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August 2011
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Marla’s Conversion

My parents never overplayed the atheist thing with us. It wasn’t pounded into our heads or forced down our throats like the way God and Jesus are forced down the throats of kids from ultra religious families. If one of us kids brought up God because we had a friend mention it, my parents would say “that’s what they believe, but that’s not the way things are.” Then they’d explain something about science, biology, evolution, or treating fellow humans with respect not because God says so, but because it’s the right thing to do for the sake of humanity.

They tried to lay low in the community in terms of their beliefs. Obviously people knew our family didn’t go to church, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. But if we had flaunted our atheism, that could have serious repercussions for us kids in school, and for the family business.

The family story goes that my father’s grandfather, or great-grandfather—I can’t get the story straight—had to harvest his crops before an early frost. He did attend church—I don’t know what religion it was, but the members of the church were pretty serious about attendance and not working on Sunday. Being the good farmer that he was, he and his sons worked that Sunday to get the crop harvested before the bad weather killed it. The next Sunday in church, he was met with disdain and glares from the congregation. This infuriated him so much, that his attendance at church and not working on a Sunday was so much more important to these people than harvesting crops that would go to waste had he not worked to get them harvested. He saw this as so petty and hurtful, after all, food is what keeps people alive, not religion. From that day on, that family stopped going to church. And the next generation stopped believing altogether. And the generation after that called themselves “freethinkers.”

There’s also a story from my mom’s side—I think it was a distant uncle by marriage of hers back in Minnesota. He was abused, beaten by his father, who was some Pastor in the Lutheran Church. When he grew up, he moved away and had nothing to do with his father, or the church. This had a profound effect on my mother’s family who weren’t much of churchgoers as it was.

So as the need for religion had basically been bred out of us, it was sort of a shocker for Marla to go the other way. From what I understood happened, she was about 13 or so and riding her bike with a friend. They rode past a field that was having one of those old fashioned tent revivals. This was before the big evangelical movement and way before mega churches. But this was the seed. Marla and her friend watched from a distance and giggled at the angry-sounding preacher and the people speaking in tongues and waving their arms. Her friend told her that her parents were there, and they could go next time. So they did. They went with her friend’s parents. Eventually they got Marla speaking in tongues, and the preacher told her what she said was her family were a bunch of atheists and they were all damned to hell unless they gave their souls to Jesus.

Amazed that the preacher, who traveled the circuit and didn’t live in town, would know that the our family was a bunch of atheists really impressed Marla. Of course it was a trick. Of course he had information from town folk about who the new people were attending and what their background was. And the speaking in tongues was nothing more than mass hysteria and following by example. But it impressed the young and gullible, which Marla was.

Marla wanted so much to “belong.” She wanted to be like the other girls who got dressed up in pretty dresses and went to church on Sunday. She wanted to celebrate Christmas and get presents and celebrate Easter and get candy and get married in a church and live happily ever after and go to heaven up in the sky when she died. When she said she wanted to celebrate Christmas, which really meant only presents to Marla at the beginning, my parents told her she had to give presents as well, even to Leon. She thought about it and decided to make it about Jesus instead.

Marla’s conversion eventually made her see me not just as a misguided atheist, as the way she saw the rest of her family, but as a satanist. All I was was a teenage boy growing up in the 1960s and 70s, playing with snakes and toads, trying to be cool, rejecting a lot of lame popular culture, listening to heavy metal—and then to punk—was that so out of the norm?

9 Responses to Marla’s Conversion

  • Ann says:

    I think what you did was pretty normal, Leon…playing with snakes and toads. I played with toads a LOT (didn’t touch snakes until I knew Stan, but some women never do). Oh, but of course, yes, I’m an atheist too. Hmm. I guess that would all equate in your sister’s eyes.

    Toads = atheism

    It’s not like you were killing the snakes and toads, were you? Then, yeah, she’d have concerns, like a budding Jeffrey Dahmer. Serial killers are always cruel to animals at first, but I certainly can’t see you doing that.

