Lifestyle & Culture

Sunday School and Marie Kondo

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 mothers 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 dont remember how I understood that something dreadful had occurred, but I knew my mothers best friend had betrayed her. And somehow church wasnt 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 Ill finally get rid of the Sunday School pin Ive been holding onto for decades. It does not spark joy, and its 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.


Eine Kleine Live Musik

Writer Christine Ledbetter with cabaret singer Liz Callaway.

By Christine Ledbetter

Lillias White performing at Feinstein’s Cabaret in Carmel, Indiana.

Sprinkled among the pandemic losses have been a few grace notes. Recently I discovered a gift of music in an unexpected place.

Its been over a year and a half since Ive heard music or seen theater live. I was surprised to find a first-rate cabaret experience in the most unlikely of places—a Marriott Autograph hotel in the middle of Indiana.

Because of family matters, my husband and I were traveling from our rural Illinois home to Cleveland, a two-day drive for us. We usually stay in downtown Indianapolis, but we researched a new hotel, Hotel Carmichael in Carmel, just north of the city. Upon checking in, we discovered it boasted a Feinsteins Cabaret starring true Broadway musical performers.

Id been to Feinsteins in New York, but I had no idea Michael Feinstein had clubs in California and Indiana.

What an unexpected joy to find a lineup featuring two Tony Award winning singers, Lillias White and Liz Callaway over the course of seven days. That Friday White gave a bluesy rendition of Put on a Happy Face,” and performed a mix of standards, Broadway and a little Motown. Her new album, Get Yourself Some Happy,” is available at Lillias White.

After hearing White, we made arrangements on our return trip back to see Callaway the following Friday. She has starred as Grizabella in Cats,” so her version of “Memory” was as clear as a teardrop. She, too, has a new CD out, The Essential Liz Callaway,” at Liz Callaway. From Aug. 8 to 9, she’ll be singing live at Feinstein’s / 54 Below, 254 West 54th St. New York, NY, 10019. 

Hearing music in person after such a long isolation made this former arts editor cry. Multiple times. Broadway productions in our living room never measure up.

We have tickets to New York theater in November, but until then, Im going to seek out more intimate musical experiences.

“What good is sitting alone In your room?

Come hear the music play.

Life is a Cabaret, old chum,

Come to the Cabaret.”

Freelance journalist Christine Ledbetter worked at The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Detroit Free Press.

Liz Callaway singing at Feinstein’s Cabaret in Indiana.

Grandparents in a Pandemic

LEFT: Pandemic grandparents Christine and Dean. TOP RIGHT: Daughter Rachel and son-in-law Kyle with Tilly by way of Zoom. BOTTOM RIGHT: A Zoom visit features son Sydney and daughter-in-law Leti with Lukas and Mika. ON THE FRONT: The whole clan in more up-close-and-personal times, August 2019. / Family photos.

I’VE BECOME a grandparent on Zoom, and Im having a difficult time with that.

It’s been about 11 months since I’ve seen my son Sydney and his family in Rhode Island. We had planned to visit them several times this year, but you know what happened to that. Whenever we consider defying the pandemic to drive to the East Coast, the virus positivity rate worsens.

The family together.

My grandparent role models were my mother’s parents, who lived in rural Illinois, about two hours away from our St. Louis County home. The oldest of four children, I was sent to Kinderhook every summer to luxuriate in love and attention. They were hands-on—huggers and sometimes spankers. With my grandfather, the owner of the village grocery store, I delivered bags of food to housebound widows. With my grandmother, an Avon lady, I helped prepare wonderfully scented packages that we loaded into her Chevrolet Malibu. Some folks inevitably remarked that I looked just like my mother while others addressed me by her name, Patty Lou.

My memories remain visceral, eliciting images of white-paper-soaked hamburger packages, and smells of Honeysuckle toilet water.

When I was 10, my grandfather died. I continued visiting my grandmother every summer until I became an adult, and then I brought her to me. My daughter, Rachel, is her namesake.

I inherited the house in Illinois over 15 years ago, caring for it from afar until I retired. Then I moved to Illinois, to live in the place that was imprinted on my heart.

Nine months into the pandemic, I’ve been able to see Rachel’s daughter in Naperville a couple of times, strictly under Illinois’ guidelines. But I yearn to see Sydney’s two children too, and despair over time lost.

How do you measure missed memories?

We were not there for two birthdays, Grandparents Day at their school and Halloween. We won’t be there for Thanksgiving and probably not Christmas.

In the past 10 months, our 3-year-old granddaughter has been potty-trained; moved from a crib to a twin bed; and relinquished her binkie. Her vocabulary swelled, and she sings new sentences in original songs. When she faces a challenge, she calls herself strong Mika.”

Our precocious, gender-fluid, 9-year-old grandson reads multi-volume sagas like “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter.” Lukas prefers the personal pronouns “they” and “them.” A year ago, they were erecting 150-piece Lego sets. Now they’re undaunted by 600-piece creations. Always a sensitive child, Lukas is troubled by ugly politics, racial injustices and climate change. Sometimes, they cry themself to sleep.

I know many grandparents mourn being separated from their families. In my small village, some have it far worse. Several widowed and isolated neighbors have health problems and can’t drive. My husband and I visit a woman in her 90s, in her open garage, pandemic-style, for dessert once a week. She eats slowly, taking tips of teaspoon bites, to prolong the company. With winter coming fast, how will we continue to see her?

Time is always elusive, but it moves faster when you’re a grandparent. There’s just not that much of it left.

In the past week, news has turned more positive. We have a president-elect who believes in science, and new hope that a vaccine will arrive yet this year.

My plan is to continue reducing risks by wearing masks, limiting social contact and staying informed. I intend to stay strong and alive.

Because my grandchildren arent yet old enough to remember. Me.

—Christine Ledbetter 

Christine Ledbetter is a former journalist with The Washington Post, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Detroit Free Press.