I mentioned in a blog post recently that my older son once went to a summer camp in Pennsylvania. Sharing this made me recall some of the other details of the trip – details that are just too funny not to share. It was during this trip that I experienced a time in my life in which I didn’t know whether to feel stupid or silly.
Once we knew that my older son had qualified to attend the camp, I decided that my younger son and I would make it a week long field trip. I just figured he had to come anyway since I had no one to watch him while I was gone, and I certainly wasn’t driving there to drop my older son off and then back a week later to pick him up. So I figured that if I was going to Pennsylvania, home of the Liberty Bell, Gettysburg National Battlefield, and Valley Forge, this was going to be a homeschool trip if ever there was one.
So I did what every homeschool teacher worth her weight in salt would do, I began my research. I decided early on which places I wanted to take my son to see (well, I wanted to see them, too). Then I decided that I was such a great tour guide that we should invite a friend of my younger son’s along for me to teach. Wasn’t that nice of me? Summer school.
When recruiting the friend, we ended up recruiting his whole family. I took 6 people to Pennsylvania.
Let me preface this story with some information.
First, we had made arrangements to stay with the family members of some of our local friends. This family was Mennonite. They were incredibly gracious and we loved staying with them. They gave new heights to the word ‘hospitality.’
Second, I love to get a good pedicure. I think they are wonderful and I wish that I had discovered pedis 20 years ago. When I have one done, I also like to get some nail art on my big toes (another story for another day). At the time of the trip, I had just had a pedi and gotten fireworks painted on my toes in honor of Independence Day. They were bright red with blue and gold painted like exploding fireworks. Positively beautiful!
Third, I love to get my hair done. It’s colored and highlighted. It’s also short.
Fourth, I mean no disrespect to the Mennonite people as I tell this story. Indeed, we not only stayed with Mennonites during our visit, but we met many members of the Mennonite faith during our visit. These were lovely people with a faith in God that rivaled my own. I only share this story to tell of my sanguine ways and the grief and humor that they can cause.
Well, since I believe in a solid education for my children, I was determined that we were going to a Mennonite church service while there. I called this “A Study in Comparative Religions.” That way I could convince both my friends and my son that they also had to come.
So we headed with our host family to church on Sunday, but we drove the wrong vehicle. We had about a 20 minute drive to their church. Along the way we kept seeing other Mennonite churches and as soon as we would approach one, I noticed that all the cars in the parking lots along the way were dark blue, black, or dark green. I drove a white SUV. The kids were calling it the “Mafia Church” until we finally pulled up into the one our host family took us to. My heart sunk as I looked out at all the dark blue, black, and dark green cars. All of them. No beige, no silver. Just dark blue, black, and dark green.
That’s okay. We just figured we would blend in with everyone inside. Right?
In my church we wear blue jeans if we want to, so our goal that morning as we were getting dressed was to be conservative. My idea of conservative was a black polyester, ¾ length skirt and a white cotton blouse. My friend’s idea was about the same. My son didn’t have dress pants and wouldn’t wear them if he did. He wore blue jeans and a nice shirt.
When we walked in the door, we saw quickly that we had worn the wrong clothes. Yes, you read that correctly. The men wear black slacks and white shirts, all of them. The women wear a pastel-colored dress in pretty prints. All the men and boys over about 10 years old sat on the right side of the church while all the women and younger children sat on the left. So we sat on the women’s side in our men’s colored clothes. That just made it easier for us, and them, to realize that we had worn the wrong thing.
But it was okay, I thought, because we were a little late so we could sit in the back row. Nobody would see us. Right?
We quickly learned that you’re not invisible on the back row in a Mennonite church. My family and I had always sat on the back row when I was a little girl so no one else would see us. It doesn’t work that way in a Mennonite church, though, because they are about to turn around. Get ready for it, it’s coming.
When we walked in, the pews were already filled, so a kind gentleman pulled out some folding chairs for us. They were placed behind the last pew and we quickly joined in with some of the most beautiful hymn singing that I’ve ever heard, a full, rich, lovely 4-part harmony. Then they prayed. And there went our chances of remaining invisible.
When the congregants went to pray they slid out of their pews, turned around to face the back of the room, and knelt down – all in one motion I might add. I can’t do this with the precision that the women in the congregation, or even their children, did. So the women and children saw me (and my friend) stand up, set our Bibles down in our chairs, turn around, and kneel. By the time she and I completed the process, the church body had already gotten through, “Dear Heavenly Father, we thank you for the day…” I truly felt eyes on the back of my head. It must have been some of the young children with their eyes open.
Our kneeling was about as bad as our rising after the prayer. I hate to use the word “unfortunately” in this circumstance, but, unfortunately, they pray a lot during the service. And each time, we had to stop, drop, and roll to face the rear of the church. I never did master this skill.
I noticed after 2 or 3 prayers, some of the little girls were pointing and whispering to their moms while the pastor was speaking. Then they’d turn around and point to me. I think it must have been my bright blond hair. But it may have been the lack of a bonnet on it that was so offensive. Of course, it could have been that I was wearing a white blouse, not a pastel dress. Maybe it was the earrings I was wearing, too. It’s a good thing I know what children are thinking most of the time and I have a sense of humor when it comes to children.
It’s ok. We were nearing the end of the service so it would get better. Right?
This is when the worst, and funniest, part happened. After a brief visit with the pastor and a couple of other women, our families walked outside where the visiting continued. Now you know that I had worn the wrong clothes, but I had also worn the wrong shoes. Since it was summer, and very hot, I was wearing sandals – black, strappy, with a two inch heel. They looked great, but they didn’t hide my bright red toenails with fireworks painted on them. If I hadn’t given them enough to talk about yet with my hair, lack of bonnet, and clothes, I certainly did with my toenails.
I laugh every time I recall this memory. My friend and I were standing together reviewing the message and the lovely singing, when I noticed two little girls standing about 8 feet away looking at my toes. Then one of the little girls ran off. She came back a few seconds later with two other friends. They all began staring at my toes and trying to discreetly point at them. Then one of those girls ran off and brought back some other little girls, the average age of which must have been about 8-years-old. They would stare, point, and giggle, then run off to collect more friends to stare, point, and giggle. I thought this was funny so I shifted my legs and directed my toes toward them so they could see them better.
As I thought about it later, it probably wasn’t funny to their mothers. Those women were most likely doing damage control over my hair and toenails until late in the evening. Just where is that verse about bonnet-less harlots with colored hair and painted toenails?