{August 19, 2012}   Missionaires and Flying Nuns

When I was in the fourth grade, I wanted to be a missionary. I was in a group called the “Missionaires” started by a woman at Paw Paw’s church. We met on Saturdays once a month. After everyone arrived, Daphne would start a lesson about an area of the world that needed help from our church. She had a globe where she would show us where the country was and how far away it was from us. The country was usually in Africa. Our mission was to help missionaries who lived there. The missionaries needed supplies for people in villages who had no food, water or medicine. Life was harsh there. Children wore rags and were thin from starvation. They lived in small huts that had no electricity. Daphne would lay magazines on the table with pictures of these villages. We would cut out pictures and paste them on posters to put up at the church. The pictures were supposed to remind people about how hard life was in far away places. When people saw the pictures, they would appreciate what they had.

Daphne helped us come up with ideas to raise money for missionaries. We sold Krispy Kreme Donuts in parking lots, sold cookies door-to-door and had newspaper collection drives. When we got enough money together, we would send it to the missionaries. We wrote letters to them and sometimes we got letters back. They would tell us how much they appreciated  the help we gave them. We would tear off the stamps from the envelopes and paste them into a notebook. I loved being a Missionaire. I liked Daphne, too. She never treated us like we were just kids.

I wanted to be a nun, but we weren’t Catholic. I watched The Flying Nun on TV every week about Sister Bertrille, who could fly when a breeze caught her habit. She looked like a sea gull with large white wings. Sister Betrille was a city girl from New York who went to the convent after being arrested for protesting. A playboy, Carlos Ramirez, always helped her when she got in trouble. I think they would have gotten married if Sister Bertrille wasn’t a nun.

I wore a gold cross necklace and carried a white leather bible to school. I wore my hair in a bun and buttoned up my blouse all the way. Friday nights I cleaned my room, tossing out my worldly clutter. I dumped out junk drawers and straightened my closet. I arranged my shoes and scrubbed the walls with Comet until paint started wearing off.

My parents didn’t understand. They didn’t go to church. The only time when Mother made us go was on Easter.  The whole purpose of going then was to wear new clothes and show off Mother’s Easter hat. After church, we would eat at Maw Maw’s house with aunts, uncles and cousins. The table was filled with dishes of green beans, fried okra, potato salad, heavenly hash, and red velvet cake. After second helpings, my aunt would play the piano and we would sing hymns. Paw Paw was the choir director so he picked out the songs.

One night, Mother and Daddy said they had to talk to me. Mother said that she didn’t want me to go to Paw Paw’s church anymore. She said that being in the Missionaires was warping me. She said that Paw Paw’s church was making me too emotional. She said that if I became a missionary, I could be captured by cannibals. She knew of missionaries being roped together in a cauldron, held against their will by savages who wore masks and carried poison spears. She said I could get a disease in Africa. She would not let me be a missionary. Daddy said that I should be a business woman, not a missionary. He said that women can go to work and make as much money as a man. He said he wanted me to stop worrying about poor people in other countries. He said I should think about making money and being successful in this country.

I never went back to Paw Paw’s church. I stopped going to the Missionaires, too. For the rest of the fourth grade, I spent Saturdays at the skating rink. Instead of trying to perfect my soul, I worked on perfecting my backward skate.


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