by Daniel Schantz
Childbirth can’t be harder than getting a boy out of bed in time for church on Sunday morning.
Talking doesn’t work. I still marvel how a mother’s voice can be as soothing as chicken soup one moment, then suddenly turn into a weapon of mass motivation, able to penetrate thick walls, doors, and several layers of blankets.
“Danny! If you don’t get out of bed this minute and get ready for church, I will send your father in there!”
By 11 years of age, I had already learned to tune her out.
Soon my father would appear in my doorway, looking more funny than fierce. Naked from the waist up, and his face covered in shaving foam, he looked nothing like the preacher he was.
He would grab the corner of my blanket and whisk it away, like a bullfighter swinging a cape, leaving my skinny, under-clad body exposed to the cold morning air.
“OK, Son, rausschmiss! Let’s go, let’s go. Up and at ’em, before all the good air is used up.”
He tried to sound gruff, but I was never afraid of my father. I would just curl up in the fetal position to conserve heat and sleep on. He would soon be back with a glass of cold water, which he would dribble down my back and legs, but I knew it was coming, so I steeled myself.
In the Hands of God
Eventually my parents would leave me to my decadence. They had warned me, now I was in the hands of God, but I knew exactly how long I could sleep, to the minute.
Sunday school started at 9:30 a.m. and worship at 10:30, not only at our church, but also all over the world. I think it was a Sinai Directive: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy, and services start at 9:30 and 10:30.”
Only one thing would pry me from the covers, and that was the awful odor of the roast pork my mother was browning on the kitchen stove in preparation for Sunday dinner. It was an acrid stench that reminded me of a pig caught in an electric fence—a blend of burning fat, hair, and mud. To this day, I do not eat pork.
Grumbling, I rolled out of bed and sat on the edge of it. The clock said 9:14. I had exactly 16 minutes to get to church, which was right next door.
I picked up my shoes. They were as dry as driftwood, so I grabbed a bottle of oxblood shoe polish and opened it with my teeth. One whiff and I could tell it was actually blood from an ox, and the thought that some poor beast had given his life for my shoes was the most religious thought I would have all day.
At 9:16 a.m. I made a run for the bathroom, but with five siblings in our family and only one bathroom, the door was seldom open. While I waited, I fished the Sunday newspaper from under the living room couch, where my mother always hid it to keep us kids from being distracted by the comics. I sat on the floor, where I could see the bathroom door, and I amused myself with L’il Abner, Dick Tracy, and Dagwood.
When my sister emerged from the bathroom, I shot in ahead of my brother, like Mickey Mantle sliding into home plate. It took me exactly 3 minutes to do my ablutions, and then I was off to the kitchen, where my mother had set out a variety of cereals, fruits, and breads. I mixed them all into the same bowl, drenched them with milk, and downed this cold stew at the speed of light.
Finally, scrubbed and dressed, I exploded out the screen door at 9:29 a.m. and sprinted for the church. The pianist was playing “Jesus Calls Us” as I slid into the back pew on the left side. I glanced up at my father, who was sitting in the big chair on the platform reserved for the minister. Only now he was smartly coiffured in a navy blue suit, with a crisp white shirt and a burgundy tie. I remember thinking what a difference clothes make to a man!
I sat there in a fog. My left ear itched from soapsuds and my hair smelled of Wildroot Hair Tonic. My fingers were stained with ox blood, and a bit of tissue was stuck to my right shoe, but I was there, and on time!
What I learned from these chaotic Sunday mornings is that life is about making decisions. Nothing happens in life until you get out of bed and get going. Whether you are looking for a new job or a wife, the first step is to get going; the rest is easy.
These days I am up at 4:00 a.m. every day, including Sunday. My Timberland shoes seldom need polish. My wife and I have a choice of three bathrooms in our new house. I have time to eat a big breakfast, while reading all 166 pages of the Kansas City Star, followed by the entire book of Revelation.
I will arrive at church at 8:30 a.m. for services that start at 8:45. Or is that 9:00? I’ll have to check the Web site (they keep changing it).
I will be dressed in a navy blue suit, a white shirt, and a burgundy tie, and I will be thinking that getting ready for church these days is not nearly as exciting as it was when I was 11.
And yet, some things never change. I still sit on the back row, and my left ear still itches from soapsuds.
Dan Schantz, widely published book and magazine author, is professor of Christian education at Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Missouri.