God and Country (Club)
February 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
Besides my New South enclave
(our house, the Big House, Gray and Torrence relatives)
—and extending from them (founding members)—
their two stolid sister institutions, housing God and Hēdonē (Pleasure),
nurture my conviction that the world makes sense (until it doesn’t)
Church is the old Main Street Methodist, lit through vivid stained glass windows inlaid (gold) with all my great-grand-kinfolks’ names, until it’s torn down to make way for the First United sometime in the mid-‘fifties. All the Grays are members—even Mama, a converted Presbyterian—but we don’t go very often. Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Children’s Choir. I like singing hymns and responsive reading, but I wiggle or sleep through the sermon, draw on the pledge cards.
We do go to Sunday School, dropped off and picked up (Mama in her robe and slippers, Daddy still asleep), in our then-new Education Building—replaced more recently by the Family Life Center, where once a few years back the local Grays all reunite for an afternoon and supper. Sunday School is ”Jesus Loves Me This I Know” and “Praise Him Praise Him All the Little Children,” or my favorites, “Down by the Station” (in rounds) and “Little Red Caboose,” remembering, perhaps (no more) the time or three we travel the rails to see Mamah and Bozo. (Gastonia is a railroad town.)
Church is also Vacation Bible School and Kindergarten—where I first perform in public (as a tulip; there’s a picture), which I don’t recall. Once in Bible School the teacher tells us all to draw a picture about giving thanks to God and I’m the only one who draws a turkey. Another time someone forgets to pick me up and I walk all the way to the Big House by myself. That’s all that comes to mind. Nothing spiritual. (That comes later.)
Nor do I remember fellows from these early years, aside from cousins and (in fourth grade) Marjorie Kay. Most of them live inside the city limits, go to Central School; I only see them at church.
Most of the members of the Church (including all Gray relatives) are members of the Gastonia Country Club and Golf Course. Founded by the Captain and his ilk in 1919 off New Hope Road (the Grays’ back yards), on land through which Wilkinson Boulevard now runs. The house in which Dad died, which Mama Gray bought for him from Lois and Bill’s estate, stands still at 1849 Country Club Road, overlooking houses built on the long gone fairway.
The Club is where I go swimming, every day of every long hot summer, baby pool to shallow end, once flailing in the deep end (am I really just pretending, teasing?), Mama diving in to save me, ruining her Kodak. “Five more minutes, Mama, please?” Marco Polo. Diving in. Cannon-balling. Belly flop. Swimming under water all the way across. Crawling up the back side of the ladder, getting stuck, struggling, scraping, running out of air (somebody help me!), up and heaving somehow like a dream…
I never play tennis or golf. Why not? Mama plays tennis, Daddy plays golf. Not that I’m a natural athlete. My self-image is always driven by the little fat kid, big for his age (too big for his britches), too smart, too rich, too lonely, nothing right. Do I take tennis lessons once, with her old wooden racquet, handle wrapped in leather, peeling, wooden press with thumbscrews? Do I quit because I’m fat?
Daddy never once takes me golfing—unless you count our speechless roles as golfers in the movie King Kong Lives, in which his tee shot soars into the woods and hits King Kong on the head, which angrily appears above the trees to send us running for our lives. (In the take they use I slip, fall, steal the scene.) He doesn’t buy me clubs; instead he gives me Nancy’s ancient (women’s) set, hickory-shafted irons all warped, the woods too long when I’m eight.
I think the point is, whether or not I’m interested in tennis or golf, looking back, I’m disappointed that they don’t share their enthusiasms with me. Instead, I swim and swam—I love to swim, I can hold my breath forever—while Mama drinks co-cola and smokes cigarettes with the other moms on the patio.