Monday, March 08, 2004

Music is coming out of my purse. It's loud for purse music. The treble is high--pure and piercing like your chest voice on the high notes. I've been thinking about church. Jeff and I were born to parents with differing views on the Lord. It occurred to me while watching "Rock Star Daughters," a new VH1 docu-wonder (I didn't really watch it; background only, assuredly), that my dad is a rock star dad. He totally is. It all makes sense to me--what I've been trying to make sense of. He's rock-n-roll like the Stones, graying with a cigarette slanting down from his mouth as often as he can manage it.

So my dad grew up rigid Presbyterian, and my mom grew up higher-order Methodist, the sophisticated Christians who deemed themselves thinkers, progressive for their tolerance on biblical and moral matters, and ever the appreciaters of classical music, traditional hymns accompanied by Bach organ, of course, but often by a striking mezzo soprano or a string quartet. I don't know much about the way my dad grew up in the church except for his defiance of it. I've heard some story about him forbidding my mother to baptize us, to raise us like he'd been raised. Dad's a contrary to polite society, to the norms of society. So, indeed, he did not scurry us off to Sunday school. I'm not sure what my mom's story was in those days. I know we went to a Presbyterian church in Denton when we were toddlers, not for very long though. We always skipped stones, from church to church, through the growing up years. After Denton it was onto University United Methodist on the University of Texas campus. That's where the beautiful mezzo soprano came into our lives. She had thick chocolate hair full of texture like her voice. It fell back away from her forehead, highlighting her burgundy lips and sculpted cheek bones. The mezzo soprano held herself in the most serene way, allowing the tones to come from her center.

We stayed at that church for a few years, mostly because of her. I sang in the youth choir and looked forward to the juice and cookies in the courtyard after the service each Sunday. Jeff, well, he looked forward to music coming out of his earphones while sitting in the balcony by himself. Defiant.

Mom grew tired of fighting her children. Whines and even stronger protests coming from her adolescent son, we never went as a family again. I think it was my sophomore year in high school when I knew something was missing for me. I didn't fit in. I didn't know myself, but knew that I could, if only I were exposed to the right elements, friends maybe. Maybe it was in music or places, food, texts, circles of discussion. It was there, but I was far away from it. I didn't know myself like I wanted to. I wasn't satisfied. I wanted to go to church again. Just me and mom. We tried out five or six, an Episcopal that my mother was high on. The sanctuary was nice, the exterior architecture too. I wanted a pretty place, aesthetic beauty to cradle me. I could easily dismiss an option before ever reading a program or hearing a sermon just by doing a drive-by. Mom and I agreed. We both wanted what was familiar, and we wanted a preacher man or woman who would make us consider life, the world around us, and the people we encounter. I was looking for ritual to keep me whole. What we inherit feeds that element within ourselves, whether it's defiance or music, or sophistication, or simple tradition.

My grandparents were members of the First United Methodist Church of Richardson, Texas for years. I remember the little offering envelopes that hung before you as you sat in the pews, and the round sanctuary, like a hexagon. My grandmother was an alto with a large vibrato who sang out in church. She liked to hum the hymns at home or in the car. I love my church inheritance more than my defiant inheritance, but I take both, sometimes with a bitter pill when the defiance alienates us from one another.

By the way . . . in those years, my mom very much resembled the mezzo soprano.

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