By Christine Ledbetter
I’VE SPENT a good deal of time during the pandemic trying to Marie Kondo my stuff. To be honest it hasn’t gone all that well.
I recently came across a 12-year-Baptist Cross-and-Crown attendance pin in my jewelry drawer. My first thought was how could I possibly have attended Sunday School every Sunday for 12 years. Secondly, I wondered why I’d kept it for more than 50.
Would it would bring me bad luck to discard it? Did it symbolize something? Then I remembered where the pin originated, and that there was indeed a story behind it.
When I was in elementary school in the ‘60s, we attended a Baptist Church in East Alton, Illinois, where my mother played the piano for two services a week. Her best friend, Shirley, was the organist.
Beginning at the age of six, I turned the pages for my mother for the Wednesday-night and Sunday-morning services. I was so proud to walk up to the piano and sit next to her. She would nod when it was time to flip the pages because I couldn’t read music.
She and Shirley would also attend choir rehearsal every Thursday. Church and music occupied a big part of my mother’s life, second only to the raising of four children.
The minister, Rev. John, was a charismatic speaker who was also musical. He could sing quite well.
Our three families socialized and vacationed together. The adults played in a softball league.
Then something happened that would take me years to fully understand. Shirley and the minister apparently had an affair. When exposed, Shirley told people it was my mother who had slept with the minister.
Nobody believed her. Consider the logistics. How could a woman with four kids under seven years old have an affair?
In the end, both the minister and Shirley departed; my mother was devastated.
I don’t remember how I understood that something dreadful had occurred, but I knew my mother’s best friend had betrayed her. And somehow church wasn’t the same after.
If this happened today, there might have been counseling and perhaps a happier resolution. In the early 1960s, it was all about secrets, sin and condemnation.
We moved many times after that as my father took new jobs. My parents continued to attend Baptist churches, bringing the children to Sunday School. At a certain point during my teenage years I rebelled and refused to go.
Which brings up the original question of how could I possibly have collected 12 bars meriting perfect attendance. I called my younger brother, a life-long Baptist, to ask if he had such a pin.
He laughed. “Yes. The one you have must be mine,” he said. “You were a juvenile delinquent by then.” (Which is not strictly true, although I did drop out of high school.)
I asked if he wanted it back, and he declined. So I guess I’ll finally get rid of the Sunday School pin I’ve been holding onto for decades. It does not spark joy, and it’s not as if I ever wore it.
— Freelance journalist Christine Ledbetter worked at The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Detroit Free Press.