CoCola Before Church

James Sclater

© Copyright 2012 by  James Sclater


Photo of a Drug Store sign.

To say that my mama was a churchgoer was to understate the situation mightily. She attended just about everything on the church calendar except the Men’s Bible Study, and I think she was sorely tempted to go to that, too. She would remind me occasionally that a goodly part of the reason she was such an ardent member of the Women’s Society of Christian Service had to do with the circumstances of my birth.  Later I began to suspect that she was just trying to make me feel guilty about something over which I had no control. Anyway, she said that when I was conceived, the good Dr. William Fortenberry, Dr. James’s father, had already warned her not to have anymore children; she already had two boys and here I was, coming along to upset the apple cart. She said that she bargained with the Lord that if He would let her live and have one more healthy child she would be a diligent servant of Him until she passed from this good life. She really kept her side of the bargain, too; as I said, when something needed to be done at the Modelle Methodist Church, she would volunteer to do it. She probably cooked a ton of spaghetti and meat sauce for the MYF group by the time all three of her children left home. She made those funny-looking circular sandwiches for the circle meetings until she wore out the circular cutters. What she neglected to tell me was that every time she went to the church, I would probably end up going, too. Her end of the bargain seemed to include everyone else in the family. It seems like we didn’t have a say in the matter. She and the Lord decided for us.

My dad was a churchgoer, too, but I got the feeling his reasons tended more to the social. His two regular duties at the church were serving on the Board of Stewards and helping put away the coffee and donuts provided by the Men’s Bible Class every Sunday morning. One Sunday he even got me to come to his bible class and play the “Piano Roll Rag” for the members assembled there. That caused a bit of a stir, because I usually played for them to sing hymns. I think Mama bent his ear about the “Piano Roll Rag” incident, stickler for decorum that she was. He was unrepentant, though; he liked a good lively tune. I’m guessing most of the men in that class welcomed the change of pace, too, especially since the piano in the room where the men held class sounded like it had come from a saloon. All we needed to make the scene complete was the Women’s Bible Class members doing the can-can in frilly dresses, squealing as they danced and a spittoon for a collection plate.

As a youthful member of the Modelle Methodist Church, I was expected to participate in the Sunday school classes and the MYF group. Sunday school classes were usually taught by older ladies whose patience and their sense of humor had been left somewhere in the parking lot. Guilt was their ever-present companion and tool. It’s hard enough to sit still when you have to wear wool pants in a hot room, but when you have to pretend that you’re interested in Moses and Pharaoh at the same time, the results can be a significant problem. We had one teacher who resigned after she had us in class. As I look back, I don’t think we were that bad; it just all seemed sort of boring at the time.

There were a few perks for the kids at that church if they were brash enough to avail themselves. Directly across the street from the church was the Albright & Wood drug store that had a big soda fountain. It was easy enough to cross over between Sunday school and church to get a CoCola to drink and peruse a comic book or two. Most of the kids did that. Some of us even checked out what was in the latest issue of True Detective, which always seemed to have a drawing of some busty blonde lady on the cover.

The really adventurous took advantage of the bakery across the intersection from the drug store, catty-cornered from the church. It was called the Electric Maid, and their cookies and assorted sweets were indeed manna from heaven after sitting around listening to someone talk about Moses and Abraham all morning. The church had a balcony that almost nobody used, so we would buy a few cookies and sneak them into the balcony to eat during the morning service. We must have been successfully surreptitious, because no one ever mentioned it to us.

On a chilly Sunday night after one of those youth meetings, I felt the need for a good fountain CoCola. I must have been about eleven years old at the time. As I stood on the curb, I could see the blinking lights on the Albright & Wood drug store, dazzling in their simplicity and off-on designs. When the traffic light changed to green, I stepped out in the street to cross over to the other side. The siren call of the soda fountain was loud and intoxicating.

Well, I’ll tell you, I almost crossed over to the other side in a big way. This lady who had been drinking ran the red light, and in a split second, time just stopped for me. For what seemed like a very long time the brightly lit sign on the drug store was moving in circles, end over end. I remember thinking how odd it all seemed at the time. How could a building or a sign move like that? There was no sound, as if the air had been sucked out of the world at that instant. There was total silence and the building in front of me was doing somersaults. I suddenly had no senses except my eyesight.

Well, you probably know that buildings don’t do somersaults, people do. Witnesses said I had been launched like a teddy bear into the air about 25 feet or so out into the intersection. When I came down I landed on my rear end and just sort of looked around wondering what happened. Didn’t know I’d been hit; didn’t know how I got out in the middle of the street. Didn’t feel a thing. One of the Modelle Methodist Church ushers standing outside the front door rushed over to offer help. I finally got up and walked with him over to the sidewalk where a crowd had quickly gathered. Someone had called the police, and when they arrived they took the driver into custody. Her car smelled like she had dipped it in a vat of Jack Daniels, at least that’s what the policeman said. I had not met Jack Daniels before, so I took the policeman’s word on that.. Somebody went inside the church to get my dad and tell him I had been hit.

After he asked a bunch of questions and all, the policeman said that if I had seen the car the impact would have probably hurt me real bad or even killed me. I guess I was lucky I landed on my butt instead of my head. Heck, it didn’t even tear my pants. You’d think that after a scary thing like that they would let me go on home and listen to the radio, but if you know my mama, you know a bargain is a bargain. We had to sit through the evening service anyway.

The next day mama took me down to Dr. Fortenberry’s office to get an x-ray of my leg to make sure I was OK. The nurse made me take my pants off to have the x-ray done, which was sort of embarrassing at the time. At least I had on fresh underwear; my mama always said to wear clean underwear every day because you never know when you’ll have an accident. The reasoning behind that escaped me then and still escapes me now. Did she really think that if you did have a car accident, say, that the medical personnel on the scene wouldn’t treat you because your underpants weren’t just spotless? She used to say a lot of things besides her prayers.

In a week or two I had to go to court and tell and judge what happened, only I didn’t know much. He wasn’t interested in the end over end drug store lights and how time just sort of stood still. He was also not convinced that all the air was suddenly sucked out of the world. He wanted facts and I didn’t have many except that I wasn’t hurt, my trousers didn’t rip, and I had to take my pants off to have an x-ray. He seemed real glad when I told him I had on clean underwear, though. I don’t recollect what happened to the lady who was driving the car. She probably had to pay a fine or something. I think they should have made her take my place in Sunday school for a couple of years; that would be some serious punishment. She might even like to learn about Moses and Abraham. I heard that the judge suggested that she end her relationship with that Jack Daniels fellow, too.

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