Bible Bookstores & The Baptist Girl Rite of Passage

Vince Staten announced in his Sunday KTN column that Glen Moody is closing Moody’s Bible Bookstore on Fort Henry Drive and heading back to school to get a second doctoral degree… while still working toward the first.  I am pleased the store isn’t closing due to the economy, but wow.  Moody’s has been around for as long as I can remember.

I took my first trip to the store  back in the mid to late 70’s .  I had tagged along with the Women of the Congregation, who’d set off  to purchase some item deemed necessary for the task of leading the lost to salvation.  I cannot recall what the item was, but I do remember Aunt Bertie saying, “Me and Judy can run up to Moody’s…”

Me and Judy can run up to Moody’s… Me and Judy can run up to Moody’s…

The phrase must have seemed rhythmically pleasing to me then because I rode halfway to Kingsport with my head poked between the seats, singing it in my best bluegrass twang.  I’d also imagine, knowing my childhood self as I do, there were banjo-like sounds accompanying the tune.

Somewhere along Stone Drive, Bertie swatted me into the backseat and threatened to gag me with her pantyhose. Then, she told me not to test her limits.  (Bertie was constantly talking about her limits and how we ought not test them.)   Any other time, I’d have considered this a challenge, but after arriving at the bookstore, I became preoccupied with the number of ordinary everyday objects that one could make Jesus-Friendly.  Jesus cups.  Jesus calendars.  Jesus magazines.  Hmmm, we Jesus People had our own store.

Moody’s was also the place where Baptist girls raised in my neck of the woods — or at least those under the age of 40 — would go when their Mamma, Granny or some other kin decided it was time for them to have their 1st Bible, usually one with their name printed in gold or silver on the lower right-hand corner of the cover.

Getting this Bible (the whole Bible, not the pocket-sized New Testament like the little kids carried but Genesis through Revelations) symbolized maturity and personal responsibility.

I guess, since all cultures and religions, from the ancients on, have developed rites of passage to acknowledge the phases of life, it makes sense we’re inclined to invent them still. The Catholics have Confirmation.  Jewish folks have Bat Mitzvahs.  Tata, who grew up with many of the old (Native American) customs, says her memory is fuzzy but she thinks the older ones (women) smeared soot on her and told her about menstruation in a cerimonous way. Cousin Ainsley in GA, who is a well-to-do Southern agnostic, did the debutante ball and got shitfaced from the flask she kept in her push up bra.  And in other strange places far off from here: they too have their rites and rituals to mark a girl’s coming-of-age.

Most of these mean the same thing: the girl-child becomes a young woman.  She understands morality, virtue, the importance of both.  She is aware of herself, her behavior and the influence of these things upon others, and she will be held responsible for those things.  Whether she creates, knowingly or unknowingly, alone or with another,  joy, shame, pain, dishonor, duplicity,  hatred,  comfort, pride, happiness or stirrings of passion that ought not be – she will be held accountable.

(Yeah.  I know.  Woot.  Hot Damn.  Welcome to Womanhood.)

Anyway, for a dirt-poor, backwoods East Tennessee Baptist girls, this movement from girl-child to young woman was marked by the rite of the Bible Buyin’.

There was no specific age for this rite.  It didn’t necessarily coincide with puberty.  Rather it happened around the same time your Mamma could no longer find black-patent Mary Janes in your size and shortly after Church matriarchs stopped eyeballing you for fear you’d flap the hymnal covers or stick gum under the pews – because you were old enough to know better.

The Bible didn’t come with a ceremony, a gift or a formal ball.  It came with a speech, one about how you were a Young Lady, and therefore big enough, old enough and responsible enough to have your own Bible and use it well.  There were other stipulations too.  Had our mothers’ been forthcoming about those, I reckon a great many of us would have opted out of the rite and bought our own Bibles at the TG&Y, writing our names on the inside covers with ink pens.

For example, after you owned your own Bible, you were expected to keep your legs crossed at the knees, at all times, without being reminded.  Likewise, those other unladylike behaviors would no longer be tolerated: climbing the big muddy hill behind the church, getting beggar’s lice on your tights, or banging on the exterior walls of the outhouse while Sister Darnell, who had a powerful fear of the thing tipping over, was inside.  Oh, and blatantly flirting or “givin’ sugar” to the preacher’s boy wouldn’t be dismissed as “cute” anymore either.

I guess my Mamma must have known the last one would give me a devil of a time.

