Thursday, July 4, 2013

the shirt.

My father had a shirt, a shirt that he would wear every fourth of July.  It was made of a thick heavy material, scratchy almost, but made to last.  One of the brethren in our Southern Baptist church had the same shirt, and like my father, he would wear it every fourth, or at least whatever Sunday fell closest to it.  And we would call them twins on that day, each with the exact same shirt, singing in their deep baritones the familiar "I'll Fly Away" and "On the Old Rugged Cross" hymns.

My sister and I would sit on the hard, wooden pews bickering and poking at each other through what felt like the ten hours of sermons and singing on those hot July Sundays.  It was never the pastor or the many mentions of hell fire and brimstone that scared my sister and I into good behavior, but the looks shot from my mother and father sitting in the choir above and in front of us, filling me with such an immense amount of guilt and shame.

I remember looking up at the ceiling of that church, imagining it to be the ark, or the belly of Jonah's whale, massive, gleaming beams of wood, like tightly woven ribs, a seamless structure keeping the water out.  The deep and rich cherry colors seemed hundreds of feet above my six-year-old head.  I felt safe there, bored sometimes, yes, but every time I looked up, I felt secure in that place.  I felt sure that there would be mashed potatoes, chicken, okra and pecan pie after church that holiday.  I knew that we would all sit around a fire later, my older cousins playing with bottle rockets and my grandfather and father's faces every so often lit up, glowing orange with each drag on their cigarette.  I counted on these things, that predictability, that warm tight blanket of family and tradition and church and starched shirts.

The shirt may still exist, somewhere in the back of my mother's closet.  I'm sure it has thinned, faded and might have even been thrown away.  However, there are some things, no matter how much time has passed, how far we may move away, that we cannot forget.  Feelings of home and security and tradition and love that will stay with us forever.  It might feel thin, weathered and tucked deep in the dark of our past, but it hangs heavy with the memories of home that it carries.

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