Apr. 19, 2020

TODAY, WHERE ARE CRACKER JACKS? DO THEY STILL HAVE SURPRISES INSIDE?

I easily remember the fun of eating a box of Cracker Jacks. Not only did each box have a “surprise” inside (some surprises were treasures) but the mixture of caramel popcorn and nuts was always dependably-delicious!

My two daughters were once delightfully-delicious…..like boxes of Cracker Jacks… but their “surprises” were always dependably-different. I loved them both but we were almost-never unified on any one thing.

Working full-time meant I wasn’t home enough.  Most single, working mothers can easily identify when I say “there were never enough hours in a day to clean house, buy groceries, do laundry, take care of the yard, and take care of the children’s needs….all while working a full-time job.

Regardless of not-enough-time, I still believed in making-time for a Church “Home”.  After my “I have no choice--but divorce-- situation” in the early seventies, I found a job and moved us to Little Rock, Arkansas. After we’d “settled in”.... I began to “shop around” for a Church that seemed welcoming to a single mother and her two daughters. I felt it was important to make new friends in a Christian Environment; to feel like we belonged to a secure family of friends.

After attending several churches, we agreed that the very-classic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Little Rock--- offered a variety of ages, beautiful music, a well-spoken minister, and the friendliest, most-gracious congregation-- of all the churches we’d visited. When the minister invited us to formally-join the church and make our membership—official—the three of us agreed. A few days later, the church secretary contacted me to choose the exact date for our official “welcome” into the church family.  It was important that the brief ceremony appear in the Church Bulletin….with our names spelled correctly.

The Saturday before our formal introduction to our new church family, I was busy making sure  everyone’s shoes were polished, each daughter's outfit was clean and pressed---you know--- the usual “Mommie” inspection-drill before a big “appearance”.  When I heard the doorbell, I asked my older daughter to answer the door and….that’s when things got difficult.

My younger daughter was different from the day she was born.  She came into the world--- dancing to her own kind of music….humming her own special songs…and living life to the beat of her own drum. Sometimes…she was unique and refreshingly-fun. And there were times when she ignored me and did whatever she wanted…her way.

Now, standing at the front door was my younger daughter’s friend, Karen with her father. Karen’s father asked if it was true that Karen was invited to “spend the night that Saturday Night and go to church with us the next day?” After almost choking on my tongue, I took a deep breath, flashed my most “convincing” smile and said: “Absolutely! We always love having Karen at our house and I’m so glad she’ll be with us for church, tomorrow!”

My younger daughter often surprised me with overnight guests, unexpected visitors at the table, and strangers hitching rides to out-of-the-way places. Rather than cause friction, I almost-always stayed flexible and accepted my fate.  BUT This Sunday was special.  Today was the Sunday that the three of us…as a family…were scheduled to stand before the Church Congregation and be official-introduced as new members.  After the official ceremony, there would be a hymn, a prayer of benediction, and finally, church members would file past the three of us to--- shake hands, hug us, make small talk, and offer sincere best- wishes. Okay, so now we would just need a larger pew with space for one-more.

As the Sunday Service drew to a close, the Minister requested that“Sally Miller and her daughters” join him at the front of the church for a  formal introduction. Early that morning, I’d coached Karen to stay in the pew when it was time for me and my daughters to join the Minister. I’d explained that our little “ceremony” wouldn’t last long so "watch, be patient, and we'll all go to lunch when church is over".

To my dismay, my younger daughter had her own plan. When the three of us stood to walk to the front of the church….my younger daughter insisted that Karen join us….in fact….time-stood-still while she grabbed Karen’s arm first, then reached for both her hands, until Karen--completely bewildered-- was being almost-dragged to the front of the church by my younger daughter.  Of course everyone watched the drama-confusion. Some people smiled, while others began whispering, chuckling, even out-right laughing!

I still remember feeling anything but calm, cool, and collected, as members of the congregation slowly walked past us. Many  commented on how “uniquely-different” my family looked....; how “brave” I was  to be  a “single” working-parent with three pretty daughters; and--- what a role model I was to raise a child-of-color alongside my traditionally-white daughters and.... all without a husband!

 Oh, I forgot to tell you that Karen, my younger daughter’s friend, was black. Apparently, the congregation “came alive” when they saw I had “three daughters” rather than two and--- one daughter was black!

I later learned--from the Minister--that quite a few of the older members wondered if I’d actually been married to a black man or had, perhaps, been raped! The following week, the church bulletin apologized, profusely, for failing to state I had a third daughter named “Karen”.  

This event happened in the very-early seventies---a long time ago---in  a small state called Arkansas---where/when skin-color really mattered.

Sally Miller