    (Right, Leon? 😆 )

  • Leon says:

    Of course I wasn’t! 😡 Not intentionally. Some would die, but I was a kid. You don’t know how to properly take care of them when you’re a kid. I would never harm a creature like that. The irony is when Marla would find snakes in the yard, harmless snakes, she’d want me to come over and kill them. I’d do a snake witness protection program and move them to a field somewhere. She got wise and later wanted to see the bodies because she thought I wasn’t killing them, which I wasn’t. So I told her I burned it in a satanic ritual. Was that wrong? Should I not have said that? 😈

  • Stan says:

    I remember being about 6 or 7 years old and finding a snake in the grass by the Baptist Church near out house. The rev. had a son I went to visit, but found the snake and started to cry. I made such a hysterical reaction that the interceding adults killed the snake with a shovel. I felt bad later, and that was the beginning of my training in not letting adults know about the presence of small creatures.

    When I was in high school a snake lived under my parents garage and sunned itself in the neighbors driveway. The elderly lady who lived next door saw the snake one day and shreeked. Finding me she told me I had to kill it, which I did. I felt very bad about that snake and wished I had caught it and taken it out in the country somewhere far away. I buried the snake than an hour later decided to dig it up to keep it’s skin. I made a belt with the skin. I wish I had saved the snakes life instead.

    Snakes are neither good nor bad – they are just like us and actually help us by keeping nature in balance.

    I remember the traveling preachers holding revivals in local churches, and I actually enjoyed going to watch. I wouldn’t like the theology now, so couldn’t enjoy it anymore – I guess I was an odd child.

  • Stan says:

    I think it was a mistake to tell here you were burning them in satanic ritual things. It might have given here ideas about destroying things for Jesus – oops.

    I did something stupid like that once, when someone was telling me about their past life as an Inca Princes. I told her I was a nazi in a past life just to freak her out because I though the was pretentious for thinking she was once someone in another life she was idealizing. As if she was once an Inca princes and now a food service worker – ok – whatever – is what I should have told her.

    It was wrong to tell her I was a nazi, because none of it is true – anyway, I don’t believe in literal transmigration.

  • Leon says:

    I guess us guys from the Eastern Plains all have our snake stories to tell and it’s too bad you were an unwilling accomplice to their deaths, Stan. I remember that belt you wore and the story behind it. I thought you were sort of a sick sonofabitch for doing that, yet oddly intrigued by your handiwork.

    But dude, I think telling someone you were a Nazi in your past life is a lot worse than telling someone you burned a snake in a satanic ritual. I know I shouldn’t have told her that, but I was just trying to get her off my case and leave me alone. Yes, it was flippant, and I didn’t think she’d even believe me, but just leave me alone instead. But now I know Marla believes everything you tell her.

    But a Nazi? That’s just wrong. Because considering your biological ancestors, how did you know you weren’t? 😆 😈

    J/K.

  • Leon says:

    Just want to clarify, Stan is or never was a Nazi or anything in the slightest related to it. It’s just that one can’t help what their family, biological, adopted, removed, divorced, or what have you, does, is, or becomes. I, of all people know that all too well. 😮

  • Leon says:

    And I commend you, Stan for your extensive biological family search and all the scary shit it brought up on the paternal side. But the family that raised you were Democrats from farm backgrounds, so that’s good.

    Now I wish my sister would search for her biological family. 😈

  • Ann says:

    The problem with you guys is that is you have to tell people something to either satiate them or neener them. Why not just tell them to bugger off or just ignore them.

    But then again, I’m in a bad mood right now. 👿

  • Stan says:

    I agree, telling someone I was a nazi is a nastier lie than telling a sister that the snake was burned in a satanic ritual. At least the snake lie has something funny about it, but the nazi lie is just sort of mean. I try not to be so hard on people who believe in literal transmigration now. I should do what Ann suggests and ignore these kinds of conversations.

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