Growing up I spent most of my time in the little red church. Not because we were extremely religious or anything. I mean, Mom sang in the choir and every Sunday morning I had to put on a dress and my hair in a bow and tried to sit still for an hour and fifteen minutes—but it wasn’t just that. My parents are the type of people who always have something to do—and are often distracted by whims which means they forget to be as responsible as they should be. That was the reason that on their fifth wedding anniversary, they already had five children under five, and Mom was already pregnant with one more. But I digress.
Even with so many children to pack up and cart away every time they left the house, my parents didn’t like to spend extended time at the house if they could help it. Every night, there was some event to go to, sometimes more than one back to back, and most held in the “fellowship hall” of the Presbyterian church, affectionately known to the whole town as “The Little Red Church.” Somethings we got to attend, children’s choir; Boy, Girl, and Adventure Scouts meetings; tutoring sessions and ‘get ahead’ classes. Some were just for the parents—Bible studies and book clubs and craft classes and a slew of other things that would have gone well over our collective young heads. These days we spent our time in the “play room” with all the other children whose parents didn’t want to spend a quiet night at home, and two bored teenagers who were paid $8 an hour to make sure we didn’t break anything—including each other. Those were some of my favorite days.
In that play room, with the mural of small forest animals painted on one wall and the toys that were always missing at least one piece, I learned more than I could in years of schooling. I was introduced to my first taste of social politics, as seven families’ worth of kids tried to figure out how to play in the same place. I learned the power of family and numbers, as my five siblings and I quickly learned that if we presented ourselves as a united force, we were intimidating to face and even harder to beat. I saw my first taste of heartbreak as eighteen children played with hushed voices while one teenage girl cried and the other tried to comfort her and explain what “broken up” meant to children brash enough to ask what was happening. I learned the effect of alcohol as my mother returned from the church banquet pink in the cheeks and leaning on my father’s arm a little heavily. I also learned my first social faux pa as my father answered what was wrong with Mom by saying “a little too much wine” and I replied loud enough for everyone to hear “Isn’t a little too much wine what led to Natalie?” and was quickly ushered towards the car by an embarrassed father and a giggling mother. I earned my first taste of responsibility when the church said I was old enough to help watching “The Children” now at a whopping $8.50 an hour, and I spent all my first paycheck on CDs that I barely listened to. I even practiced my algebra as I figured out how many hours I was going to have to work in order to afford tickets to a concert in May.
So, when you ask me where is home, I don’t think of my house. My first thought is of that little room in the little red church on the hill.