Sea of Hats part II

Sea of Hats part II

A Story by Montilee Stormer

I preferred the balcony even when we weren't late. The entire Sanctuary could be seen from up there. One could look around without being obvious, from the exposed beams that made up the point in the roof, to the choir, the pulpit and of course the people. It was fourth Sunday, and around the perimeter of the pulpit and the railing, kneeling benches that displayed flowers the other three Sundays were covered in a white cloth. Covered in their temporary shroud lay the Self-serve Communion of small square wafers that tasted of flour and small cups of "wine" that in a former life was Welch's Concord Grape Juice.

Nurses stood by along the walls in case God needed to send the Spirit in a hurry. Efficient in their actions, these holy Florence Nightingales boasted never sending a person to God on their watch. I can remember Mr. Peabody trying to swallow his tongue during a particularly strong smack of the Spirit. He flopped around like a carp, turning his café au lait skin gray like the colored bits of painted glass that passed for stained in an inner city church, until the nurses snatched him form the grasp of Death. Literally saved from being Saved. God quietly collected Mr. Peabody two weeks later in his sleep, away from the prying hands of the Nurses. God may always get His man, but never during the Nurses watch.

Another balcony merit was the perfume/oxygen ration, which was staggeringly out of balance on the main floor. Giorgio, Gloria Vanderbilt, Avon, and the fragrant scent of unwashed bodies packed a powerful wallop on hot muggy days. The ceiling fans cruised at a moderate counter-clockwise speed, sucking the less warm air from open windows into the balcony and pushing it down to the main floor. They were defeated by human counterparts on the main floor waving hand held cardboard fans. Basic earth science never came into play in Church, but imagine: the cooler air mixing with the warmer air creating a storm front contained within the walls of supposed sanctuary, a spectacular thunderstorm calling to mind the great waters of Noah's flood. A miracle that it never happened – a carnage of Saturday 'dos: limp pageboys and disengaged wraps; hours of face prep down the toilet: a sea of mascara floating patches of blush and eye shadow. This alone must be proof of a God.

The balcony on this day was not as crowded as one may expect on a fourth Sunday, but still close with bodies. It was Communion Sunday, after all, and if someone chose the path of sin and couldn't make it any other time during the month to repent, this was the chance for Salvation. A number of "excuse mes" and "pardon mes" later, we were sitting along the railing, giving me my first view of the morning's Sea of Hats. So many hats bobbing along an ocean of bodies; fluid nods and gentle sways hypnotic and calming. If this is what God sees when He peeks through the roof, then He must be truly pleased. Tall, round, plumbed, veiled, in every color of the rainbow – some all at once. Women were obsessively careful about the selection of hats as one might be about wine with dinner. Outrageous meant unique and the more eye-tearing the color the better. I made secret plans to one day go to church with a toilet lid covered in pink and yellow plastic wrap and a few stuffed blue jays on my head, and maybe have my purse and shoes dyes to match. I don't think about those plans anymore.

Kente cloth crowns were a favorite among men but the fedora and boleros still held their own. Was there combed hair under those hats? Was there hair? I loved the way older men dressed for church in suits that seemed to predate the Jazz Age. There was enough flammable material on the main floor to declare the Sanctuary a fire hazard. If we had been Catholics, known the world over for candles in every corner, the place would have burned down many times over. This day my eye was drawn to the first eight or so rows on the left side of the church. All in meeting clothes, all in hats, this group seemed to stand out. Maybe it was the not so bright colors or the staccato bobbing of hats not quite in unison.

I was not allowed to lean on the rail, not because I could fall two stories to my death – no, the Nurses would surely save me, but because it was uncouth, a word reserved for heathens and other assorted miscreants. I resolved to be couth, sitting straight against the hard wooden pews, the Methodist version of Purgatory, my posture affording me only a view of the first eight rows. They were different this week - a little more stiff, a little less lively.

The first reading came and went. I barely heard it, but I could tell you that God was mentioned once or twice. The response came and went and I watched the first eight rows. The choir sang and they practically brought His House dawn, bringing the faithful to their feet, hands raised, all except the first eight rows. The Nurses were dispatched to various sections, fanning and administering salts to those lucky enough to be stricken with the Holy Ghost. They were not called to the first eight rows, where the members did not stand and whoop and holler, and actually seemed to make a point of avoiding them all together. I looked around cautiously to see if anyone else had noticed this but no one gave me a knowing look back. I even leaned forward a bit to see the reactions of those in rows nine on back, catching enough of a peek to see everyone studiously staring at their hymnals before my mother's hand on my shoulder reminded me where I was. She didn't have to jerk me back because that was a sign of no home training, but the hand was a shock of its own.

