For most of my childhood, Saturdays were spent with my maternal grandmother (aka Grandma C.) My other grandma, Grandma F., lived in the Caribbean, and I only saw her once a year, usually during my summer vacations. I loved Grandma C., but I adored the fact that she had a television. For a while I had a tiny three-inch black and white television/radio that was stuck on one channel, PBS. Eventually, my father discovered a way to change the channels by cutting a small hole into the top of the device and then sticking a narrow object (a single chopstick worked best) down into the hole until it made contact with the wheel that changed the channel internally. For one glorious year I had channel-changing abilities, but then the TV gave out completely, and all I got was static.
So Saturday nights at grandma’s were a delight for me. Grandma C. had a big, beautiful, color television with a remote control (something my tiny black and white lacked). My Saturday night routine was unchanging. I would drag the twin mattress from her guest bedroom, lay it in front of the television, prop my head up on a pillow, and fill my stomach with Grandma’s delicious Rice Krispies treats and Sunkist orange soda as I watched a gluttonous amount of television. When my palate matured, I switched from orange soda to ginger ale, but other than that, my Saturday night routine remained unchanged for years.
Grandma C. and I would watch television together from eight to ten o’clock, shows like Empty Nest, 227, Amen!, Golden Girls, and Nurses kept us laughing, and during the commercial breaks (if I didn’t need a bathroom break) we’d talk. Then I’d stay up late to watch In Living Color and Saturday Night Live. When I could fight sleep no longer, I’d stumble, bleary-eyed, into Grandma’s bed and (especially given all the soda I’d consumed) futilely try to not wet it. Now that is love. My grandmother willfully let a chronic bed-wetter sleep with her every weekend, and she never made me feel bad about it. She simply prepared for the failures of my bladder by putting garbage bags between the sheets and the mattress—and she did a lot of laundry.
There were only two hardships I had to endure in return for the pleasure of Saturday night television with Grandma: the wait for sundown and church. My grandmother is a Seventh Day Adventist, which means she observes the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. And during Sabbath, there was to be no television. In the winter, that wasn’t too much to ask of my childish impatience, but in the summer, when sunset came after eight o’clock (i.e. the beginning of primetime viewing), I was like a detoxing addict, craving the next hit show—a sitcom trip through the luminous glow of Grandma’s amazing Technicolor television.
But waiting for sundown was nothing compared to the excruciating experience of going to my grandma’s church. I was young. I had the attention span of an ADHD gnat. I was restless and talkative. I was not inclined to sit through interminable sermons that I was too young to understand, and that when I did understand, scared the crap out of me.
During these sermons, there were few things I could do. On a good day, Grandma would let me sit with one of my friends, and we’d play a game somewhat resembling checkers that I made up using whatever coins were in my Grandma’s purse, and the buttons on the pew cushions. If I was lucky, I’d also find a fruit-flavored Vick’s cough drop, peppermint, or (even better) a butterscotch hard candy in there. Those were rare and precious, like pocketbook gold, and I savored them.
When I got a bit older, and Grandma didn’t mind me wandering the church alone. I got a bit of a respite during the sermons by hiding out in the nursery room. This provided the luxury of being able to talk with my friends and eat, but it also came at a cost. The nursery was filled with crying babies and heavy laden with the stale smell of dirty diapers mixed with graham crackers and apple juice. It was a horrid stench, and the air was thick with it. It took me well into my adult years to be able to smell graham crackers or apple juice without also smelling diapers.
But my first obligation during church with Grandma C. was the Saturday equivalent of Sunday school. I can’t remember what they actually called it. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t called Sunday school—not at the church that celebrated “Easter Saturday.”
Saturday Sunday school was minimally enjoyable. The teachers there were nothing like my teachers at school. Whereas my schoolteachers were soft and huggable, full of smiles and love, these women were as starch stiff as their superfluously modest clothes. And they had this way of saying the most awful things—things I didn’t want to hear—things that made me think of everything I was scared of, like hell and darkness and death. I remember being told once that if we opened our eyes during prayer time, we’d see the devil. Who says something like that to a child? I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine at the time, and that comment scared me to a profound degree. Even though, even then, I knew it wasn’t true (probably), that admonition stuck with me for years. So no, I did not like Saturday Sunday school.
There were only two parts of the church-going process I enjoyed—make that three. One: I relished the opportunity to dress up. I was a girly girl. I loved wearing shiny patent leather shoes that clinked against the pavement, and I felt most princess-like in a full skirt that rose up considerably upon twirling. Two: I liked snack time because my parents almost never gave me candy or junk food, but Saturdays were the exception. I was the kid who on class trips had an actual piece of fruit instead of Fruit Roll-Ups or cheese and crackers instead of Cheese Puffs. But on Saturdays, I got sweets—one candy bar of my choosing.
Three: The best part of church with Grandma was when we sang, “Blessed Assurance.” We sang that song every single Saturday. I knew all the lyrics by heart: “This is my story. This is my song. Praising my savior, all the day long.” I loved that song for two reasons. First, I loved it because it was the one part of the church service experience I understood and could participate in. I sang with gusto—full of enthusiasm. Second, and much more importantly, I loved that song because it meant the service was ending. It might take five minutes, or it might take twenty (especially if Grandma got caught up talking to her friends), but once that song was sung, I knew we were going home imminently, and once home, I was one step closer to watching TV—a fun Saturday night with Grandma. I just had to make it to sundown.