Easter Sunday. An Episcopal church in Birmingham. Vaulted ceilings. Ornate masonry. A pipe organ. A choir dressed in lacework cottas. Individual stained-glass windows that cost more than tactical government helicopters. The whole works.
My wife and I arrived late. The place was loaded with parishioners in pastel colors. There were no available seats in the back.
“We have room on the front row,” said the usher.
“The front row?” I said. “Isn’t there anywhere else? Somewhere less… Frontal?”
He shook his head. “Full house today, sir.”
I am not a front pew guy. I come from mild, soft-spoken fundamentalist people who hug each other sideways; we prefer to fill up the sanctuary from the back to the front.
He guided us to the front pew so that we were practically sitting in the priest’s lap. The whole church was looking at us.
Service began. The organ bellowed. People stood.
Before we sang the first song, a kid in the pew behind me started making flatulent sounds with his mouth. I could not concentrate.
As a former little boy, I am qualified to tell you that these were not just your run-of-the-mill mouth-based sound effects. These were long, juicy, squirty sounds that, if I hadn’t known better, sounded like minor digestive issues.
And he never quit. During the communal singing, the kid made this noise. During the call to worship: The Noise. During the Lord’s Prayer: nuclear blasts.
Spittle was flying onto the back of my neck as the boy’s sustained raspberry sounds reverberated off the stone walls. I was certain someone would tell the boy to knock it off, but it never happened.
So I turned around to give the child a stern look.
He might have been 3 years old. The kid was blond, plump, dressed festively in a seersucker jumpsuit adorned with lace.
His mother smiled. I grinned back, hoping she’d get my drift and put an end to her son’s newfound talent. But she didn’t.
So I tried to deal with it. Throughout the service, the kid made even louder sounds and I made greater attempts to ignore him. But it was difficult, inasmuch as I could feel the windspeeds from his mouth-trombone moving the hair on the back of my head.
Occasionally, I would look around at other parishioners to gauge their reactions, but nobody was paying attention to the kid. It was incredible. Even though this boy’s sphincter-like tones were rattling the windows, I was the only one in the Western Hemisphere who noticed this child.
When the choir stood for the offertory song, I tried to tune the kid out completely. I focused on the music. I closed my eyes. I listened to the a capella choral arrangement, bowing my head, reflecting on spiritual matters, when all of a sudden…
Somebody ripped one.
At least that’s what it sounded like. The kid had upped the ante this time. He wasn’t just making basic mouth sounds anymore. He was raspberrying the national anthem. The back of my neck was painted in a fine spray of toddler saliva.
I leaned over to my wife. “I can’t concentrate,” I said.
“Hmmm?” she said.
“That kid. He’s making noise.”
“What kid? Junior the Incredible Tooting Toddler. Don’t you hear him?”
“Just don’t pay attention to him.”
“He’s spitting on me.”
Someone across the aisle shushed me.
Finally, it was time for communion. Several hundred of us filed toward the altar, and who do you think was standing behind me? That’s right. Toot-Zilla.
The kid was making his lip noises while standing in line, bouncing on his mother’s hip.
I’d had enough. I was just about to say something to the kid’s mother when she spoke first. She told me she didn’t have a free hand for receiving communion. So she asked if I would watch her son for a moment while she approached the altar and took the Sacrament. I said sure.
So she left him with me for a moment. He stood beside my leg and looked up at me with tap-water blue eyes. And I have to admit, this child was cute.
“You shouldn’t be making those sounds in church,” I told him.
“Raah baah baah waah,” he said.
“That’s no excuse.”
“People are trying to be reverent here.”
“Waaah daah haah baah faaah.”
“You’re not even sorry, are you?”
He drooled on himself.
When his mother finished receiving the Eucharist, she came back to us and lifted her son into her arms. I wished her a happy Easter. She returned the favor. Then I wished the kid a happy Easter and his little face erupted in a smile.
“Haaappah eeeee-saaaah!” he shouted.
My heart officially melted. I pinched his nose, and the kid responded by making that familiar loud sound again.
Only this time his lips didn’t move.
I hope you had a happy Easter. I know he did.