I was probably 9 years old, standing next to my mother at the end of a church service, and the preacher was calling for people to be saved, accept Jesus, and come down to the altar.
Now I must say that compared to a lot of church services I've been to and seen on TV, these at this Baptist church were very mild, well-mannered, sedate gatherings. There was never any hollering, speaking in tongues, faith healing, fire-and-brimstone - none of that stuff. So I can't say I was swept up with the emotional outpouring of the crowd or anything like that.
I simply felt the call. In my little girl heart, I felt something open up. I said something to my mother - I don't remember what - probably asking if it was ok that I go down - and my shy self walked down the aisle to the altar.
Next thing I remember is my baptism. It was at a Sunday evening service. I had to change into a white robe. Both of my parents, too, changed into white robes. The 3 of us descended steps down into a large pit of water that had been revealed to the congregation by opening a curtain behind the choir. The preacher, also wearing a white robe, was there.
He said stuff.... something about the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and I was dunked.
My next memory involves the discussion between my mother and the preacher about whether or not I was old enough to go to church camp that summer. The cut-off age was 10, I think, and I'd just had my 10th birthday. So in the end, I was allowed to go.
It wasn't my first time away from my parents - I'd been on a few summer trips by Greyhound Bus with my grandmother to visit relatives in Louisiana - but it was certainly my first time away from home by myself.
I barely knew any of the other kids on the bus. I certainly didn't have any close friends among them. (I barely had 'close' friends at my school.) I remember staring out the bus window watching the scenery go by.
At church camp, we all slept on cots in one big room in a large white, wooden building. The bathroom was communal. I'd always found it embarrassing even going to the toilet at school, and here I was expected to do all my hygiene in the company of near strangers. Let's just say I didn't practice much personal hygiene that week.
After attending a couple of the services, which were strange to me and seemed pointless, I decided to skip. No one noticed I wasn't were I was supposed to be. I enjoyed a long walk, alone, around the campgrounds.
That's about all I remember about that week of church camp.
And that's about all from that church, too. Because by my 5th grade year, we'd stopped going again. I don't remember knowing why.
I always knew I was 'supposed' to be going to church, though. It's what good people did. It's what all my friends did, as far as I knew.
I didn't mind too much not going, however. It meant I didn't have to dress up in stiff frilly dresses and hang around with people I didn't know and only saw once a week. It meant more time running around outdoors, playing in the woods, riding my bicycle.
I missed the singing. I kinda missed the feeling of belonging, of being part of a group doing what we were supposed to be doing. But even then, I didn't understand why, if God was everywhere, why did we have to go to the church to be with him? If God saw me in my play clothes and loved me anyway, why did I have to dress up in fancy uncomfortable clothes on Sunday to go to church?
And so far, I'm just telling you the stuff in my childhood related to religion. There was other childhood drama, too. Like me being a tomboy and not fitting in. Not having a lot of friends. The behind-the-scenes grown-up stress at home. Never feeling good enough. All the mixed messages and (what I know now was) emotional blackmail and being responsible for my mother's happiness and stuff.
No physical abuse. Always had a house, food, warm clothes, and even hugs and affection. But there was plenty of turmoil beneath the surface to keep a sensitive little girl off balance.
And we haven't even gotten to my teenage years.