I couldn't focus on the service, but then why should I? I knew the entire ceremony by rote: When to stand, when to sit, when to look penitent. As smart as I may have been, I certainly knew better than to recite. I found other ways to kill time that made it look like I was taking a serious shine to theology. I read the Bible, centering on Revelations because it's what all rebellious kids did. I memorized the whole bulletin/program by the time the announcements were read, including the Shut-ins and the compilation of last week's contributors to the plate. They could have my anonymous little dollar, and I didn't care if anyone knew. It was one less dollar I could use to buy a candy bar later, and that was as spiritual as it went. The local funeral home advertised on the back of the bulletin for as far back as I could remember. Some weeks they distributed cardboard fans stapled to oversized Popsicle sticks, as if to say "Thanks for thinking about your eternal soul, and by the way, let's talk about your mortal remains and how your loved ones plan on trussing them up."

So I zoned out on the first reading and the responsive prayer, wondering how many shut-ins on the list were truly shut in or just too lazy to worship with the rest of us and what exactly was required to be a shut-in. I woke up around announcements, an internal brag list of who was doing what and when and why you needed to be there. It was the usual: Men's Association was doing this; Choral Choir met when; this person died; that person was convalescing; blah, blah, blah. It was time to welcome the visitors.

I called it the Outcast Club. Visitors were made to stand and announce what other church they were from, and invited to shake loose the heathen dust from their inferior church and worship with the Best of God's Best. A few stood and voiced their affiliation, straining to be heard over the white noise of human breathing. There may have been a Baptist among us, as I heard gossipy tittering from below. None of the first eight rows stood or turned around, or even acknowledged the Outcasts. Further, no mention was made of them, and it was beginning to really bother me. Christians excluded from God's flock? The service moved on.

There was a hymn and then the second reading followed by the sermon. Reverend Holms gave delivery of this week's message like he did every week: A funny story, the moral, biblical passages, more anecdotes. There was shouting and laughing and not a few Amens. This week he spoke of second chances, and how the Lord was always willing to give us a second chance. There was serious fire and brimstone rising from the pulpit this week. But there was also a note of sadness and remorse. Forgiveness and second chances. The front rows stiffly nodded an agreement, sending a powerful scented wave, and that's when the smell hit me. It wasn't overpowering, like a shower in White Diamonds, but it was two shades of too much. I looked around for the culprit, but the sermon was over and it was time to prepare our bodies for Christ. There was more head-bowing to come. The denizens of the balcony would have to wait until the main Sanctuary had received Communion, which was a procession row by row to the kneeling benches. Stand, kneel, wait, wafer (amen), wash it down (amen), get Blessed (amen) and book it back to your seat. This was wonderful if you were Down There, because your hands were first to the wafer dish, but we had to be resolute in our Faith that God would never let cooties sully Communion for the Late Comers. As efficient as hummingbirds to morning nectar, the Nurses also doubled as ushers and cleared away used cups in between pew seatings.

The first eight rows did not get up.

It was finally the balcony's turn. We walked the main aisle towards monthly Salvation, the red carpet soft, the sunlight bright even through filthy windows. My stomach grumbled a loud tattoo; this sacred snack would only make the natives restless. I was grateful we were in the balcony -- last in, last saved, first to Fellowship. Now I got to see the Sea of Hats a little closer, the colors a little more bright, the makeup applied with expert care. Beneath the hats hide winks and smiles, windows and doors, and gaping holes were faces used to be.

I saw more than I wanted to. I discovered there was such a thing as being later than a Late Comer. It was Communion Sunday, after all, and if someone chose the path of sin and couldn't make it any other time during the month to repent, this was the chance for Salvation.


One more Part

© 2008 Montilee Stormer

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The imagery here continues to be both appalling and amazing all at the same time. Carry on! This is delicious!

Posted 12 Years Ago

I think I have an idea of where this might be going, but I won't say anything. I'll just let the rest of the story unfold. Really great, so far. Your memories of going to church while you were young are bringing back memories of my youthful church going days, though my parish was a bit more secular and our church was a ground level building (it was supposed to be bigger but they ran out of money and just put on a shabby roof). Can't wait for part 3.

Posted 12 Years Ago

I don't know what's coming next, or who occupies the first eight rows, but you had me chuckling on more than one occasion.

Those nurses... hahaha
potential storm front in the sanctuary - wonderful!

Posted 12 Years Ago

As always, a great piece of writing! Your similes and descriptives are original and paint the perfect picture without sounding forced.(something I can't seem to stop doing d****t!) Your description of the scents in the sanctuary are bang on and I could actually recall that pungent mixture of scents I experienced as a kid. You've listed this as horror, (which I love)but even if it weren't I would still want to read more!
Awesome as always!
I'll also rate part one but with no babble.

Posted 12 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on April 25, 2008


Montilee Stormer
Montilee Stormer

Royal Oak, MI

Short Version: MontiLee Stormer is a troublemaker, writing acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. Her interests wander from abnormal psychology and serial killers, to lost loves and.. more..


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