…When I was in second grade, I decided I wanted to join the Catholic Church. I was sitting on my box springs and mattress one sunny morning with my friend Maureen. We couldn’t put our backs against a wall because the side of the bed was pushed up against windows. Maureen had just turned nine and I had just turned seven. Maureen kept saying she needed to lose weight by her tenth birthday. “My mom is going to paint my bedroom spring violet for my birthday,” Maureen said. “I want to look prettier for my pretty room.”
“Your room needs to be painted,” she continued. “The turquoise paint is peeling.”
“I could pray Momma will paint it,” I said. “I don’t think she paints. Some friends of hers painted the living room ceiling, though.”
“Catholic prayers reach God faster,” Maureen said. “That’s why I’m glad I’m a Catholic.”
“I want to be a Catholic,” I said.
“It’s the best religion,” Maureen said “What do you think your mother would say if you asked to become a Catholic?”
That night Billy and I fought over whose turn it was to do the dishes. I lost and had to wash the dishes and fit them into the draining rack. I asked Momma in the kitchen if I could become a Catholic. To my mother’s great credit, since this came from a seven year old child, she said, “When I have an important question to ask, I ask a minister.”
As an adult, I’m amazed that my mother didn’t say, “We are Presbyterians and you need to stay with your family.”
Anyway, back to age seven, I said to Momma, “Maybe I could ask Mr. Blackburn.”
Mr. Blackburn served as a Methodist minister, and he and his family lived next door to my grandparents. His son Robert and Billy were friends. I was afraid of grown men. My father had been gone a long time. My grandfather, who I had only known for a short time, sounded so sick. That night I got the Blackburn’s number from Billy and gave Mr. Blackburn a call. His wife said he was busy but would call me back in a few minutes.
When the phone rang, I picked it up and Mr. Blackburn said his name.
“I have a question,” I said. “”I’m a Presbyterian but would like to become a Catholic. My best friend is a Catholic. I was wondering if it was a good idea.”
And Mr. Blackburn laughed.
I held on to the edge of the dresser where the phone sat. I didn’t cry. I just didn’t know what to say. I looked toward the windows and it was dark outside.
“I think you should stay at the same church with your folks,” and Mr. Blackburn continued to laugh.
I didn’t have folks. I just had Momma and Billy. I have never gotten over Mr. Blackburn laughing at me that way. I can hardly tell the story even today. Momma has always had an incredibly high opinion of ministers. So I don’t think it ever occurred to her a minister would laugh at the question. She thought he would take it seriously.