Sunday, April 25, 2010
My Mamaw Putter was opinionated, funny, vibrant, stubborn, bossy, controversial and you probably get the general idea. She also spoke her mind....loudly. If she thought it, you heard it, whether you wanted to or not. (Hmmm...I wonder who I take after?) But one thing is for sure; she loved her grandchildren.
Let me give you a nutshell of Mamaw Putter. She was married to my Papaw. (Go figure) Not Papaw Putter...just Papaw. Putter was the poodle that Mamaw got after Papaw (her best friend) died suddenly of an Aneurysm in 1987. She named him Putter in honor of Papaw's love for Golf. Right around that time, my older sister was due to have her first child, and to help differentiate all the Mamaws in our family we came up with 'Mamaw Putter.' Voila...a legend was born.
Mamaw Putter had three sons. Each son had three children. And for the first ten years of my life, all of us attended a tiny Brethren Church together every Sunday morning. I'm sure everyone has seen a church similar to this one. A narrow brick building on a corner. The main street running past the front had lots of traffic and was cluttered with car dealerships. The side street was barely more than an alley that would probably be considered the 'bad part of town' these days. Behind the church was a postage stamp parking lot that never seemed quite big enough to hold all the cars on Sunday morning yet managed to have plenty of room for a kickball game on Saturday mornings when my Mamaw Putter would take us with her to bake Communion Bread.
The tiny church had a simple set of concrete steps leading to the front doors. The 'foyer', as most churches would call it, consisted of a choice of two options. You could either go up one set of stairs or down the other. Allow me to take you on a tour. First I'll take you downstairs. The threadbare carpet isn't enough to keep you from forgetting that underneath it lies more concrete with no luxury of padding. Once you reach the bottom, you're in one very large room, that seems also to be made entirely of cement. If you look up at the ceiling, you'll see a criss cross of metal tracks. These tracks hold the heavy accordion-style room dividers that were normally pushed against the far wall but can miraculously create four separate rooms for Sunday School classes. To your left you'll see the boys and girls bathrooms separated by the tiny but complete kitchen. The bathrooms have swing through doors that are lots of fun when you run in and out of them. (Not that I would know.) The girls bathroom consists of two stalls and one sink with a portion of a cracked mirror hanging above it. I'm sure at one time it was a full mirror but that must have been before my time. The boys bathroom had one stall and one urinal and yep, more concrete. (How do I know about the boys bathroom? That's another story for another time.) When you come out of the bathroom and look toward the far left corner of the big room past the old piano with yellowed keys, you'll see a tiny alcove with a narrow door. The door has a window. The window is shielded by a faded and yellowed curtain with pictures of Raggedy Ann and Andy. The doorknob looks like a small glass jewel that has taken a beating over time. As you have probably figured out, inside this tiny room is the nursery. These days, your typical church has the Children Section marked off by age with a sign on each door. (Infant – Two years; Pre-K; etc...) But our little nursery had only one standard of eligibility. If our nursery door had a sign, it would have read, “Anyone who can't make it through the sermon without talking loudly.” A baby would obviously qualify, but so would some of the hard of hearing elderly women who sat in the front and loudly translated the sermon to their harder of hearing husbands. The nursery had one rocking chair that probably hasn't been repainted since the day the girls bathroom had a complete mirror. If you rock too hard, more flecks of paint chip off creating a led-filled pile of dust on the barely there carpet. Every time I hear reports of the dangers of led paint, I wonder how any of my cousins and I survived to see our thirties.
On Saturday mornings you could hear my Mamaw 'puttering' around in that kitchen and it wasn't long before the wonderful aroma of freshly baked Communion Bread would waft out of the swinging doors and into our young noses which would draw us to the kitchen like rats to the Pied Piper. She always told us that she needed us there to be the 'tasters' and we were more than willing to fulfill our obligation. My little Brethren Church wasn't like any of the larger churches I've attended since then. The church I attended as a teenager and later as an adult used tiny pieces of broken crackers or occasionally processed sheets of unleavened bread that come pre-cut and get taken out of the box and broken apart and dropped into the plate. Whether or not the members of my childhood church realized it or not, they were treated like royalty on Communion Sundays. Mamaw Putter made her Communion Bread from scratch from a recipe that passed through many loving hands before her. And tiny pieces? No way. She cut that dough into brownie size pieces that took at least two bites to eat. Even more for the majority of the congregation who lacked their share of original teeth.
Right after she pulled it out of the oven, but before it cooled, she would take a three pronged instrument and indent each piece, thus creating two puncture marks toward the top and one near the bottom. A representation of Christ's hands and feet being nailed to the cross. She let us help with everything except that. I always wondered why, but I think I know now. When my Mamaw was making Communion Bread, she wasn't just 'puttering' around the kitchen. She was worshiping her Lord. And marking the 'wounds' on that bread was personal and it was serious and she did it alone. Christ told his disciples during the Last Supper, "Remember Me." And I believe that's what she was doing.