In the car, on the way home from Moody’s, after we’d picked up the Bible with the brown leatherette cover and my name misspelled in gold, Mamma announced, “If you’re old enough to keep up with your own Bible, you’re old enough to start behaving like a young lady.   This means no more hanging out in the churchyard with the preacher’s boy.  You stay away from him because….  Well…. I believe you’ve been kissing around on the preacher’s boy.”

She’d studied me from the corner of her eye, as this is what Mamma did when she was trying to spot dishonesty in you without you noticing.  Squirming meant you were as good as found out, but I’d long since learned not to squirm – even when I could feel the squirm working its way up to my shoulders.

Then Mamma said, “Well, I just think it’s funny.  He had the mumps.  You had the mumps.  Funny how ya’ll had mumps at about the same time, ain’t it?  And I’m not saying you’re lying… I’m just saying if kissing the preacher’s boy had made me sick, I’d not want to do it anymore.   Besides, it’s not appropriate and… well next time, your head might swell up and fall off.”

Of course, I had kissed the preacher’s boy.  And lying about it  made me think of the nice, smiling lady at the bookstore, who must’ve been Mrs. Moody, and how she’d handed me the Bible ever so gently as though she understood the significance of a girl owning one.  I wondered if, when you lie in any form or break these rules, might she come and take the Bible back?

*She never did.   My head never fell off either.

The Preacher’s Boy and I did, however, get caught swapping sugar later, and somehow this ended up with My Mother apologizing to His Mother, who acted morbidly offended by the “little episode” – as though the angels were weeping over the corruption of her boy.  I had really wanted to mention, as she teetered theatrically on the verge of her swoon, how her boy was more corrupted than I could ever be, sneaking off to smoke  cigarettes in the neighboring school yard and stealing money from his Daddy, whom the elders claimed ripped off wider-women anyway AND how I’d heard the other sister’s talking about how the Pastor’s Wife had the “fastest pants” in the county back in her day- so how dare she expect My Mother to apologize.

Instead, I held my tongue and listened to the ladies clucking around, talking about how I was old enough to know better while the preacher’s boy just stared at the tops of his shiny brogans, looking embarrassed,  unaccountable, and pitifully corrupted on purpose.  Yep, there they all were, standing around pretending as though the Boy didn’t smell like an ashtray, and I had nothing to do but take my medicine and think to myself:  if  my Daddy had been a church-goer, he’d have seen right through all of this swooning mess and kicked that boy’s ass left and right for kissing his daughter.

This made me feel better.

I wasn’t quite so smitten with the Boy after the “little episode.”  And since my Daddy wasn’t a regular church-goer, during the next Supper on the Ground, I put grasshoppers in the Boy’s chicken casserole.

This made me feel better too.

Like I said.  Welcome to Womanhood.  There’s no door out.  I’ve already checked.  Apparently, this coming-of-age and being blamed for the wrongs of the world is quite irreversible, and I imagine it would happen with or without the rite, or the Bible will be bought elsewhere and a girl’s guilt will wear some face other than that of Mrs. Moody.

But I can tell you what I learned shortly after I came-of-age and perhaps it will help:  (1) Sometimes in order to win against a man, you’ve got to get a bigger man.  (2) If there isn’t one available, fight dirty and/or outsmart them.  Finally and most importantly (3)  if the sweet-talkin’ Son of a Preacher man ever tries to reach you, you should probably knock the Hell outta him with your Bible.

It won’t make such a lovely song, but it will save you a heap of trouble.

(*There’s a very slight possibility that my misspelled name on the Bible cover had something to do with why my Bible was never revoked, in which case ya’ll should not send Mrs. Moody my address or anything – you know, to be on the safe side.)

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4 thoughts on “Bible Bookstores & The Baptist Girl Rite of Passage

  1. After reading your intriguing “testimony,” i find myself feeling somewhat morose that i did not receive my own first “Generations to Revolutions” Bible in nearly so complex a manner.

  2. `Coma, this was also one of those stories where I found myself reluctant to hit the “publish” button. Being not-so-anonymous anymore means I’m less likely to write things that are personal or that may be considered offensive. Your comment makes me glad I did: it was almost like putting grasshoppers in the casserole again.

    carolynn, I cannot believe you didn’t get the “You’re a Young Lady now” speech. Every single girl in my neighborhood got “the speech.” Of course, I was probably the only one who considered it a “List of Things to Do Before I Die.”

    You should know, however, I am totally almost somewhat reformed now. I’ve not kissed the Son of a Preacher Man in years, and the beggar’s lice on my tights… well, I still have some trouble with that one.

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