My dad was a minister. Yeah. I’m a Preacher’s Kid (or a Theologian’s Offspring if you want to be all snooty.) It explains a lot about me, doesn’t it?
When I was little, I remember asking my mom, “Why does Dad dress up on Sunday and pretend to be Jesus?” I couldn’t figure out why all these people came to see him play dress-up and imagination every week, especially since I thought he wasn’t very good at it and was pretty boring. When she explained to me what he was really doing, I was relieved to know that my dad was not in fact insane.
It’s a strange life sometimes having a minister for a dad. Why is it that the kids of a doctor, a lawyer or a plumber are never expected to know everything about their parent’s trade? Yet having a dad who was a minister, other kids would turn to me and ask me questions about the Bible and religion. Seriously. I never thought to ask them if something looked infected, how to sue someone or how to install a faucet. Yet somehow by birth I was omniscient about God? Adults often expected me to be extra well-behaved because, well…God was watching me more closely or something. I think I was better behaved because I always got “the look” from my mom if I got restless in church and she would cover my hands with hers in my lap. I knew there would be trouble later if I didn’t knock it off. I think it was the other adults who were watching me more closely and Mom knew it.
When I was in middle school, I was talking with a new friend and she refused to believe me that my dad was a minister. “But you don’t wear white all the time.” Uhh, okay. I think that was when I started to wear black a lot and started cursing more. It’s all her fault.
I vividly remember when I learned about death. I was about 4 or 5 at the time and some days I would go to church with my dad while he worked. Lots of times I would go and hang out with his secretary and she would put me to “work” stapling things or using the guillotine-like paper cutter (probably not a wise choice, but we didn’t wear bike helmets back then either, so…) Other times she’d have me fold bulletins for Sunday. I always loved the heady smell of the mimeograph as the pages ker-chunked out into the tray.
When Mrs. Biertzer had enough of me and my dad was busy, I would have free run of the church. I played in the nursery, zig zagged through the pews and ran laps up and down the aisle. Sometimes I played Sunday school teacher or pretended to pass the offering plate.
One day I was in the sanctuary and up in front was an elderly lady sleeping in a fancy box that was half open. I stood in front of it for awhile, admiring the satin lining and pillow, how neatly she slept with her hands clasped on her chest, and how pretty she looked with her hair nicely curled and make up done up. I thought about waking her, but I was afraid I’d startle her and make her scream like my mom did when I went woke her up in the middle of the night. (It always scared the crap out of me and made me think twice about waking her.)
After I decided to let the lady sleep there in the front of the church, I went downstairs to the kitchen where the Ladies Aid was busily preparing the meal for after the funeral. I casually told them about the lady sleeping in the box upstairs. All activity abruptly stopped, pearls were clutched and immediately a ham sandwich and a cookie were shoved in front of me to distract me so I wouldn’t ask questions. I was then quickly shuffled off to go find my dad.
I found him in his office and said, “Dad? There’s a lady sleeping in a box in the front of the church. I went downstairs to ask the ladies about it and they acted all weird when I told them about it.”
He calmly and matter-of-factly answered, “She’s dead.”
“Dead dead?” I asked. “Oh.”
He then went on to tell me about the funeral they were going to have for her that afternoon and answered my questions. As I look back on this, I give my dad a lot of credit for being honest with me and giving me a straight-forward answer instead of trying to spare my questions and avoiding my fear. If he didn’t answer the way he did, I probably would have been scared. I need to remember this more when my kids ask me those tough questions.
I guess I’m thinking about my dad a lot lately because this week will be the two year anniversary of his death. I miss my favorite feeling in the world of how it felt when he enveloped me in a big hug after church as he shook hands with the congregants. He would still be wearing his robe, the one with with the big sleeves and velvet stole with gold crosses embroidered on it. It was pure heaven and all was right in the world in those moments. Life wasn’t scary and I was the most special girl in the world. Now his robe is tucked away in its carrying case up in my closet. Maybe I’ll get the courage to get it out this week and let the kids admire it with me while we share some good memories of him.