The Sign Of The Devil

nhhead-20121015-_DSC2936-Edit-EditAnsel Head’s brief recess from a formal religious education came when his parents left Canterbury Methodist.  Had his grandmother, from her high station at Hill-Leigh, failed to vanquish forever the collarless tweed jacket, ruffled shirt, hideous short pants, knee socks, and highly polished Buster Brown tie-ups, Head would have faced any resumption of his Sunday courses with fear and trepidation. But now, sporting long pants and a collared shirt, he feared not a return to a formal Sunday syllabus. Nevertheless, he was happiest when left to his own devices on Sunday mornings.

In the Tiny Kingdom, idle children left free to roam outdoors on Sunday mornings were soon noticed. Blue haired ladies at their Wednesday afternoon bridge game at the Country Club talked among themselves, the second-hand smoke from their filtered cigarettes replacing all breathable air.

Mountain Brook Club

Mountain Brook Club

Did you know the young Head boy and his sister were playing tether ball last Sunday morning?”

“No!  What’s going on at the Head’s? I bid one heart”

“I heard there was a falling out over the new Canterbury Methodist. Maybe that’s why they’re not in church. Pass”

“Yes and I heard it was because they were too cheap to help pay for the new sanctuary. It’s always that way with these kinds of people. The more money they have, the tighter they squeeze it. One spade.”

“Her husband is from a very nice family. His grandfather fought for the cause. His aunt, Roy Kaul, well there was no more respectable lady in Birmingham. Pass.”

Confederate Monument, Eutaw, AL

Confederate Monument, Eutaw, AL

“…Two spades. That’s true, but the mother’s family made their money selling groceries; they’re tradesmen, merchants. They’re not FFB’s [First Families of Birmingham].”

“Pass. Our fathers built this city. And when the money started flowing, all sorts moved in. What is it about these newcomers who don’t know enough to raise their children properly? What’s going to happen to our city. Did I say pass?”

“Four Spades. The mother seems nice enough. She always speaks to people and dresses properly in expensive clothes.  But… people who know her say she’s very ambitious.”

“Pass, I guess now that she’s President of the Junior League, she doesn’t need the people at Canterbury any more.”

“Pass. Roy Kaul wasn’t that way. You know her house, the big stone one on Red Mountain overlooking the city, the one with the swimming pool. I think her son lives there now. She was old money.”

“Pass. Didn’t she and her sister help start St. Mary’s?  Have you been in it?  The stained glass windows had to have come from Europe.”

From the next table over, “Keeping those little children out of Sunday School, the Heads should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a disgrace.”

From another table, “You can’t blame her husband, he was raised right.  But as for the mother, how could you expect common merchants to raise their daughter right. You know the type, always trying to make pennies on every thing they sell.”

“I knew Roy Kaul. She was my friend. Roy Kaul must be rolling over in her grave!”

On several occasions, Ansel Head had accompanied his father to Elmwood Cemetery when his father would visit the graves of his mother and her sister, Aunt Roy. Head never saw any movements that would indicate anyone was rolling around under the ground. But then, the younger Head boy was not the superior sibling in the family and was never faulted for failing to observe such things.

nhhead-20121016-_DSC3063-Edit-EditThe Sunday morning tether ball ended almost as soon as it had begun when Mr. Forman offered to take Head and his sister to his church. Since Ross and Libby Forman were their best friends, the idea held promise. Head’s parents, still in negotiations about what church the family would attend, accepted Mr. Forman’s offer. It bought them much needed time, away from the spotlight, to come to an agreement about the family’s pathway to God.

Head and his sister had attended Canterbury without their father, so Head saw nothing strange when Mrs. Forman failed to accompany them to their new church. She had been raised a Catholic but was said to be reformed which as far as Head could tell meant she didn’t have to go to church on Sunday but continued to force smelly baked mackerel on her kids and their Friday night dinner guests.

At a subsequent Wednesday afternoon card game, the blue blooded ladies in the smoke filled parlor at the Country Club gossiped on.

“Mrs. Kirkman, you know she lives next door to the Heads; we go to the same beauty parlor on Tuesdays. She told me she saw the Head children walking through her yard to the Forman’s last Sunday morning. Then she saw Mr. Forman leave with five children in his car. Mrs. Forman wasn’t with them. When she looked out her upstairs window, she saw Mrs. Forman, still in her bathrobe, sitting on the screened-in-porch reading a book. She couldn’t be sure because her binoculars weren’t strong enough, but it didn’t look like she was reading the Bible.”

“That Mr. Forman certainly is a nice man. I think he’s a lawyer in his father’s firm. But his wife, I don’t know, she’s too out spoken for me.”

“She comes by it naturally, she’s Col. Prichard’s daughter. They’re Roman Catholics, but I heard she won’t have anything to do anymore with Papists.”

“That’d be a good thing if she joined a real church. But I’m not sure about these things. Her parents probably baptized her as a Catholic. I don’t think you can undo that sort of thing.”

“Mrs. Kirkman says she never sees her go with her husband on Sundays.”

“You know she went up North to that Vassar College. They probably turned her into an atheist.”

“Her husband went to Harvard Law. He doesn’t seem corrupted. I think he’s an elder at South Highlands.”

“If that’s the case, how can their marriage last? And what about the children, don’t they have three? He’ll be teaching them how to avoid eternal damnation, and she’ll be telling them there’s no such thing.”

“She can say what she wants but it’s already to late for her thanks to her parents letting that Roman priest put the sign of the devil on her forehead when she was just a baby.”

“At least Mr. Forman is taking his children to church, and if what Mrs. Kirkman says is true, he’s also trying to save the Head children from their parents. “

After several visits to South Highland’s Presbyterian Church, Head announced to his parents that he really liked his new Sunday School. He was retaining little of the lesson, for that would have been too much for his immature, non-superior neurons to absorb. But he liked being with Ross and the other nice kids at the church.

St Mary's On The Highlands

St Mary’s On The Highlands

That disturbing announcement brought closure to his parent’s negotiations. One thing they did agree upon was the family that prays together stays together Their children were slipping away. They couldn’t have them praying in one church, the mother in another, and the father, well who knows where he was praying if he was praying at all.

So they settled upon his father’s ancestral house of worship, St. Mary’s on the Highlands. And as abruptly as Head’s Sunday’s with Ross had started, it ended. The most pleasant religious education of Head’s life was over, and he was still only six or seven.

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