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My Memories...
Kathleen Howe
When I was a child my family went to church every Sunday morning. My earliest memories are of learning songs such as, "Jesus Loves Me," and "This Little Light Of Mine." I also remember going to my Grandmother's church, a Baptist church in Corning, New York - the kind we all think of when you think of a neighborhood church. It was built in the neighborhood where my Grandmother grew up, in fact, the house that she had lived in was always of key interest to me when I was near Jennings Street.
As a family, we attended the Episcopal Church that my father's parents went to in Corning. It was a huge church, with beautiful pieces of wood furniture carved intricately, the inside painted in my favorite gold leaf paint and beautiful stained glass windows. I always felt lost in that church, like a tiny dot in the middle of a page full of dots - but it was the church that my grandparents had devoted their life to.
While my mother's mother had once gone to the Baptist Church on the same street I had gone to school - the first grade - in the same neighborhood she had grown up in - my mother's father was Catholic. My Grandmother had always made a point of telling me that when she and my Grandfather had gotten married she was only fifteen years old; they had to have the ceremony out in the garden of the church because my Grandmother wasn't Catholic. Throughout their marriage - that fact remained the same. Two separate religions within one family made it difficult for a feeling of family unity in their religious life.
Despite the fact that I was involved in three different religions in my early childhood; I knew about each of them and how they were all different. Religion was a curiosity to me. I had memorized all three church services and I felt comfortable by myself going to any one of the three churches. And so, there was a split between my mother and her three sisters when it came to religion as well. One sister became a Catholic because her husband to be was a Catholic. I remember that very well. My mother's youngest sister was only eleven years older than I was.
My mother's sister married my father's brother in another case, and they remained split as my Grandparents had in their married life. My mother's sister went to the Baptist church and it was a very small town fundamental Baptist church. The town they lived in was so tiny that you only had to drive about one and a half miles to get through it!
I'm not sure about my other Aunt, but I believe she had a big church wedding because I was the flower girl for it and I am not sure the denomination she married into; but in her later life she was a Baptist and then a non-denominational person. Her husband being a very dominant and controlling person caused me to believe that they may have been some sort of fundamentalists - but I do think he was in the business of fooling the non denominationists about what kind of person he really was. 


I wonder about today, if many of the youths could give an accurate description of their family's religious history. It seems a shame that people don't know their extended families like we used to as a kid. But getting back to what I experienced, I think it's important to see where religion went in my life - throughout my years seeing that I was so grounded in religion at one time in my life.
I believe that my Grandmother stopped going to church as her children got older - I'm not sure how much she went when they were growing up. I do know that she experienced an extreme amount of anxiety to the point that I believe she could have been diagnosed with an actual anxiety disorder. She took these little pills that she claimed were "nerve pills," but later on in my teen years I found that they were valium.
The Baptist Pastor went to visit her at home. She also watched the Sunday roster of spiritual church shows, The Crystal Cathedral was one of them, and she received some kind of "Daily Bread" in the mail. She rarely left the house. I don't think she felt safe going out. The more violence that occurred - the more she stayed in unless someone was with her when she went out.
We lived in Syracuse, New York for a few years and lived only a few blocks away from our church. We walked to church as a family when I was in elementary school. I can remember wearing my good church clothes that my mother had made. She had sewn all of our clothes and quite often we all matched. We made friends in Sunday School and every Sunday went to visit our friends, for Sunday dinner and to play for awhile before returning home to get ready for school on Monday.
There had been a time when my mother went to work for a Catholic Girls School who adopted out children. When we were sick we had to go to work with her and stay in the infirmary. Believe me; we never faked it. We would have to be taken care of by the nuns, who back in those days wore those black and white "habits" or what kids today would call, "penguin suits" like Whoopi Goldberg wore in that movie, "Sister Act!" We ended up taking in foster babies through this place and we would get the newborn babies straight from the hospital. It was slightly crazy when my mom would move the baby into the living room when we were watching television and let it cry and cry! She believed that crying was good for the baby. That crying would exercise the baby's lungs, that sounds like a bunch of crap!
It was through my mother's kindness and good intentions that we ended up with an eighteen year old foster sister. It didn't end up working out because my father liked her a bit too much. We ended up moving away from there, far away from there - like all the way to New Hampshire. It was an obvious trouble spot in my parents' marriage. There were many transitions we would have to deal with because of this trouble.


It was through this transition from good marriage to bad marriage that questions came up in my own mind as my teen years got closer and my thoughts went to relationships and I noticed more about my parents' communications and interactions. I turned twelve the year we moved to New Hampshire and I was mature for my age. It was a good thing to move away from the city. My parents were always so concerned about how far we went from the house. Living in New Hampshire's beautiful countryside, there were no boundaries. I loved it.
The difference in our church in Syracuse and the church in New Hampshire was drastically different. My mother referred to our new church as, "a mission church." It was a white wooden building with a tall steeple on a small hill on the edge of town. Unlike living in the city, when we lived in Plaistow, New Hampshire the places we needed to get to were spread out far from each other. You couldn't just walk where you wanted to go. You had to go by car.
We felt immediately "at home" in this little church. My parents joined the choir and I watched the little ones in the nursery. My parents made friends with some of the other members and the minister and his wife. My first summer there when I was turning thirteen, I went to visit my aunt and uncle in their little town in New York for a few weeks. You know, I can't remember ever going to church with them. I think I stayed home because my uncle didn't go to church with the rest of the family.
It was that summer that I realized how abusive my uncle was and the confusion began in my mind. Although I had seen his behavior for years, it wasn't until I was thirteen that I realized what he was doing to my cousins. I was so upset and distressed about it. I had begun to hear rumors amongst the adults about how terrible he had been to my aunt as well. I often eavesdropped when my mother was speaking to my Grandmother on the phone. I was the oldest of my generation so I had more freedom than my cousins. 
It was difficult for me to understand how he could be my favorite uncle and be so mean to his own children. He had never yelled at me or ever disciplined me. He had always been fun loving with me and would sing my favorite songs when we traveled in the car. It was here that I had seen him kicking my cousin across the ground using his heavy steel toed work boots to kick his body with. He would inch along the ground trying to move as quickly as he could as my uncle berated him. It was sad. It was very sad.
Upon my return home, and our little church, I joined the "youth fellowship group," which was held at our minister's house further on away from town. He had a wife and three kids and there were things about him that made me laugh. I trusted him. When I think about the feeling of "trust" in my lifetime - he is the only person that I can use that word with. For some reason, trusting anyone was never an issue with me before that time. I don't believe I ever trusted anyone besides my mother's mother before that point.
I had talked to him about the abuse I had seen. I can't remember what he said or what we talked about. My thoughts had traveled to other arenas very quickly as instead of going to junior high school in the seventh grade, we were forced to join the high school because there were too many kids to fit into the junior high school.

to be continued 4/30/08

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