While driving to church last Sunday with our granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline, a request came floating up from the backseat, “Big Papa, can you tell us a story when you were our age … a church story?” Why, certainly I can.
For those seven magical years growing up on Flamingo, there were certain things we could count on. Down the Street Bully Brad always being bad, Dad worked six days a week from sun up until long after sundown, and on Sundays we’d all pile into the avocado green station wagon with the faux wood panels and go to church.
There was one more thing we could count on; sitting on the front row pew directly in front of the pulpit. The reason was simple: front row sitting put us closer to God. And after a week of all the stuff my three brothers, The Sister, and I had done, we needed to be as close to Him as possible. At least that’s what us kids thought. The actual reason for the front row I never knew.
For two years, our church routine was left unchanged. Then one Sunday we moved to the second row, never to sit on the front row again. Why the move? That answer I do know. It was all because of Dad’s pancakes.
Our last Sunday on the front row began with a special treat, Dad making us all a pancake and bacon breakfast. My brothers wanted extra bacon with their pancakes; all I wanted was extra syrup with mine. Dad obliged by frying up more bacon and pouring a lake of syrup on my plate. After breakfast, I had so much energy I could’ve run up and down Flamingo Street a hundred times. If I’d done that instead of going to church that morning, we’d probably still be sitting on the front row today.
Reverend Jim gave a powerful sermon from the pulpit that mid-July day lasting almost two hours, or so it seemed to me. With the church air-conditioner broken, the breeze created by the few fans scattered about the sanctuary were ineffective at best. They couldn’t blow out the birthday candles that were on Mark’s and my birthday cake. Then again, Mark couldn’t either.
As Reverend Jim’s voice rose, so did the temperature inside our small white clapboard church. The more he preached about Heaven and the other place and all the struggles of mankind, the hotter it got — especially on the front row. You see, with my super syrup rush quickly wearing off, I had struggles of my own: trying to stay awake.
I vaguely remember Reverend Jim talking about sinners and walls tumbling down about the same time as I tumbled to the floor right in front of the pulpit. Next thing I remember, Mom, my three brothers, and The Sister were sitting in our car. Dad and I were standing next to it. He was doing a little preaching of his own. Eventually he calmed down enough to ask if I had learned anything, I replied, “Yes, don’t get extra syrup on your breakfast pancakes.”
The very next Sunday we started sitting on the second row pew. My Dad attended church until he was almost 90, and we always sat on the second row. The reason I know all too well. Dad said, “Next time you fall asleep, you’ll hit your head on back of the front pew. That’ll wake you up and give you a knot on your head. A lasting reminder not to fall asleep in church.” Something I never did after that Sunday.
I finished the story just as we were turning into the church parking lot. The Wife was dumbfounded. “So that’s the reason we sat on the second row anytime we attended church with your Dad?”
In just a few months, The Wife and I will celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary — a truly remarkable event. It feels like a lifetime ago we were married, and yet it also seems like just yesterday. It’s bewildering that she sees something in me. After all this time, it’s nice to know there’re a few things she doesn’t know — things that can still surprise her and leave a smile on her face.
Like this church story from a long, long time ago on an old familiar street not so far away called Flamingo.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]