Tag Archives: kentucky

Saving My Soul For Whom, Exactly?

By Joetta Currie

I was twelve years old living an ordinary, boring life, trying to get above average grades in school, hang with my friends and stay off my mom and dad’s radar. It was working–not great, but working. 

Then I became the target of a sober, fist pounding, secret group within a large, other-worldly organization whose members walked among us, free to exercise their will.

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The group was an ad hoc committee of my church. A few select members of the congregation dedicated to saving the souls of the un-baptized youth. They thought twelve was much too old not to be a bona fide Christian. They snuck up on me after Sunday school, wrapped their flabby, perfumed arms around me and whispered in my ear.

“Jesus wants you for a Sunbeam.”

Or, “The way of the cross leads home.”

And my least favorite, “You must be washed in the blood of the lamb.”

Seriously?

I must have been absent that Sunday, because I wasn’t even sure what that meant.

I WASN”T READY.

I didn’t care how old I was, I had questions. Questions that had not been answered. NO, wait, not unanswered–ignored, brushed off and belittled.

“We are not supposed to question God’s ways,” they said. 

“Shame on you for asking such a thing,” they said.

“You must have faith,” they said.

I had faith. I believed that God was good. Period. One big, fat, shining ball of goodness. God was every good thought, every good deed, idea, act, intention and all things that were kind and caring in this world. I believed that if I was good and encouraged goodness in others (I didn’t always of course, I was a kid.) that when my time came to die I would end up in a peaceful state. That was enough for me.

But I needed answers if I was going to buy all the rhetoric and fanfare of the Baptist Church, or any “church,”  I genuinely wanted to understand a few important things like: How exactly did Jesus walk on water and later turn it into wine? How did he bring a guy back from the dead? How did he touch somebody and cure leprosy? How was Mary a virgin? And the big one…how did he rise up from the dead? Were these literal things or religious symbology?

My dad was a biology teacher, my mom a nurse. I had facts that were totally incongruent with those so called miracles and NOBODY at church would help me out. I’m sorry, but “just have faith” didn’t cut it. Frankly, it made me very suspicious. I thought if God was what they said, why did he need cheap parlor tricks to make people believe?

The onslaught of hand holding and praying never let up. The “Pity her poor soul” look in their eyes made me miserable. But I couldn’t do it, if I didn’t believe in it. I figured if anything made God mad it was faking something so important. 

My best friend, Bonnie went to the same church and she had already done it. She said it was no big deal. Just go up to the preacher at the end of service and tell him you want to be saved, and then your parents will buy you a new dress so you can be baptized in church the next Sunday—in cold water—in front of everybody—and then you get to eat cake. I’ve always been more of a pie person myself so the confectionary aspect didn’t appeal to me.

The committee didn’t let up. I dreaded going to church because I knew I would be singled out. If I fell on the playground and skinned my knees or was passed over for a part in the Easter play, they told me it probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been saved. Once after we sang the Jesus Loves Me song, my Sunday school teacher whispered in my ear, “He loves you too, but not as much as all the other girls and boys.”

I still feel the punch in my gut when I think about it.

On Monday nights I went to Bonnie’s house to watch The Monkees (she had a color TV.) Her mom, a sweet, well-meaning woman, tried to help put me on the path of righteousness. 

Please don’t talk to me about Jesus in front of Davy Jones. I’m in the middle of a very different, emotional experience right now.

I tried asking God to get these people off my back until I figured some things out. I prayed that I would get to go to summer camp and get some relief. That backfired, big time. 

Bonnie, my older sister Debbie and I got to spend a week at church camp in the beautiful hills of Kentucky. We stayed in cabins, slept in bunk beds and got to take all kinds of fun classes. I enrolled in art, archery, canoeing and horseback riding. I didn’t mind a couple of hours of Bible study in the morning. I enjoyed learning the Beatitudes, verses from Psalms and The New Testament. We had recitation competitions everyday. I won some, Debbie and Bonnie won more, but it was a great time. Camp was fun. The food was good, we had campfires and singalongs at night. Our counselors were college students from a nearby Baptist Seminary. The guys were cute (we all had crushes), the girls like big sisters. I finally felt the pressure of Christendom ascend from my shoulders.

