To Hell in a Handbasket

By on Aug 5, 2013 in Fiction, Humor

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Girls in Sunday best, 1960s

In Exodus 20:8 of the King James Bible, God commands, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”  My mother, in her continuous quest to commune with the Almighty, made sure that not a single Sabbath day passed that she and her three little daughters were not in Sunday School at Liberty Baptist Church, and the expletives she spouted while trying to get us there reinforced just how holy the day was.   “Holy mother of God, you three are going to be the death of me.”  “Holy shit, I’ve got a run in my pantyhose!” “Holy hell, we’re going to be late!” she exclaimed each week.  So, it was in my tiny three-bedroom, one-bath childhood home that the holiness of the Sabbath was instilled in me.

I descended from a long line of Methodists on both sides of my family until my maternal grandfather decided, before I was born, and for reasons unexplained, that the Baptists knew the way to go.  So, Baptists we became.  Maybe it had something to do with the sprinkling-versus-submersion baptism argument that has been going on for centuries between these two Protestant sects.  Remember, Jesus himself was a dunker, not a sprinkler.  Or, maybe my grandfather was secretly hoping he could drown my grandmother in the river and call it a botched baptism.  

From the time I was born until age thirteen, I never missed Sunday School.  I still have the thirteen shiny, gold perfect attendance pins to prove it.  Even a case of chicken pox at age six didn’t hinder my mother’s pursuit of those gold pins.  She just slathered on calamine lotion to cover the lesions and told everyone at church that I was beyond the contagious stage — only a slight stretch of the truth, and because she was taking me to church, it would be okay with God.  At least she had the decency to dress me in pink so that my calamine-clad face, arms and legs all matched. Never mind that I looked like a pint-sized bottle of polka-dotted Pepto-Bismol.

The Baptists like to recognize their faithful parishioners.  Showing up only on Easter and Christmas is blasphemous.  So, on the first Sunday of every new year, my mother would parade her three little trophies in front of the congregation for the annual perfect attendance ceremony.  The pastor would talk about what faithful servants of God we were, and then award us our pins, engraved with the appropriate number of years.  Since I was the oldest, I had more pins than my sisters, and I made damn sure they knew it.  My mother would beam with pride in knowing that, for another whole year, she had done her duty as a good Christian mother in making certain her children were in the Lord’s house every Sunday morning.  Little did anyone know what went on behind the scenes each Sunday before we got to the Lord’s house.

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Gwen Filardi is a native Atlantan who grew up in a family deeply rooted in Southern tradition. Her love of history compelled her to return to college in 2003 to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History. Realizing that much of her family's history was disappearing with the passage of time, she began interviewing family members and recording their stories as well as her own. This project led to her enrollment in the memoir writing program at Atlanta's Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, where she is currently working on a deeply personal memoir about her childhood and the family members who had the greatest influence on her life.


  1. Interesting

  2. “…pint-sized bottle of polka-dotted Pepto-Bismol”– haha love it! This was really witty and honest. Your descriptions are very visceral, too!