I’m not a religious man, but I have a thing for churches. Old ones, like this one. Small-built. Modest steeples. Concrete steps.
I was married in this room. I haven’t been here in years.
The sanctuary is dark. They don’t use it for regular services anymore, it often sits vacant.
It’s hard to be here and not think about Cokesbury Hymnals, old ladies with beehive hairdos, or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on Tuesday nights in a Boy-Scout uniform.
Or church retreats.
Church-folk love retreats. Like father-son weekends on the lake. Once, I accompanied Billy and his daddy on such a retreat—since I had no father.
There was a football game. Fathers against sons. I played corner while Billy sat on the sidelines.
Before the game, I overheard Billy’s father whisper to him, “You’re sitting out this game, son. Sean don’t have no daddy, it’s his turn.”
I never felt more pitiful.
That night, I left my bunk to make water in the woods. I saw a few kids and fathers, sitting on picnic tables. They saw me.
Men stomped out cigarettes. Everyone headed for their cabins.
Alone again. So, I talked to Daddy in the woods—I did that a lot back then. I had this idea he was floating in the sky, just like in the song: “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.”
I love that song.
As a young man, Miss Lydia Devenson paid me fifty dollars to sing that very hymn for her husband’s funeral. It was the first time I’d ever performed such a role. And it didn’t seem right—like I said, I’m not a religious man.
Before the ceremony, my hands and knees trembled so bad I could hardly stand upright, let alone hold a guitar. I nearly vomited behind the church.
My friend’s aunt, a foot-washing Baptist, found me. She said a prayer:
“Dear Lord, he ain’t got nothing in this world for him to worry about, ‘cause you’re his friend.”
My shakes went away.
This chapel is a lot like that one. Small. Only, this one used to be crowded on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I used to sit with a girl in the third pew from the back.
In this room, Miss Lynn played the “Bridal Chorus” on a small organ. A girl in white walked a green-carpet aisle. When I saw her, I left my body.
I was no longer standing at an altar in a cheap tux. I was floating in the rafters with Daddy.
He looked good. I asked how he’d been. He didn’t answer. I asked why he left; why he’d made me attend church retreats alone. No response.
He just sent me back to earth.
It was for the best. Because that was one hell of a day. One not fit for sadness. It was the day my loneliness got cured.
And it happened in a small chapel, with everyone I love seated in one place. Even Daddy.
I’m not a religious man.
But tonight, I am.