Eulalie Ann Bradshaw had always felt a little different.
She had so many first cousins she could hardly keep up with them. Her favorite cousin and best friend was Suzanna, better known as ‘Zana, only child of her Aunt Tully and uncle Luther Redfeather.
However, even though the girls were close, their mothers ways of raising them, at least when it came to religious training, was completely different.
Zanna had to go to Brother Holland’s Church of God church along with most of the other first cousins. Eulalie, whose father, Harvey, was a Yankee and really uptight, had to go (every other Sunday) to the Rushing Springs Episcopal Church in Woodfordville, the nearest city to Contentment. Most of this was because Eulalie’s father could never agree on religion with his wife, Julie Anne.
Harvey Bradshaw went around with a permanent look of being taken aback at just about everything his wife’s family did. Yet, he lived in Contentment all his married life until the good Lord carried him away at the age of 76.
His in-laws found him amusing, and he provided for Julie Anne and their daughter, so they really didn’t have a problem with him most of the time.
It was harder for Aunt Ginny, the family matriarch, to like Harvey, though. It was bad enough that Julie Anne had taken to dating GI’s on the nearby Camp Rucker army base. But then–she had to disgrace the whole family by marrying one! To Aunt Ginny, it was a mixed marriage, doomed for failure, and she prayed for her niece. Prayed hard, especially when Julie Anne became pregnant with Eulalie, who would be her only child.
When Eulalie was born, the whole family was curious to see what the child would look like. To the surprise of them all, the little hybrid didn’t spout two heads or five arms. She looked normal enough, even though she had a Yankee father.
Aunt Ginny loved babies and she loved her great-niece. But Aunt Ginny didn’t love Harvey’s fancy church where people didn’t even have the decency to speak in tongues. And what a name! Aunt Ginny could never pronounce it correctly, so she often called Harvey something that sounded like “Pest”-copalian.
Aunt Ginny went there for the baptism, and came out shaking her head. Those folks didn’t even get Eulalie properly soaked, just dabbled some water on her forehead. In years to come, Aunt Ginny often wondered if that fancy baptism ‘took.’
But in time, Aunt Ginny grew to care about Harvey. As aggravating as he was, Harvey, I guess, wore her down. Folks around Aunt Ginny knew that she carried a special burden for her nephew-in-law’s soul. The way they knew that, was that every time Harvey opened his Northern mouth around her, folks heard Aunt Ginny asking Jesus to keep her near the cross.
When Eulalie got dragged by her father to his church, he insisted that the little girl be dressed up like she was going to meet Governor Wallace or Billy Graham. Once there, she had to sit perfectly still, and not move a inch. She couldn’t even scratch if she itched, and we all know that its when we can’t scratch that we itch the most.
Eulalie wasn’t sure what would happen if she did move in her father’s church, but it was likely to be purely horrible. Maybe she’d go to those nice, dignified folks purgatory. Maybe she’d just get a good spanking.
Eulalie decided not to try and find out.
The other Sundays, she went with Julie Anne to whatever old-time gospel church Julie Anne was currently enthralled by. And there quite a few on that list. Would it be Ike Walton and his bunch of snake-handlers? Or would it be Brother Tennessee Turpin and his group that picketed in front of the Howling at the Moon Club?
Or was it going to be good old Brother Holland who told his charges each week that they were going straight to hell and that he was going to watch?
There was enough variety to make young Eulalie very confused. At one or two of the services (not Brother Hollands) the adults were carrying on so much that Eulalie could get away with anything she wanted. Folks would just come up to Julie Anne and compliment her on having a child who was ‘on fire for the Lord.”
When such things were said, Julie Anne would smile weakly, nod, and reach in her purse for a nerve pill.
Eulalie sometimes dozed during the formal prayers at her Father’s church, and wasn’t sure if they really were prayers at all. So, really, it was her mother who taught her to properly pray.
Julie Anne taught Eulalie to pray every time she misplaced something important,
It would go like this. Every weekday, Julie Anne would come back from dropping Harvey at work. She then had the use of their cherry red Impala for the rest of the day. Once home, Julie Anne would watch one or two soap operas while doing chores she could do within sight of the television set.
Then, Julie Anne would get it in her mind that she needed to go somewhere. This would be an urgent need, like picking up some ingredient for supper or getting the latest National Enquirer.
Eulalie, being too young for school, had to go with her. So, they’d get to the door and Julie Anne would realize that she couldn’t find her car keys.
This was a crisis. And there was only one thing to do to relieve that crisis.
Once Julie Anne realized that the keys were missing, she would begin the first kind of formal prayer to the Lord. She’d start calling out His name, saying, “Lord, Lord, Lord, I can’t find them car keys. We really need to go do…………..Please help me, Lord.” It was pure petition and Eulalie would come to know it well.
Julie Anne wasn’t one to wait on the Lord, so she’d help him while petitioning for His assistance in the matter. If the keys weren’t found, she’d move on to the next type of prayer, which would be confession.
Eulalie loved this part, because she got to hear the dirt on everybody, especially women that her mother didn’t like.
It would go, “You know Lord, I just can’t stand Jimmy Sue Taylor. She wears me out. And I know I shouldn’t talk about her to Eleanor Grace and Tully so much. But if you help me find those car keys, I promise I’ll cut it right out, even if she is as homely as a sack of dried up rabbit turds, and laughs like a duck.”
Now sometimes, that would be all it took. The keys, lying on the top of a chair, or in a windowsill would present themselves to Julie Anne’s line of vision, and that would be that.
But sometimes, it took more. Sometimes it took Julie Anne being willing to re-dedicate herself, however the good Lord saw fit.
By then, she’d be getting a little desperate to get behind the wheel, and was somewhat hysterical. Where could those blankety blank (sorry, Lord!) car keys be?
“Oh Lord, you know, we need to go to……..If you’ll just let me find them, I promise I’ll read the Bible every day–at least a chapter, even those boring parts that don’t make sense or do anybody any good anyhow….”
By that time, Julie Anne either stepped on the car keys that had been right in front of her on the floor the whole time, or sat on them in the kitchen at the table.
Then, Eulalie would get to see the fourth type of prayer: Thanksgiving.
Julie Anne would say, “Oh, Lord, thank you so much for finding my keys, I’d really love to tell you how wonderful you are, but we’ve got to go now. Thanks again.”
And she’d tear out of there, Eulalie in tow, as if she expected the Lord to immediately call her on any of her desperate promises.
In years to come, Eulalie would try a number of churches, and even a few different religions once she got to college (she just didn’t tell her Mama or Aunt Ginny.) Finally, she settled on a church a little like Harvey’s and just interesting enough to remind her of her Mother’s Pentecostal roots.
But always, no matter what, she’d remember what Julie Anne taught her about prayer. And, for Eulalie, what was good enough for her Mother was good enough for her.
Especially when, as an adult, she lost her car keys.