Until mid week when, once again, I was singled out for not being baptized. My home church committee had given a heads up to the camp counselors. They swooped in with more hand holding, prayers for guidance and veiled threats of eternal damnation. I think they secretly took bets on who would win me over for Jesus.

The last night was the worst. There was a rallying ceremony at dusk when every girl was given a little cardboard boat with a candle. We all gathered at the lake, lit the candles in our boat and set them sail. It was a beautiful and symbolic event. We were sending the Light of the Jesus out into the world. If yours sunk too soon, you did not carry the light in your heart.

I swear they put a hole in my boat. It was one of the first to sink. The counselors gathered EVERYONE around me to sing and pray. I was sick. 

After the lake, we all went to the amphitheater for a final benediction. The camp minister made his final call for sinners to come forward. Everybody was looking at me.

Debbie was getting mad at the way I was being treated and kept whispering, 

“Don’t do it, Jo, don’t do it if you don’t want to.”

But I caved. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went down front and did what was expected of me. It was the most hypocritical thing I have ever done. The fact that everyone was so proud and happy for me, especially after I got back home, was heart wrenching.

I got a new dress, was dunked in the cold water, ate the cake and the church committee moved on to saving the next wayward soul. They completely left me alone after that.They no longer needed to concern themselves with me since there was no un-baptized twelve year old muddying up their congregation.

My relationship with God hadn’t changed but I no longer had faith in my church. The more I examined various religions, the less I felt connected to any of them.

I no longer asked questions. I figured out the miracle issues on my own and over the years have resolved most of my doubts and fears by believing in the one simple concept that I knew all along.

God is good. Period.

Writing about my early experience in the Baptist church may make me seem resentful. I am not. Nor were there hurtful intentions by the committee. I’m sure they had a graceful heart and meant only the best in doing what their faith led them to do. I have many fond memories of my church, and friends with whom I still maintain contact.  I am a better person because of the fellowship, albeit struggle, that led me to the place I am in today-solid in my belief that God is good.

HELP! MURDER! POLICE…

Help! Murder! Police!  My wife fell in the grease.  I laughed so hard, I fell in the lard.  Help! Murder! Police!

I kid you not.

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This is what we chanted in 2nd grade, on the playground at Woodleigh Elementary in my small Kentucky town.  I guess every generation has their share of quirks or sayings they used for social interaction and parental confusion. Looking back, some of ours bordered on cruel and unusual. For example:

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We used to touch something or someone we thought gross or stinky or inferior in some way, then touch someone else, cross our fingers and yell,” POSTED”.  That child then, had to find another person with uncrossed fingers and pass the stinky germs on to them. I spent a big part of my young academic life with a watchful eye and crossed fingers. I’m sure those so called “inferior” people felt the brunt of it and I feel ashamed.  But, I was a dumb kid.  What did I know?  It seemed to be accepted by teachers and parents.  I don’t ever remember a teacher taking a proactive step to stop us and I do remember Mrs. Collins having her fingers crossed behind her back on the playground one time.  But, that was probably for something else.

Then there were Slam Books.

A Slam Book was a spiral bound note book, usually decorated by the owner (girls of course, boys didn’t own them, but did sign them) The first page was a numbered column in which kids put their name, to get assigned a number. Consecutive pages had a random persons name at the top and everyone who signed in on the first page, could write a comment on each person’s using their assigned number as their signature.

Oh the nasty things people would say with 2 minutes of anonymity. Things like:

Cute, but fat  #12

or

I’m never speaking to her again. #3

and

She should put on nicer underwear if she’s going to climb up the slide.  # 11

Yes, really.

My page got mostly favorable comments, but there were a few:

Nice but weird  #9

or

Skinny Minnie # 6

and

Jesus doesn’t love you anymore #22

That last one worried me for a while because the blasphemous kid signed in as God on #22.

Fortunately, it wasn’t all mean spirited.  Who can forget that flavorful tune?

“Great, green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts, marinated monkey meat, little dirty birdie feet.   All this good food I would like to eat, but I forgot my spoon.” 

