Grandma was a Christian Scientist. Nana too, but she didn’t always go to church. When I was really young, I wasn’t expected to participate in any sort of religious service, but I was taken to church and stuck in a room with a bunch of Play-Doh eating kids until one day I found myself sitting at a table with a hymnal, a bible, and a copy of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. Sometimes, we got a ride to church, but most of the time we rode the bus which stopped a couple blocks away. We would walk the last two blocks most of the time instead of transferring to another bus. I remember a drug store near the bus stop where we would kill time after the service. They had a few toys in the window and I was quite fond of a wind-up monkey that crashed cymbals together and made a tremendous racket. I ended up taking him home with me eventually, but he disappeared after awhile. He must have given up music and returned to the jungle.
There was a little park across the street from the church where I liked to play, but I had to be careful not to damage my Sunday suit. From the park, I could see the church goers gather into little groups and talk about the service held in the main hall. Above the door to the church there were three words that I knew how to read and understood to be the truth, “God Is Love”. Everything else, except a few selections from the hymnal and some of the more poetic scriptures were of little interest to me. Once in awhile, we would get a speaker who could turn a Bible story into an exciting adventure story, but it was rare.
I had a church buddy named Eddie and each Sunday we tried to fill our pockets with interesting items for our own private show and tell. It could be anything from cat’s eye marbles and clearies to bubblegum cards. I think I might have gotten in trouble once for bringing a loaded water pistol. Evidently, you’re supposed to leave your weapons at the door and not shoot at people during the verse of “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
There were quite a few school yard and neighborhood debates regarding the proper way to recite “The Lord’s Prayer”. I figured out early on that depending on which church you went to on the Sabbath, and which Sabbath, the words were different. It’s the same as fairy tales, whatever version you were taught was the right version and anyone who had a different version was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Christian Science isn’t really very scientific. When people get sick the power of prayer is supposed to heal them. If you don’t have enough faith to do the healing on your own you can get “practitioners” to boost the power and do a little bit of praying for you. My father wasn’t too much of a believer in the power of prayer. He made sure that anything that ailed me was properly diagnosed and treated by a physician. My father was brought up Catholic, but didn’t have much in the way of faith. He used to say that he had his own religion, but he never really explained it to me.
Even though Nana and Grandma called themselves Christian Scientists, they would still partake of the medical profession when in need of medical attention. They certainly believed that little boys who were prone to bloody noses should be taken to a doctor to get their nose cauterized and they were firm believers that little boys were supposed to be circumcised. My father, an uncircumcised male, didn’t think it was important, but they did.
When I was five or six, they took me to a doctor who gave me anesthesia. Counting backwards from twenty, I think I made it to thirteen. I had vivid dreams of merry-go-rounds and laughing devils like something out of a colorized Max Fleischer cartoon. It was like the Fun House at Playland in San Francisco, only scarier.
I woke up in a hospital bed where they served me poached eggs and wheat toast. It hurt to tinkle for about a month and I wondered why other boys my age weren’t going through this particular rite of passage. Why were Nana and Grandma so concerned about my tinkler and why was my father so angry at them? Did he call them witches or was it another word that I heard Nana use when she was talking about Tippy?