Let's go back to the 'foyer' and this time go up the other set of stairs to the sanctuary. At the top of the stairs is a set of double doors that swing outward. On hot summer days those doors would be blocked open with a tiny wedge of wood to help get some air flowing but never quite succeeding. To the far right is the section of pews for the choir. Those were facing the pews intended for the congregation. At the very front was the tiny carpeted stage that held the pulpit. Behind the pulpit in the floor is what always appeared to me to be a trap door. (It wasn't.) It was the baptismal and before anyone was baptized, they would move the pulpit, swing open the 'trap door' and walked into the hole of water. (Not as fancy as what you see now: a featured window of a special room situated high above five hundred pews for everyone to see.) This was simple and it served it's purpose.
The majority of the pews were toward the front. When I say 'majority' I'm talking maybe fifteen. Behind the fifteen was an isle that separated the front from the back. The back consisted of approximately five pews. Whether it was a spoken or unspoken rule, I'll never know, but the back five was reserved for the Flora Family. Mamaw (not Putter'd yet), Papaw, their three boys, their three wives, and all nine grandchildren.
You would think that at least a few of us would have ended up down in the nursery with the two babies and the six chatty elderly women from the front, but we never did. We were too busy. You see, Mamaw came prepared. She had her purse and it was fully stocked. Let me describe my Mamaw's purse. It was the size of a small farm animal. If she'd ever tried to fly on an airplane, she would have had to check it with her luggage. And when I say fully stocked, I don't mean with crayons, books, snacks, or other things that you would pack today for your kids to keep busy in a hot church. It was full of tools. My cousins and I had an on-going project. We were determined to dig a hole through the bottom of the wooden pew and we weren't planning on stopping until we either saw daylight or felt the butt of whichever parent, aunt or uncle was unlucky enough to be sitting above the hole that week.
We would sit and listen to the announcements and then it was time to sing the hymns. All eight verses of each hymn, mind you. I can still remember my Mamaw's voice as her loud vibrato carried high above all others when singing old hymns like 'Blessed Assurance,' Great Is Thy Faithfulness,' and 'Amazing Grace' just to name a few. As soon as we heard the snapping of the hymnals closing and saw the adults reaching for the large, wicker, shell-shaped fans that were provided in place of air conditioning, we kids went to work. First stop: Mamaw's purse to retrieve tweezers, fingernail clippers, pens, pencils, and the occasional butter knife or screw driver on the weeks Mamaw wanted to surprise us. I wonder if the front fifteen ever noticed the disappearance of nine of the back five? (Follow that?) Once in awhile we would take a gum break. Always Wrigleys Spearmint wrapped in foil that was fun to fold over our teeth to pretend we had braces until we realized that metal fillings and foil sent searing pain through our head causing sounds that might get you sent down to the dreaded nursery if you weren't careful.
We whittled away at the pew until finally, the most anticipated time of the service would arrive. Communion! As soon as Mamaw gave us the signal, all nine of our heads would magically appear again, and we would practically salivate as the plate passed slowly through the front fifteen. All other sounds were drowned out except for the scraping of fingernails against the bottom of the plate as people almost sacredly picked up their glorious brownie-size-perfectly-punctured-and lovingly made squares of Communion Bread. All nine of our heads would be suspiciously peering at each person taking their turn and we were ready to pounce if someone took more than one. Finally the usher headed to the back five where we were all on the edge of our seats. Mamaw was always seated on the very back pew on the isle end and all of the cousins know why. The Communion Bread worked it's way through my parents, aunts, uncles, and each of the cousins and we politely took one piece as the plate passed. But the highlight of Communion time was when the plate reached Mamaw. She gently took her piece of Communion Bread and lay it on her skirt and then she opened that blessed over-sized purse of hers and promptly dumped the rest of the bread down into it and handed the empty plate back to the usher. The ushers, who were quite used to this little tradition, would walk away with the empty plate and the cousins would scramble back to our posts under the pew to resume our work and eat our snack out of the purse. The only thing better than warm Communion Bread straight out of the oven, is cold Communion Bread served straight out of my Mamaw's giant leather purse.
Several years ago when I was asked to be in charge of the Communion Bread Baking Ministry at our wonderful church, I immediately agreed. There is a faithful group of people who each make a month's worth of bread for our congregation. They all use my Mamaw Putter's recipe, but very few know the history. Obviously things can't be exactly as they were back then. For instance, I've adapted to the fact that the bread needs to be broken into tiny squares to meet the needs of our large church. In my mind I'll always picture those three marks indicating the wounds my Savior suffered on my behalf. We sit in the front row and attend first service....both of which eliminate any opportunity to dump the remainder of the plate into my purse....and I don't carry a purse. But it is my absolute honor to carry on a tradition that I hold so near and dear to my heart. I'm thankful for the opportunity each week to remember my Heavenly Father's sacrifice and I'm blessed on those months that it's my turn to bake the bread and I get to remember the love of a young girl for her Mamaw Putter...a love that didn't end when she passed.
My cousins and I never did reach our goal and strike daylight....or butt...through the seat of that pew. But if our Mamaw's goal was to create life long memories for her nine grandchildren, she reached hers.