Saturday, April 03, 2010

Scenes from Silver Creek: The Great Hallelujah Egg Hunt

For a small town, Silver Creek sure was sanctified. In addition to mom’s church (St. Edith’s Episcopal), and dad’s church (Our Lady of Angels) we also had the Calvary Lutheran Church, the Church of Christ, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church.

EBC was the closest we had to a holy-roller church and it was founded and run by one of our town’s most eccentric families, the Washingtons. Here’s the picture, two extremely devout Baptists (the gloriously named Hallelujah Washington and his wife, Esther Pride-Washington) have eight extremely devout children, all of whom were given monikers that suggest all were recently-freed slaves:

Bethesda Monday and her twin brother Ezra Monday
Gideon Tuesday
Unity Wednesday
Ezekiel Thursday
Glory Friday
Shenandoah Saturday
Jubilee Sunday

None of the family was, in fact, freed slaves. They were a crop of skinny white kids with skinny white parents who really wished they had been born black so they could have a “real” Baptist church.

The Reverend Hallelujah wanted, above all things, to preach fire and brimstone sermons. He was hindered in this achievement by the possession of a damp-matches and pudding voice. Seriously tone deaf, his desire to be a great religious orator was further hampered by his tendency to put the emphasis on the wrong words in his sermon, thereby often making “the” more important than the word “savior.” He often spoke at city council meetings and other public gatherings and I never lost the urge to giggle when he’d say something like “we’d like TO commend the football team for their great win ON Friday against the Auburn WildCATS.”

I always believed that the eight Washington kids had a hard time living up to their names. I mean it can’t be easy in the modern world to be named Jubilee. But they loved their parents and were there every Sunday to help get the church ready for services. Bethesda and Glory were great at arranging flowers. Ezra and Gideon alternated playing the organ and leading the choir. Ezekiel, who was naturally outgoing, would stand on the sidewalk inviting people in. And both Shenandoah and Jubilee were ordained ministers. The one chore that all the Washington kids balked at, and that was sitting next to Miss Rose Hylam, a vinegary old virgin with a venomous tongue. A termagant with the mixed scent of self-righteousness and rosewater. Miss Rose was the kind of woman who would tell you things "for your own good" that never did you any good. But she was quite rich and the EBC’s most generous benefactor. In her opinion, her copious donations to the church entitled her to her very own Washington at every service, helping her out of her seat, finding the right page in the hymnal, and escorting her down to the social room for punch when the service was over. And, in a mixture of Christian kindness and practicality, the Reverend made sure she always had one of his children there are her personal church-going minion. It was not an enjoyable duty so the kids made sure it was fairly split up with each taking his or her own turn as the sacrificial lamb.

Reverend Hallelujah was a sweet, friendly man who genuinely seemed to like people and was honestly proud to be of service to the community. Although he was not the Martin Luther King type of minister he dreamed of being, he was nevertheless a good man who practiced what he preached. He helped the poor. He forgave the sinners. He went out at midnight to hold hands with hospital patients and got up at dawn to drive the senior club on road trips. He was also he driving force behind the Ecumenical Brotherhood, sort of a Lions Club for Christ where he’d get the priests and ministers of all the local churches to come together for various citywide programs. They would, for example, put together an all-choir sing-along at Christmas time and held annual Forth of July parties at which each church would have a booth where you could buy things that were bad for your teeth and know the money would be going to a good cause.

One year Reverend Hal had the idea to put together an Easter Egg Hunt in Grover Park. All the local churches agreed to take part and mother’s groups all over the county spent days filling brightly colored plastic eggs with candy and small toys. The idea was that all churches would hold Easter services at the same time on Easter Sunday and then the families would gather in the park to let the little ones find the prizes.

Unfortunately for Reverend Hal, and everyone else concerned, Easter weekend coincided with “Senior Prank Week” where high-school seniors at Silver Creek High were expected to play properly harmless practical jokes on the entire town. Things like covering the fire station with toilet paper or putting a fore sale sign in front of city hall.

The year of Hallelujah’s great egg hunt year the seniors waited until late Saturday night when all the plastic eggs had been hidden and then they raided Grover Park. Like the Grinch, they took all the toys and candy. Unlike the Grinch, though, they replaced the surprises with surprises of their own and let the entire town converge on the park, all innocent, on Easter morning.

The first hint that something was wrong was when four-year old Emmy Jeevers found a lovely bright pink plastic egg with a condom inside. “Oooh,” she declared happily, “I got a balloon!”

Other children opened their eggs to find bottle caps, band-aids, walnuts (in shell) and dice. Personally, I thought the dice was a nice touch. The only candy left relatively intact were the marshmallow Peeps, all of whom were in breeding position in proximity with other Peeps.

The more conservative of the town were livid, starting with my ever-self righteous and entirely humorless Aunt Camilla. How dare these high school bullies take away the innocent fun of the children eagerly hoping to find chocolate bunnies amid the wild daisies of Grover Park?

But, oddly enough, the Reverend Hal thought it was hilarious. He laughed and laughed. And when I, along with the other seniors, showed signs of coming off of some serious sugar highs (hey, we had to do something with all that candy) he congratulated us on the prank and then ordered us to rectify the situation while he took the children to a corner of the park for story time.

We quickly pooled our resources and ran hell-for-leather down to Walgreen’s where we pretty much bought out their stock. One frantic hour later the children of Silver Creek were let loose again and got their bunnies, their malted milk balls and more virginal Peeps.

As additional punishment, the seniors had to wash every church bus in town. Hallelujah supervised us and when we were done, took us all to EBC where we were each presented with plastic eggs, each containing a “chore slip” from a local business. I, along with three others, got roped into painting all the picnic tables in Grover park. My friend Sean spent an afternoon building shelves for Jeever’s Hardware. And Bethesda and Ezra Washington, whose inspired idea it was, got the worst punishment of all. They both got Miss Rose duty for the next six months.

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

Hilarious! But also a great Easter story with all the redemptive qualities needed. Thank you for a really good read!