Sunday Rituals

Saint_Bernard_Church_(Burkettsville,_OH)_-_clerestory,_Let_the_Children_Come_to_Me,_detail

Sunday mornings were hell for my family. The entire week was a buildup of tension to the sacred day where my screaming father feeling frustrated bit his tongue, tying tight knots around his neck. My mother would angrily throw together breakfast and then throw it away frustrated at a comment my father would make about her hourglass figure in that hugging dress.

Every Sunday morning, my family followed a bitter ritual of fighting. My mother would lay out my Sunday best for me which always included a frilly pastel dress that was too tight around my waist and cut off the circulation in my arms. My parents were in denial about my weight and in an attempt to encourage their five year old to drop some unwanted pounds they’d squeeze me into my ideal fabricated mold. My buckled shoes gleamed black because the only time I wore them were Sundays. I never walked anywhere other than to the car, to the pew, back to the car, back to my home. But the one part of my outfit I could never stand was those thick white braided stockings. From their texture to their fit, I shuddered at the the sensation of the static fabric on my hairless legs. It was agitating year round, regardless of snowy mornings or blistering heat waves.
I think I stressed my mother out every Sunday with the argument about those restrictive stockings. I’d kick and whine begging her to just let me go without them. I promised her I’d do anything and claimed I would NEVER ask for ANYTHING EVER again, as long as I could escape these stocking’s grip on my thighs. I lost this battle every Sunday.

The car drive to church was always the most stressful part. Awkward silences where my dad grumbled about something, anything. I honestly wish I could remember, but it wouldn’t matter because just about anything was a stressor to his brain which was as knotted as the tie around his neck, or the hugging dress my mother wore, or these agitating stockings wrapped around my legs.

Grace Lutheran Church had its own ritual. The same ten old women would huddle together ensuring their seats were near each other. The twin vocalists who were practically pop star prodigies were being surrounded by the younger children and the lead organist being pampered and flattered. The family with the son with special needs sat in the same pew quietly. The father and mother staring blankly forward rigid as planks of oak wood. Their son quietly swaying, his eyes fixated on an invisible pendulum swinging synchronically from the ceiling. My mother and father bickering and I scratching my legs.

The Sermon began five minutes late, like always. The same organ music loudly bellowed throughout the tall ceiling. I spent most of the service standing and sitting on cue, not listening to the pastor in his robe thinking about what color sash he would wear next week and making a mental note to ensure I remember my bet with myself. Purple.

Finally, the communion. I wait for the usher to signal our pew to rise. My parents wait in line for their wafer and shot of grape wine. I am too young to drink the wine or eat the wafer but pastor touches my forehead, brushing away my sheared bangs, sweeping his clammy thumb to draw a plus sign. I close my eyes and slightly bow my head because that is what my father tells me to do. Now the next part of the ritual ensues. While my parents file back into the pew, I exit the large service room and follow the narrow hallway past the office doors and youth group rec room to the women’s restroom
The pale green tiles remind me of pea soup and everything smells sterile. I lock the stall door behind me, unbuckle my polished shoes, and pull up my pastel dress. I slip my thumbs routinely into the inside of the tummy tuck wrap of my stockings and fully circle around my circumference separating the tight stockings from my child’s stomach. I would trace the imprinted lines with my finger later that day, as I always did. I rolled the stockings down and peel my legs out one leg at a time. My pores gasped for the sterile, pea soup church air. I roll them up and tuck them in the front of my dress and put on my buckled shoes.
I leave the restroom returning to my parents. My father’s face is beet red and I can tell from the way his jaw line is set that he is biting his tongue. My mother nervously has her arms wrapped around herself anticipating the fight that will take place after service, when my father can unleash his swollen tongue from his clenched teeth and scold his five year old for taking her stockings off. I am not sorry because I am used to this tradition. It is all part of our family’s Sunday ritual.

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