Mom was very old school as a Methodist minister’s wife. She had several strict rules which had been handed down or taught by Grandma Mitchell. One was that there was absolutely no alcohol allowed in the house or at family gatherings, or church events. This was because of her religious teachings in the Methodist church. It was Garrison Kealor who talked about those Methodists who even in the heat of summer were sitting around drinking hot coffee.
The closest we came was when we would watch the reruns of Gunsmoke on tv. The first thing a cowboy did after a hot day on the dusty trail was to go into the Longbranch Saloon and order a shot of whisky. We, of course had no idea what whisky tasted like, but it seemed to be all the cowboys thought or talked about in the hot sun of the desert or dusty plains.
To quench our thirst and act like cowboys, we would sneak into the living room. And when I say sneak, I mean full-on crawling behind chairs, creeping through the house, with my little sister, Von, acting as a scout and lookout for mom.
With 7 kids and numerous grandchildren, mom always had little ones she was raising or helping to raise. This meant there were other participants on many occasions.
In the living room was moms fancy china cabinet. It was made of glass and wood and was very large. She kept her very best china and silver set in it along with many fragile family heirlooms.
On one of the middle shelves sat about a half dozen china egg cups. They were small and were meant to serve hard-boiled eggs in at breakfast if you were trying to be fancy. To a 7 or 8 year old child revved up from watching old cowboy shows, they looked similar to the whiskey shot glasses being used in the saloon.
We didn’t have whiskey, but could swipe a bottle of 7-UP or Coke and use that instead.
We grabbed a couple of the egg cups out of the china cabinet and pulled up the piano bench in the corner. We now had a bar, whiskey, and shot glasses. We then would order a whiskey and one of us would pour pop into the egg cup. You’d then swig it down in one big gulp, just like the cowboys.
Of course you had to make a grimacing look on your face like it burned going down and say “SMOOOOOTH!” Sometimes the bubbles from the pop would go up your nose as you tried to gulp the pop and the resulting burn would make me grimace and my eyes would start to water from the pain.
Normally we would go through most of a bottle before mom would come walking into the room and we would get in trouble for sneaking into the china cabinet and playing with breakable heirlooms.
It was tough being a cowboy, especially with your mother stalking you all the time. Nothing seemed to break up the enjoyment of a Saturday night in the saloon like the effect of your mom walking in and yelling at you.
The second rule was there was to be absolutely no gambling. As a Methodist ministers family, Mom always worried about appearances or what the congregation of the church might think.
As kids we weren’t allowed to remove the dice from the Monopoly game. This seemed like a very odd rule, but mom would tell us she didn’t want somebody to stop by the parsonage and see dice laying around. They might think that we played dice games and gambled.
Frankly, due to moms strict rules, I didn’t even know there were ways to gamble with just dice. I guess mom kept us a bit sheltered.
Then there were the cards. Playing cards were the devil himself. Though mom never actually said that, we were never to own or possess a deck of playing cards. In moms eyes they had no use, but for “Gambling”. The only cards we had were Uno cards and we could play Uno. I guess to her the word Uno and the look of the cards were different enough that she could justify one over the other. Of course we weren’t making bets or anything like that.
It wasn’t until I moved from home that a girlfriends family taught me to play cards.
I grew up in the first four rows of the church. As you know, most folks seem to gravitate toward the rear of the sanctuary, leaving the front rows perpetually open unless there was a special event or a holiday crowd.
Nothing can throw a bunch of church-goers into a panic like walking into the church and realizing with horror that a visitor had stumbled in early and taken a spot in one of the pews near the back of the church.
THis would cause a chain reaction of people having to sit in new places. People who may have attended the same church for 75 years find themselves looking around with wide eyes as though they had been thrown into a completely strange room. They look down and remark that they didn’t even realize there was carpet beyond the 4th pew since they’d never sat that close.
My little sister Von and I never had that problem. We weren’t sure they even had hymnals in the rows behind us since we’d never sat there. We weren’t sitting in the front because dad was trying to even out the crowd seating arrangement.
No, it was simply so that Mom could clearly see us from the choir loft and was able to give hand signals and mouth out directions without sound.
Mom got very adept at holding a hymnal, singing, and using one hand to point and indicate that we needed to settle down or face the consequences.
It was on one of these Sundays that I got into trouble for playing with what were essentially cards while sitting in church. As a young 8 or 9 year old, I would get bored while sitting there under the watchful gaze of mother. I looked around for something to do and realized that next to the hymnals were these little holders full of offering envelopes. They were small and about the same size as a playing card.
I pulled the stack of about a dozen out of the holder in front of me and then crawled along the pew to the next holder and pulled out all those offering envelopes. I thought I was being sneaky, but a boy crawling across the sanctuary on a pew was easy to spot. I made it across the sanctuary and cleaned out all four holders of offering envelopes. I then crawled back to my assigned end of the pew.
I glanced up at mom and could see her eyes were wide and beginning to bug out. She then silently mouthed the words “Sit still and Settle Down!”
I realized that I hadn’t been as sneaky as I had thought.
Oh well, No matter. I had all the cards I’d need. I then began carefully stacking the cards in the corner of the pew. It took a few tries, but soon I got to where I could carefully stack the envelopes to where they were several levels high. At one point dad even looked down from the pulpit as he tried to figure out what was growing from the pew seat. It seemed to grow higher and higher like the tower of babel.
I thought that I had found the perfect activity to get me through church without making a lot of news.
The problem I ran into was that a house of cards if alwyas bound to fall at some point regardless of how skilled the builder believes he is.
I had just placed the final card which was level with the top of the pew back, when………….SWOOOOOOSH, whack, whack, whack……….. about 40 offering envelopes first fell to the hard wood seat of the pew which made a distinct racket as the house of cards crashed, but then about half of them continued onto the hardwood floor where they repeated the racket in the quiet sanctuary.
Dad looked down from the pulpit and gave me a look of total and complete disbelief. He was in the middle of his sermon and didn’t quite believe what he was witnessing.
I looked over at mom who had such a stern look that her jaw was clenched in anger and embarrassment. She was red in the face and her fingers were pointing this way and that in her motherly sign language at such a rate that I couldn’t understand a word she was saying! Her jaw was so tightly clenched that I also couldn’t understand the silent words she was trying to mouth at me from the choir. I suspect that it was best that I didn’t know what she was saying or dad was thinking at that point.
The entire congregation went from listening to the minister to watching his child pick up 40 or so offering envelopes from the pew and off the floor. Dad was known for giving a pretty good sermon with many times having a dramatic ending, but I’m pretty sure my antics were not in the script. In fact, mom was so mad that the whole event might well count as a near-death experience for me.
When we got home, I learned that the offering envelopes were not to be played with. I had one job and that was to sit quietly. I got a spanking, but it was mom, not dad who was the “enforcer”. Edith Purvis with a wadded up kleenex in her had and wearing a choir robe versus Clint Eastwood with his big gun……It’s not even a fair contest. Edith would take Dirty Harry every time. if he was silly enough to tell her to “Make My Day”, she’d oblige him and after the spanking he wouldn’t be able to sit for days, let alone ride a horse!
To this day, 47 years later, I don’t touch the offering envelopes and mom gave me one of those egg cups before she died, but I’ve never drank anything from it. Not even 7-UP on a hot dusty day.