It all began at dinner one night last fall, when Mom announced, right after grace, “I've had a revelation.”
It was so astonishing no one moved, not even to pass the macaroni and cheese. We just sat there waiting to hear the rest.
“I'm going to teach the children at home,” Mom said.
“Myrna,” Dad told her, “that revelation only reveals you're tired of cleaning houses.”
“It's true that cleaning someone else's slop is awful,” she said, “when I've got so much of my own at home. But that's not the true reason. The true reason is that Reverend Beelson says the schools are corrupting our children and those who are corrupted will burn in the fires of Hell.”
Well, that started our own little version of Hell. Mom and Dad began to snipe at each other like soldiers on a personal battlefield, the worst fight ever. It was so awful Leo started to cry. I grabbed him up and took him out onto the porch rocker. I sang him lullabies-“All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Dance to Your Daddy” and “Rock-a-Bye, Baby”-all of which he still loved, though he was way past three.
But the older boys stayed through the whole thing, reporting out to me on the porch now and again like war correspondents on CNN.
Dad was wrong about Mom's revelation. It had nothing to do with house cleaning. It had to do with heart cleaning. Mom had become a Believer.
She'd been one for some time, of course, only with a small b. We were all good Christians in a general way-even Dad, though he always bah-humbugged his way through Christmas. Being a Christian was like having brown eyes or dark hair. We never actually thought about it. We just were. But none of the churches we visited had ever taken us over before. Or taken us on.
Not until Reverend Beelson's Church of the Believers, that is.
We were welcomed there. We were made part of a greater family of worshipers-instead of just some crazy bunch of religion gypsies who dropped in one Sunday and were gone the next, which is how Dad once described us.
Home schooling may have been Reverend Beelson's idea, but Mom took to it with the conviction of a convert. It took her just a week of lobbying till Dad finally agreed to let her teach us at home. I think Mom just wore him down. “She's a regular little whetstone,” Dad sometimes said.
“But,” he told her, “if you're going to stop working for money and start working for God, I'll have to work all the harder for the family.”
She nodded. It was an old fight between them.
“After all,” he added, “God don't bother His head about new shoes or dentists. And Marina's getting on to fourteen and is going to need a whole bunch of new clothes.”
I remember that argument as if it happened yesterday. I had just put Leo and the other boys to bed-always my job-and was going to bed myself, when I heard the squeak-squawk of the rocking chair in the living room. It brought me creeping down the stairs to sit on the bottom step and listen. I wasn't~ usually into eavesdropping, but with things so tense all the time, it was almost a kind of duty. I had to know what was going on. To be prepared, you see.
Mom and Dad were already well into the fight when I got there, because Mom's chair was going back and forth pretty fast, a sure sign she was angry. Dad said something about our paying for the doctor, and Mom's chair stopped rocking.
That was a bad sign. The chair getting quiet. Mom getting quiet.
“What about the children, Harmon?” she asked in something close to a whisper, though I could hear every word. “Don't you care about them, more than doctors and dentists and new clothes? Don't you care about their souls?”
“Souls is women's work, Myrn. If you want them kids to be Believers, they will be.”
“They already are,” she said. “No thanks to you.”
“That they are at all,“ he said, his voice getting dangerously quiet, “is thanks to me. You'd have gotten rid of Marina before she was ever born, if you remember. It was me wanted to keep her. Me wanted to get married. It was me made this family.”
“And it's you breaking it up now,” she said.
The argument made my stomach become a stone. Big and hard and cold. I don't think I could have moved back up the stairs and away from it even if I'd wanted to. My body was still but my mind was racing around like a runner who'd lost the track.
Until that minute, you see, I had gone along with Mom to each new church every Sunday, and they'd all seemed about the same: same songs, same prayers, same sermons. God had seemed the same, too: a distant, not-unkind grandfather up in the sky.
But suddenly I had a revelation of my own. It was about us-about the family, about staying together through whatever else might happen. And I also saw that it was important for Mom to be right about Reverend Beelson and about the Believers and God. Our entire family depended upon it.
So I prayed, Let me Believe, God. Let me Believe everything.
Because, I thought, if I believed, then Mom would be right. And in a way Dad would be right, too. And if they were both right together, then the family would be all right as well.
“Everything,” I said out loud, to be sure God heard.
And He must have, because that was the exact moment that I became a Believer.
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