Pure poetry.

I Learned to Dance in the Outhouse

The outhouse was situated between the henhouse and the coal pile on my grandparents farm in Kentucky.   It was where I learned to dance, had my first art exhibit, won small victories and shared intimate secrets with my potty companions.  It was a multipurpose facility.

For those who don't know...

For those who don’t know…

The weathered, wooden building was a four by six foot, two seater with a tin roof and a door that squeaked out a song when it opened and closed.  It had little or no foundation and rocked back and forth in the wind.  My dad put handles on the inside walls so you could hold it steady if the there came a sudden gust.  The floor boards were loose and if you stepped on one, then the other, they gave way enough to get a good rhythm going.

I needed that in the fall of 1968 when I attended my first semi formal dance.  The Eighth Grade Band Dance was a Fee School spotlight event.  Anxiously anticipated for months, talked about afterwards for weeks, it was a make or break situation for eighth graders.  I had two problems: I wasn’t sure who my date was and I didn’t know how to dance.

I had a whirlwind romantic life at the time.  I had gotten Bobby C’s I.D. bracelet on Monday.  Broke up, gave it back on Tuesday.  Got Robbie B’s on Wednesday. Broke up, gave it back on Friday before class, and got both of them back by the end of the day.  The dance was Saturday night and I was going steady with two boys.  I was switching I.D. bracelets so often, my arm didn’t have time to turn green.  That was problem number one.

Problem number two was my lack of proficiency on the dance floor.  I could move around, but I looked silly doing it.  I was all feet, skinny, flat chested and awkward.  if you looked at me, you would wonder how I ended up with two boyfriends in the first place.  I needed to learn to dance, and fast.  This is where the outhouse came in handy.

We went to my grandparents farm almost every weekend.  It was just up the road in Bracken County.  They didn’t have indoor plumbing and the outhouse was an excellent place for quiet contemplation (I had to decide on a boyfriend) and to my relief, a good place to learn to dance.  I had stepped on those loose boards a hundred times, but it never occurred to me that they would provide a solution to my problem.  As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

I had just been given a transistor radio, for my birthday and was listening to “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy” by The Ohio Express (a one hit wonder) I headed to the outhouse for the usual reason, but when I stepped inside with the need to pee and bubble gum in my ear, magic happened.  I started bobbing up and down and moving back and forth, the boards giving way just enough to get my groove on.  It felt good.  I could hear the chickens clucking next door so I started flapping my arms and even threw in a few cock a doodle do’s.  I stayed there all afternoon working on moves.  I was ready for my debut.

I wasn’t allowed to date, so my dad drove me to the dance.  We pulled up to the gym laboriously decorated with tissue paper stuffed chicken wire and silver streamers. It was gorgeous!  With a blue moire dress, lace tights, a padded bra and a bracelet on each arm, I was gorgeous too!  Dad got out, came around and opened the door for me.  Extending his hand, he said, “You look very pretty tonight Jo.  Every boy there is going to want to dance with you.  Have fun and keep your chin up and your nose clean.”

He said that last bit about my chin and my nose every time I went anywhere.  It meant “be good.” What stuck with me was the part about every boy wanting to dance with me.  I believed it.  I started thinking that maybe I didn’t need a boyfriend at all.  I could play the field, dance each dance with a different guy.  I would be so in demand they would be standing in line, waiting in enviable awe till it was their turn.  I was so confident that I glided across the gym floor and told Bobby C, “Sorry, but we’re over for good.  I need my freedom.” I handed him his I.D. bracelet and walked away.  Don’t cry for Bobby C, he gave it to my best friend before the night was over.  As I left my jilted young love, I saw Robby B standing at the punch bowl and gave him the same treatment.  He cried and told me to keep the bracelet in case I change my mind.

“How embarrassing for us both.” I said to my soon to be former best friend and I asked her to return it for me when he gets a grip.

I was free!  I waited for the moment to sink in and the lines to form.  I spun around, pushing out my padded chest and faking a lady like laugh.   I did that for 45 minutes.

