50 to 50 #7: Wearing my Sunday best, for church

[This post is part of the series 50 to 50, fifty posts to mark my 50th birthday next weekend. Originally intended to be one per day, with the final one on the birthday itself, it’s been disrupted by my work schedule. There will still be fifty posts, eventually, just not one per day.]

On Sundays, as often as not, we put on our Sunday best clothes, slicked down our hair with Brylcreem and were driven in our white Holden Special HR station wagon to church. And here’s a picture [embiggen].

This photo was taken some time in 1969, again when I was around nine years old. That’s me on the right, my brother on the left, and a cattle dog called Duke in front. The farmhouse is in the background, the dog house on the right. Here’s another picture.

My mother, descended from some of South Australia’s original German immigrants who arrived in the 1840s, was of course brought up Lutheran. But my father was of English Protestant stock, Methodist to be precise, and a wife must take on her husband’s religion. So our regular church was the Nangkita Methodist Church, a sparse white-painted rectangle with a rust-free corrugated iron roof about a mile east of Mount Compass.

I’ve marked the building on the map below, though it doesn’t seem to be a church any more.

Back in the 1960s Nangkita Road was just a graded strip of gravel and yellow clay. In summer it was rough and dusty, in winter slippery with mud. When we hit some of the bigger potholes, the car would lurch and my mother would swear under her breath, “Shit and tomatoes!”

She also swore if my hair got messed up. She was obsessed with making sure it looked exactly right. If she noticed a few strands out of place she’d spit on a clean handkerchief and wipe them back into place. I’d push her away. “Hold still,” she’d say.

I really didn’t get the point of church, and especially the dressing-up. If God is everywhere and can hear us pray, well, why couldn’t we just pray at home and save the drive? If God knew everything we did, surely He would know that we didn’t dress in our best clothes every day. I mean, some days we’d even end up covered in hay and mud and cow-shit. It was a farm! And the minister told us that God loved us no matter what.

Secretly, I thought we only dressed up in our best clothes to prove to the other farming families that we weren’t poor, and they did the same. I told mum that once. She didn’t answer.

The church music was uninspiring. Thirty or forty farmers droned their tuneless way through a narrow range of hymns, like this one, accompanied by a very slow harmonium. But I did like the Harvest Festival service each year when the church was decorated with so many flowers, and the altar was covered in fresh fruit and vegetables which I was told eventually went to the poor rather than God. Some people, I guess they lived in town, just put canned pineapple on the altar. I always thought that was cheating.

Duke never went to church.

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5 Replies to “50 to 50 #7: Wearing my Sunday best, for church”

  1. Well, that was a blast from the past. Literally – the volume was up high on the laptop. Despite being a Catholic I went to an English state school (as opposed to a public school, which isn’t) and our headmaster was a Methodist, so our state-mandated religious assembly each morning included one of a selection of Wesleyan hymns including that one. Still useful for inculcating the right spirit of muscular Christianity necessary to scrub the loo.

  2. @Quatrefoil: Cleanliness is next to Godliness, my dear. Actually we didn’t need a “spirit of muscular Christianity” to get the chores done, we just did them because they needed doing. I shall return to this topic of individual responsibility in another post.

  3. Canned pineapple, well I mean you didn’t grow it in SA did you? They had to import it all the way from Queensland! And maybe the poor who received such food had put in a special order… ;-P

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