He was 97 and I do not remember ever meeting him. He is ‘survived’ by my aunt Malvina (Ray) 99, who I have not seen for sixty years, although I have driven by their house (six hours from here) at least twenty times in the intervening years, and despite invitations to call in, I have gone right by. But I will be going to the funeral tomorrow.
When I was about fourteen, Dad took us to see a Hollywood Musical. Perhaps it was Oklahoma. Dad loved music. He knew it was forbidden to enter a cinema, but maybe because in earlier times his mother had taken him to the ‘flicks’ and to circuses, the church’s ban was not strong enough to stop him. However, we were observed and reported.
Soon after, Dad’s favourite sister Clarissa died from complications following brain surgery.
The family cast about for a reason God had taken her from them and decided her death must have been in retribution for my father’s sins. You might think; “What rubbish!”, but they had a great precedent and you don’t need to be in a wacky far out sect to believe in God’s insistence on human sacrifice. All Christians do.
We were imbued from birth with the myth that “Jesus died for our sins”, so any condemnation of the Order of (Exclusive) Plymouth Brethren and the ever tightening restrictions placed on its members by its (American) leader, their Man Of God (MOG), is to ignore the obvious.
So, we were ‘withdrawn from’. That means being completely cut off from family and friends. All an EB’s friends were expected to come from within the faith, so overnight we were supposed to have been isolated. Luckily, Mum’s family ignored the ban.
On the next Sunday, several car loads of white faced men in black suits arrived at our home demanding that Mum take the Lambs (we children) and leave with them right away, so we would be saved God’s retribution for my father’s sins. Mum’s crying brought Dad running. She wailed her distress and Dad (bless him) picked up a lump of wood and told the rapidly retreating Brethren to vamoose before he cracked their skulls!
Dad loved Mum more than he loved his church and for that was made to suffer the full force of God’s anger. For Dad it was a death sentence. He suffered terribly from that guilt and all the other sins he imagined he must have committed for God to condemn him so cruelly. He died prematurely at 62. Mum suffered too. She lived on without the love of her life for another lonely 35 years. As the Jesuits say, “Give me a child until he is seven…”
So, if I had visited my aunt at her home I would have been offered a cup of tea and a biscuit despite my status as a non-believer. But I knew I would have to say; “Thanks Aunt, but where are your tea and biscuits?” She would have then gleefully delivered God’s word.
You see, one of the MOG’s directives is that no member is to share food or drink with a non member. At the Rapture, when they ‘ascend unto Heaven’, God has warned that he can’t be bothered separating the ‘Wheat from the Tares’. They are terrified that God will throw the whole contaminated mess of the Blessed and Sinners into his ‘fire and brimstone’ landfill.
I would have sat there, not touching one drop or one crumb of her afternoon tea, while she politely asked after my family and what I had been doing. She would have listened while I confessed two divorces and recounted my life as a musician, playing the Devil’s Music (well enough to have hit the top of the professional tree for my ‘fifteen minutes of fame’) or I would have let fly with my condemnation of the self righteous and cruel bastardry they had meted out to my dad and our family.
Frankly I would not have been able to contain my indignation. I would have said something hurtful to that old woman who was more victim than oppressor. So I drove by her street, content to remember the funny and irreverent young woman she had been before she became totally deluded.
Tomorrow we are not permitted to enter the church for the substantive part of the funeral service, but the Blessed have deigned to allow us lesser family members to attend the ‘graveside service’. In the front row will be the devout, the adults glancing at us with pity. Some will condescend to mumble a few platitudes before escaping the dangers of contamination. Their little ones will regard us with curiosity but the lambs will be carefully shepherded to maintain a healthy distance from sources of infection. So why am I going?
There are nineteen first cousins from my dad’s family, all married with offspring. At the last count, over half have been ‘withdrawn from’ so I will be there to support the pariahs, the escapees, the eccentric real people I love dearly and am proud to call family. Then afterwards, I will join them for a sinful drink to celebrate Us, catch up with family news and have a laugh in the non-judgmental ambience of a pub of our choice.