I was wrong about the line of suitors. No one lined up.  No one even asked me to dance.  In fact, no boy asked any girl to dance.  They all stood around looking at their feet and drinking non spiked punch.  The girls got tired of waiting and started dancing with each other.    It became competitive as each girl tried to best the other with their moves.  There were  thirty girls, first timers in heels and panty hose, in a circle, lighting up the joint.  We were on fire!

That night I invented the Funky Chicken.  I never got credit for it and I’ve accepted my loss of fame.  But it was me, inspired by a humble outhouse nestled between the hen house and the coal pile on a small farm in Kentucky.

 Chicken Killer              

I killed my first living thing when I was 11 years old.  I picked it up, grabbed it’s neck and wrung it around and around until I heard a snap. Then I ripped it’s head off and flung the body on the ground.

“Good Lord!  It sounds awful when I read about it.”

I killed a chicken.  Only once. It never happened again.

Chicken Killer
“Chicken Killer, My 15 Minutes of Shame” by Joetta Currie.

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky just down the road from my grandparents farm.  My dad, a high school biology teacher, still helped Pappaw with most of the planting, tending and harvesting and in exchange we got chicken and beef and all the fruit and vegetables we wanted.

We had  “Chicken Killing Day” each year, but Mamaw was the one that usually did the deed.  I just stood and watched them flop around the yard. Then one day, I bragged to my sister that I could do it and asked my grandmother if I could try. I thought she’d say no. I would have looked like a chicken (excuse the pun, but that’s the word for it) to back out. So I did it. It wasn’t hard to do, a little scary at first because it clearly didn’t want to die, making a heck of a noisy flutter. I’d seen Mamaw do it so many times, it was over and done with before I knew it.  The unfortunate thing was being called a chicken killer for the next several weeks.  My grandmother probably killed over a thousand chickens, but I became “our little chicken killer.”  One lousy, dead chicken and I was labeled for life.  They got tired of it after a while, but my sister still brings it up from time to time.  I think she may be sorry she didn’t have the guts to do it.  She missed a life defining moment, of sorts.

Our “Chicken Killing Day” chore was to take the headless bodies and dip them in water, bubbling in a huge cast iron kettle, set over a fire behind the hollyhocks in the back of the yard.  We’d leave them in for a few seconds, just long enough to make it easier to pull their feathers out so we could take them in the house for my mom and Aunt Hazel to gut, cut up and pack in freezer bags.

That doesn’t sound so good either, but it’s what we did. It’s what happens when you have a working farm.

My Mammaw & Pappaw
My Mammaw & Pappaw

It was a small farm, raising mostly tobacco and corn.  There were five or six milk cows, fifteen to twenty chickens, two mules (for plowing where the tractor couldn’t go) a dog named Butchie and a big vegetable garden located out behind the stable.  I was there with my sisters almost every weekend, and daily during the summers from the time I was born until I was fourteen.

My dad would help Pappaw and Aunt Hazel work the tobacco fields while Mamaw, my two sisters and I would do chores around the house or play made up games in the yard.

I enjoyed most of the chores.  Feeding the chickens in the morning was fun although, sometimes frightening. They would peck at you and fly up trying to get the feed out of the pan.  Once I dropped some on the top of my foot and got a nasty peck that drew blood.  Mamaw washed it off with Lysol and water while she yelled at me for not wearing shoes, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, you can’t walk around chickens in those dang flip flops.”

The chickens had the run of the yard, so we were always on the lookout for chickenshit.  It was funny.  The word “shit” was a bad word.  We would have gotten a whipping if we said it, but chickenshit was different and was used on a regular basis by us all.

Aunt Hazel would say, “Make sure you check your feet for chickenshit before you come into this house.”

Lamenting the placement of poultry poo, Mamaw would exclaim, “Look at that chickenshit, right on my cement!”

I don’t think chickens have the brain capacity to be purposeful in such things, but she took it as a personal insult.  There was only a little cement around the cistern and she liked it to be clean.  She’d say, “Those girls are just being spiteful doing it there, when they got the whole dang yard to do it in.”

I guess she thought the rooster knew better. I miss chickens.  Now that raising them has become a popular urban hobby, I’m thinking I may take on a few.  I just hope they don’t recognize a chicken killer when they see one.