I shouldn’t worry so much about my weight; it’s genetic. No, I’m not going to blame “glands” or “big bones” – I’ve already confessed my career as a health care professional, so I know I couldn’t pass that one off.
No, it’s genetic because of my breeding. I was a spiritually-engineered Pentecostal.
Okay, before you click that back button – no, I’m not about to start a typical Queer Texan rant about how my religious upbringing ruined me for life. It did … but that’s another story!
(Deep breathing . . . focus, focus . . .)
Seriously, though – my presence on this planet is nothing less than the good intentions of a country-preacher in the Big Easy who hatched a plot to unite my unwitting parents in Holy Matrimony. They didn’t know each other prior, they both just had the good fortune (or misfortune – depending on who you ask) of sitting in this man’s pews in their early adulthood at different periods in time. My dad needed a wife, and my mother needed a life.
My dad, a Yankee who moved there with some army buddies after his Vietnam stint, had trouble attracting the opposite sex in that French-Southern metroplex, and my mother had just been forced to leave her childhood home in the piney woods of Northeastern Louisiana to make a new life for herself in the City Beneath the Sea-Level. By the time my Mom arrived, my Dad had already moved on to another town and another church. For reasons unknown, this pastor felt God meant for them to marry and spawn, and he called my dad and talked him into courting my Mother. Of course, it took a lot of conjoling and convincing for both of them, but before anyone could object or wait around for better packages, borrowed wedding dresses were being altered and invitations were in the mail.
Of course, this meant my mother had to move to a new town in East Texas . . . a town where she hardly knew anyone except for a niece of hers that had miraculously moved there a few years earlier (I think this was accepted as a sign). She was the Woman; the Man wasn’t about to move back to the Swamp City. God, it seemed, had already placed him where he was.
So, they married according to expectations, and eighteen months later I parted the waters and crawled onto dry land. I think it’s still in the Guinness Book as the longest human pregnancy.
So, as the seed of one second-generation Pentecostal and the egg of a convert, I was bred one.
And, here’s where it gets connected to my weight problem. Pentecostals love to eat, particularly the Oneness, “Jesus-Only,” Apostolic, United Pentecostal variety. We reeeeeeaaaallllly love to eat.
The church I was raised in had about two to three hundred souls in attendance on any given Sunday, with a dining room to seat every last one of them. On Sunday nights, one of four teams of the Ladies’ Auxilliary would be serving something to eat to raise money, and our church was equipped with a commercial, industrial sized kitchen to get any culinary job done. Covered dishes were never required.
The cuisine was always Country Southe’n, and if the plant or animal didn’t recognize its original form in some way when pulled out of the oven, chances are it wasn’t cooked. The names of the items mostly had to do with what went in and how it came out. Nothing was sautee’d or grilled, or prepared in any manner that required describing it with a foreign language, unless that language was Cajun French.
Occasionally, there would be an excuse for something really fancy – when the call would go out for the women-folk to bring those forbidden covered dishes. We usually called it the annual dinner, or a special holiday dinner, or “Dinner on the Ground.” The kitchen itself was large, but not large enough to hold 60-70 women – each determined to cook their specialty the way their mothers had taught them.
On those special days, the pastor would seem to be able to hear our grinding stomachs, each attempting to digest its own lining in anticipation of the food waiting to be eaten, each nose tortured by the smells that had been wafting from the dining room all morning long. Those sermons were always twenty minutes longer than usual. The food itself was always better than the “Team” food – fried chicken, deer brisket, gumbo, chili, various casseroles and pasta dishes, and tons of cornbread, pies and cakes. Still Country Southe’n, but with a little more pride and elbow grease.
On extremely rare conditions, we’d actually have “Dinner on the Ground” outside on the ground. The weather in East Texas wasn’t always permitting, but it was something that had to be done on occasion to remind us that we were just as plain and simple as our Pentecostal ancestors who actually ate “on the ground” for lack of any other place to go.
For the most part, we all preferred the padded folding chairs and air-conditioning. It was kind of like “tent-revivals.” They were fun for play, but we liked our real Jesus in cool, carpeted comfort. Pentecostals love the perception of simplicity, even though the burlap dresses have long been traded for dry-clean only; the saw dust floors with tile.
As delicious as the food always was, it was also deadly. Heart disease is common in my former church, as is obesity. One ex-member recently died from complications of morbid obesity – she was in her mid-fifties. My father struggles with obesity and is diabetic, and both he and my mother have high cholesterol levels . . . as do I.
But, as I sit here licking my lips remembering the good ole culinary days at the Pentecostal church, I accept our indulgences as the only vice we were allowed. We might not have been permitted to put away a six-pack during Monday night football, but we could each do the same to two or three plates of food after running in circles or worshipping in ways that resembled a voodoo priestess off of her seizure meds. Our Sunday afternoon naps were from pure exhaustion and carb overload.
So, there were good days in my home church, and I salute them with my glass of lime Kool-Aid, sweetened with Splenda.