Most churches my dad pastored had wooden pews. Adults saw them simply as seats; especially spots where certain cushions meant, “Mine. Don’t sit here.”
During my childhood I saw pews as many things. Just after they had been dusted with furniture polish they made amazing slides. When the “Mine. Don’t sit here” people were not around, getting a running start, diving onto a cushion, and zipping down the length of the whole front pew was incredible fun. That is, until an adult made me stop or I hit my head. Hitting my head was the worst, because then I had to pretend nothing happened so I would not get in trouble.
The best use for wooden pews, though, was imagining them into race cars during long sermons. I usually began by sitting on the floor, because if you see your father speaking at the podium or your older sister playing the piano, it’s hard to imagine zipping around a race track. As a three-year-old I could get away with this as long as I was quiet.
The shelves on the backs of pews where hymnals were kept made for excellent consoles to store drinks, toys, and other things one needs in a race car. The steering wheel usually had to be imagined unless I had a round toy, but that was not a problem for me. I always gripped the invisible leather wheel with steely determination, angling my little arms to take on sharp turns.
However, the perfect features for my race cars were the large wooden screw caps and hole plugs. The deep grooves cut into the centers held my plastic toy keys perfectly still when I stuck them in to start the engine. Having my keys dangling beside the steering wheel made everything real.
On one Sunday morning, much like every other one in my young life, my dad was finishing up a sermon while my sister played the piano. I, of course, was in the floor quietly flying around a race track in my sports car.
However, the particular pew my mother had chosen was not cooperating with my imagination. My plastic keys would not fit into the screw cover. After they had fallen onto the carpet for what felt like the hundredth time, my temper boiled and sought an outlet. Unbeknownst to me, my father was taking a pause in his sermon, allowing everyone to contemplate a scripture before he moved on. It was during this meditative calm that I yelled, “chips!” with impressive clarity for a three-year-old.
I didn’t actually yell chips, but the word I did use caused my dad’s pause to feel heavier and my sister’s back to stiffen as her hands froze above the piano keys. The sudden silence piqued my curiosity so I poked my head over the top of the pew to see what was going on. Was church over for the day? No, but ladies were shooting corrective, wide eyed glances at their husbands and older children who were shaking with laughter. My mother quietly shook her head as my teenage brother (who was so proper he fastened the top buttons on all his polo shirts) whispered vehemently, “Take her home. She’ll just say it again!” My father and sister resumed their speaking and piano playing quickly, as if something vitally important depended on it.
All of these events seemed to happen fast, simultaneously, and to end almost as quickly as they had begun, so I lost interest. After sinking down to my spot on the carpet, I was happy to find that my keys finally fit into the ignition, so I raced my sports car until the sermon ended.
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