Until the day I missed church to rake Granddaddy’s yard, I had gone to church almost every single Sunday my whole life. There were only a couple of exceptions. A few times the snow was too deep or the weather was too bad, … and a few times I was legitimately too sick to go, but ninety-nine percent of the time, if the church doors were open, I was walkin through them. Preparations for Sunday always started on Saturday night. Momma, Grandma and my sisters made sure their was food cooked and ready to eat for the next day’s meals… Daddy and Granddaddy made sure there was plenty of wood to heat the cook stove and the fireplace. Everyone took quick baths with the good soap, and washed their hair too. Even I spent the better part of the evenin gettin ready to give God my best. When I as young, Saturday night was an ordeal for me and my momma.
The groomin wasn’t finished after my bath and shampoo… it was just beginning. Upon the completion of a thorough hair washin, I was expected to run a comb through all of my tangles until my hair was smooth enough to braid. It didn’t matter how long it took me, I had to comb my “rat’s nest” smooth. During an active week, a lot of tangles would accumulate. By Saturday night my hair was almost impenetrable.
“How can you let her go around lookin like that, Momma?” Betsy would stand propped in the opening of my bedroom door and glare at mine and Momma’s ministrations to my hair in horror.
“You can’t even get the comb in her hair, much less through it!”
I ignored her. I knew she was just tryin to get me riled up, and I wasn’t gonna to give her the satisfaction. She and I both knew that eventually my hair would be smooth…just like it was every Saturday night. It might take an hour or more to get it in that condition, but we would eventually get it there because that was what was expected of me, and I wasn’t gonna let my parents or grandparents or God down. I wasn’t gonna be a distraction of other people’s worshippin. I had a strong feelin that God Himself would probably prefer if I didn’t have a braid that weighted down my scalp and gave me a headache. God would also probably prefer that I didn’t wear a tormentin, itchy dress that distracted my concentration from my worshippin. I had a hunch that the less a person was thinkin about themselves and how fine they looked, or how miserable they felt, the better that God liked it.
But Momma had been taught that in some situations, other people’s perceptions must be taken into consideration. “I think that it is unfortunate that it matters, but if we all showed up in church looking like hobos, God Himself might not care, but it would be a distraction to the rest of the congregation… and also to the preacher. We are not going to bring attention to ourselves when ours and everybody else’s attention should be on God.”
I knew what Momma meant. It was probably best not to look like a hobo or a harlot. “When in Rome do as the Roman’s” Or, in other words, when in church, look like everybody else. If a person didn’t heed the wisdom of the ages and their elders, it was at their own risk. One Sunday, a girl from Betsy’s crowd of friends had an incident… where she drew quite a bit of attention to herself. So much so, that after all these years, people still whisper about it. It’s a shame to admit, but I don’t remember much else that ever happened in church in such great detail as I do the “Fancy” event.
It happened like this… Miss Fancy Pants entered a few minutes late for the service… that in itself was not unusual. Rarely a Sunday went by that at least one of the older kids didn’t enter after the service had already started. This particular Sunday, the choir had already proceeded into the choir loft… all of the congregation had sung the processional hymn and we had taken our seats in our pews. The teenagers sat on the front pews… not to see better, but to be seen better. But for all of us that were not on the front rows, we all witnessed Miss Fancy Pants comin late…and where Miss Fancy Pants had been for the few minutes between Sunday School class and Church seemed pretty obvious. But over time the whole thing got so talked about, scrutinized, embellished and grossly exaggerated that what probably really happened and what people came to believe from all the stories became one in the same and indistinguishable.
As I said, it was pretty common for teenagers to enter a few minutes late… especially the ones that thought they were somethin special. Betsy and her group took great pains at dressin in the latest fashions and makin certain their hair and everything else that everyone could see, looked perfect. All of us “normal” kids would call the older girls that thought they were All That “Fancy Pants”. Adults called children that term who were acting bratty or snobbish…so it fit! Betsy and her “Fancy Pants” friends gathered around talkin in the church yard after Sunday School , waitin until the end of the ringin of the bells. After everybody else was already inside and seated, they would make their grand entrance. They wanted to be noticed and have the older folks comment to them after the service on how lovely they were. They wanted the little children’s awe and hero-worship. On this Sunday it was Miss Fancy Pants who didn’t come in with the rest of her crowd. She came through the front door about 5 minutes late… after the opening prayer when everyone was just liftin up their eyes and givin their full attention to the preacher at the front of the church. The preacher’s pulpit was situated directly in front of the teenagers choice pews.
