double entendre, which was lost on me. My mother giggled at her ironing board and I wondered what was so funny.

Since this was radio, the performers were usually singers, such as the “lovely Carmel Quinn” from Ireland. Godfrey, as I recall, seemed fascinated that when asked, Carmel Quinn gave her weight in stones or “stone.”

“Heh, heh, “ he’d always reply as if he had put an astute finger on the difference between us and the “folks over there”.

Well, Godfrey got annoyed with one of his performers, a crooner Julius LaRosa. Maybe Godfrey thought LaRosa was upstaging him and the corny plunk, plunk of Godfrey’s uke. Years later, I read that people behind the scenes said Godfrey was jealous. More fan mail was pouring in for LaRosa than The Old Red Head.

He fired LaRosa, citing that he lacked humility.

Now “ humility” was something I had learned about. It wasn’t first hand experience, mind you -- it was from Sunday school.

The Sunday school teacher had related the story of Jesus’ foot washing of the faithful to teach “humility.”

It wasn’t much of a leap when hearing the word “humility” for me to think that Godfrey had demanded LaRosa wash his feet. And that LaRosa refused.

I expounded upon this to my parents at dinner.

Rather than chuckle, they looked at each other in alarm.

I had got religion –a wrong-headed kid religion, one that was giving me a skewed outlook.

They withdrew me from Sunday school and I happily spent Sundays exploring the pastures with my faithful rat terrier.

Oh, I can still quote scripture like any Southerner of my generation, but I make sure not to quote it to the young. You never know what notions they’ll get.

And as for the hairs around the drain, I smile and don’t think of subtracting the number of hairs from my “allotted” days. I’ve finally grasped simile, metaphor and even hyperbole.



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