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9.02.2010

ARM FLAB, ACCORDIANS, AND ACTORS, oh my!

Families and churches are similar creatures.  There are all sorts of different characters in most families - like Uncle Barney who only ever wears wife beater shirts even in the dead of winter stretched tightly over his very large gut, cousin Lorene who always brings something made with green jello to every family gathering and usually leaves with most of it, and don't forget your two nephews from your oldest brother who constantly flex their muscles and look down at their own pecs.  Growing up in church there were also a handful of characters who kept me entertained.  There was swinging arm flab Shirley.  She was in charge of leading the music in the Children's Department and was also the mother of a friend of mine.  On Wednesday nights the children would gather to sing Bible songs and Shirley would lead or at least part of her would:)  I tried to be good, but I just couldn't be.  Invariably she would have a sleeveless blouse on which was much like a searchlight on a lighthouse - showcasing her extremely big, flabby, fleshy upper arms.  As she would get inspired with song, her conducting skills forcefully showing the beat, the gush - the undulations on her upper arms would begin to sway.  So would I - with laughter.  It much like telling kids not to stare directly at an eclipse.  We stared at Shirley's arms while our bodies shook with laughter and we pretended to be singing. There was, at that particular moment, absolutely no thought of Jesus in my head.  My mind was showing on the big screen Shirley's arm flab swinging to the rhythm of, "We are the Missionary Cadets.  Training in the Word..."  On Sunday nights the character was accordion player and singer Bev.  I hated Sunday night church and had strong opinions on its validity and purpose even as a small kid.  I mean come on, we were just in church 7 hours ago and did basically the same thing.  My thought was that Sunday night church was like remedial school - if you didn't quite get it in the a.m. you could return for the p.m. to get another dose, sing again, listen to a sermon and once again place some money in those red felt lined offering plates.   The line up of entertainment was the B-team on Sunday evenings, and Bev was most definitely a B team or possibly intermural player at best.  Here I would sit in a dress (required in our house to go to church), in a service I didn't want to be at (wanted to be home watching "The Wonderful World of Walt Disney") and listening to a warbling version of Lawrence Welk singing, "At Calvary".  Oh don't get me wrong, I was mesmerized by all the buttons on the accordion and that you shoved it together and pulled it back in this strange motion.  I could see sincerity dripping off of her - she was earnest in her devotion to God.  And I, well I was trying not to let my dad see me shaking from laughter so that I wouldn't get flicked in the head with his two fingers.  If I remember right I think she may have bowed once upon finishing her piece.  Or else, I felt she should have to top off the performance:)  Off to the side of the sanctuary for as long as I can remember growing up sat a full sized wheelable xylophone.  It was played by a very dashing man named Forry who always seemed a bit out of place in our church with his grace and style.  If you saw the xylophone pulled away from the wall on a Sunday morning that meant Forry was going to play the offertory.  Oh, he was good.  He was definitely in a category all his own and far away from Bev and Shirley.  I couldn't tell you what hymns he did, but I can still clearly see his movements across that xylophone and the vibrato he would create by staying on the same key with a repetitive mallet movement.  It seemed somewhat exotic and out of place and I mostly didn't want him to stop.  Sometimes though I would picture Forry in my head while he was playing being part of the "Lucy" show and playing in Ricky Ricardo's band.  Once again, my mind wandered but only to enhance what I was seeing!  Theatric and vibratic voiced Dick was yet another player in this magical cast.  He was the father of a friend of mine and before coming to "Jesus" had been as we would say, "living on the dark side".  He loved local civic theatre and participated widely in it.  Dick also sang in the choir and would, from time to time, sing a solo (he was both an A & B team player - why?).  Since I played the piano, Dick would ask me to accompany him while he sang.  I always said yes because I knew that he would be less likely to see my laughter if I sat behind the piano.  He tended to love commanding, theatrical, triumphant, exalting Gaither songs, like ,"The King Is Coming".  In his remastered versions, he would sing part of it and then dramatically speak sing other parts.  The parts he did sing though were in the most garishly strange overdone vocal vibrato you have ever heard.  It was like a chicken singing or Katherine Hepburn after two martinis.  I would slink down behind the big wood partition that surrounded the piano and start the introduction.  There was no looking out at the audience, at my friends, as I knew what they were doing - beginning to laugh with hands over their mouths pretending to be yawning.  I, on the other hand, was trying desperately to pay attention to the music, turn the page, follow his dramatic cresendos and pauses, while having a conversation in my head and laughing.  He especially would get loud and broadwayish on the ending, "HE'S COMMMMMMMIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNGGGGGGG  (pause, pause, pause, pause) AH (long pause) GAIN!"   And so would I - be coming back the next week to see Arm Flab Shirley, Accoridan Bev, Xylophone Forry and Tony award winner Dick.  Who says you can't be entertained at church?

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