After the openin prayer was the one time in the service when the whole place was quiet, or at least as quiet as it ever was considering there was no nursery for loud children and nothin to be done about squirmy adults. At that moment of silence that followed the prayer, Miss Fancy Pants sashayed right up the center aisle like she was a movie star makin her walk up the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
It was not, however, the kind of entrance that would make a person famous. Infamous, yes… famous, no. Fortunately for Miss Fancy Pants the preacher’s wife saved her reputation from being ruined with her own peers…at least for a short time. To say the preacher‘s wife “Saved her ass!” would literally be true. But it was too little too late as the preacher’s wife didn’t get to help Miss Fancy Pants until she was already nineteen paces into a twenty pace walk. None of Fancy’s friends sitting in front of all the action saw what all the rest of us did. It was not somethin one sees everyday in the middle of a church service.
Most fashion conscious women in those days wore undergarments that included little clasps for holdin up their stockings. Older women and young girls wore knickers…some below the knee, some to the knee, and some were a little shorter. Most girls and younger women had started wearing “step-ins” like we wear today…like panties but the leg openings were bigger. I wore loose knickers. Betsy, Sharon and Momma wore step-ins. And then their was Miss Fancy Pants. She had a sense of fashion that nobody else I knew of personally dared to have, at least not in a church building.
She must have stopped by the outhouse after Sunday School was over. At the time, that seemed like the best and most obvious reason why she was so late and arrived in the condition that she did. That was what I always figured. Rumor spread though, and I suppose there were some other possibilities, but my young and innocent mind did not know to entertain any of those thoughts…and I still believe our church and community did that girl a terrible disservice in believing the worst. And if they didn’t believe the worst, then everyone did a terrible disservice by failing to defend her and promote other more flattering options to explain the incident. What everyone could agree on, was that there had been a terrible wardrobe error. I believe that it must have occurred when “Fancy” hiked her skirt up under her arm to take a tee -tee. The skirt fabric must have gotten stuck on a stay or on the buttons on her bodice. Of course “Fancy” had no idea that her skirt didn’t make it back down over her rear. She had no reason to reach down and behind her to pull up her undergarment since she didn’t have any on. It was amazing that she hadn’t felt a draft… but I reckon she had been feelin a draft under her skirt all mornin anyway.
Needless to say, it caused quite a scandal, albeit an almost completely silent one as it was happening and all through the rest of the service. The most amazing thing is that everyone tried to ignore it and act like it wasn’t happenin… and then after the fact, act like it never happened at all. Wives covered their husband’s eyes and mother’s covered their children’s eyes, but nobody said or did anything except the preacher’s wife who took action at just the last second…too little too late. As Miss Fancy No-Pants started to enter the pew with all of her friends, the preacher’s wife who sat on the pew behind the teenagers, reached out and quick as a wink yanked the hem of Fancy’s skirt down. Miss Fancy No-Pants never even seemed to know what had happened. The jerk of her skirt made Fancy turn and give a death glare to the preacher’s wife. But she quickly recognized who had tugged her clothes, and her countenance changed to an insincere smile and nod. Everybody, mostly the women in the church, silently let out a collective sigh of relief.
Miss Fancy Pant’s parent’s didn’t see what caused the scandal that would spread like wild-fire. Loose lips whispered into greedy ears all over town. It was whispered that it was a shame that “Fancy’s” parents were not church-goers. It was rationalized that had her parent’s been at church and seen her rear end, they might have been able to prevent the even greater future scandal “Fancy” found herself in, involving a shotgun wedding at age 15 , and a baby shortly thereafter.
That’s the kind of thing, lookin back on it, that frustrates me to no end. If the people in my church saw such a thing and believed that there might be a bigger problem at hand… if they hadn’t turned a blind eye and acted like they didn’t see what was right in front of their faces, it might have saved a lot of people a lot of grief. Every once in a blue moon things like that don’t turn out badly… but too often they do. She didn’t know why, but the boys in town started calling her “Fancy”. And in her ignorance, she thought that it was a compliment, at first…so she didn’t complain. Before long she might as well not have had a real name. The girls stopped talking to her, and the boys called her “Fancy”. It’s almost like the girl she had been was completely replaced, name and all, because of that one thing that happened.
Lookin back I feel terribly sad for that girl. Why would people just assume the worst? Maybe she was in a hurry and couldn’t find any drawers to put on…or maybe her Momma had warned her about goin out in less than perfect panties and she didn’t have any good ones clean. Who knows? None of us knew for sure. And none of us asked her. People just made up stories that caused too many to assumed that she was a “bad” girl. Yes, she got pregnant…but maybe she got pregnant because some boy disrespected her because she had a reputation that was ruined by people’s rumors. How can an Innocent life be so affected when in the hands of a mob. Makes me think of Jesus…”Crucify Him” they yelled. Poor Fancy. That’s really what we did to her too.