â€œIâ€™ll have the fish and chips,â€ Dad said at the counter of Long John Silvers.Â We hadnâ€™t eaten there before, but it was where Dad wanted to go after church. We hadnâ€™t been to many Owensboro restaurants before, as it had only been a couple of months since we moved â€œback to Kentuckyâ€ (an expression that applied only to Dad) from New England. Mom and I got Fried Fish #1 and Fried Fish #2.
â€œWhat did you think of the sermon, family?â€ Mom asked, when we had sat down.
Dad cleared his throat and rested his chin on the tops of his large hands.
â€œAh, well, I thought it was long.â€
â€œLong,â€ Mom repeated.Â â€œAnything else?â€
â€œOh, you know, Janice always goes into way too much detail.â€Â He put the accent on â€œtail.â€
â€œYou think so?â€œ Mom said.Â â€œToo bad. Â How did you like it, Molly?â€
My mind turned back to the sermon that day:Â â€œMany Gods, One Faith.â€ Â The preacher, Janice, was short and stout, with bangs, hiking boots, and corduroys.
â€œFine,â€ I said.Â Â â€œAnd next weekâ€™s Beltane ceremony should be pretty exciting. You know what people used to do for Beltane?â€
â€œThey sacrificed a deer, lit bonfires, and made love outdoors.â€
â€œSounds just about right for Owensboro,â€ Dad replied, chuckling.Â â€œWell, the deer hunting part, anyway.Â What did you think of the sermon, Olive?â€
My mother took a sip of iced tea before answering.
â€œI learned some things.Â I liked the hymns. I liked your playing.â€ I had played my violin to accompany the hymns that day.Â She smiled at me. Â She wore a light green blouse and capri pants.Â All the Owensboro women wore capris in warm weather.
Thank goodness, she didnâ€™t wear sweater sets or a round, silver pendant engraved with her initials, the way some women did.Â People in Owensboro seemed to spend a lot of money to be ordinary.Â Sometimes, I didnâ€™t want to fit in.
Not to worry about that. Â The first question anyone asks a newcomer is â€œHave you found a church yet?â€Â Say â€œNo,â€ and the person invites you his or her church.Â We hadnâ€™t found a church, and we werenâ€™t looking for one, because we didnâ€™t believe in God.Â Weâ€™d started attending the Unitarian church in order to be able to truthfully answer â€œyes,â€ to the ice-breaker question.Â To say â€œnoâ€ was to step into a trap.Â And to say â€œyesâ€ without going to church was to lie, something none of us felt comfortable doing.
Speaking of lies, that night, we watched George Bush defend the Iraq war by conjuring up nuclear weapons.
The next day in the school cafeteria, I asked an acquaintance what she had thought of Bushâ€™s address.
â€œI really like his faith,â€ Mary Jo answered.Â â€œGod is really important to him, and that makes him a good leader.Â Â I mean, without God, how do people keep from lying all the time?â€
We carried our trays of pizza casserole over to a table.
â€œWell, I donâ€™t believe in God, and I donâ€™t lie.Â Iâ€™m a good person,â€ I told her as we sat down at a table.Â â€œI just donâ€™t need God to tell me what to do.â€
â€œHey, listen to this,â€ Mary Jo said to the group.Â â€œShe doesnâ€™t believe in God.â€Â My friend faced me.Â â€œIâ€™ve never met someone who didnâ€™t believe in God.â€
Iâ€™d enlighten them.Â They would see that I was just like them, minus God.
â€œYou donâ€™t believe in God?â€ a black girl asked me.
â€œNope,â€ I said proudly.
â€œWhat? You have to come to my church next weekend..â€Â Her voice rose.Â â€œIâ€™m sorry, but this is really important to me.â€ Â I wondered if she might start speaking in tongues.
â€œDo you know where youâ€™re going after you die?â€
â€œâ€™Cause without God, youâ€™re going to Hell.â€
I said nothing. Â Then I got an idea.
â€œActually, I canâ€™t come to your church next weekend.â€
They all listened.
â€œIâ€™ve found a church already.Â I go to the Unitarian Church. We have some important ceremonies coming up next Sunday.Â In fact,â€ I added, â€œIâ€™m supposed to play the violin during the service.â€Â This was all true.
â€œUnitarian?Â Whatâ€™s that?â€
â€œJust another church.â€
â€œOh, okay, then.Â So you do believe in God?â€
â€œI go to church every Sunday.â€
God came in handy after all.