Three months later and back into my routine, I returned to church. I noticed all the families at early service. Little girls with exquisite ribbons, little boys all about their first ties. My father couldn’t teach me how to tie a tie. He was dyslexic. I was left-handed. Charming, the pair of us. Unsuccess greeted us at every skinned knee of childhood. Laces. Did it matter whether on new or old shoes, no. Scouting badges for all kinds of knots and things? Well, we attempted all that! Every sport imaginable involving foot or paw, naw. The neck tie was the worst. Eventually, I’d give up or stammer off. Or he would. Often crying throughout. He’d stopped cursing at some point. Sometimes, I would start cussin’ at another point. Only for Mom to intervene. She said she had to pray: “No boy, no tie, no boy.” I promise I remember that prayer.
I still pray, but for different things. When I started coming to this church decades back, little old ladies with colored hats suffocated my spirit, their powdered necks and loving perfume similar only to the Aqua Velva and after-shave snow that announced their WWII-era gentlemen. The old codgers’ cuffs on those H. Stockton suits brushed against heavy, spit-shined lace-ups (the kind I finally learned to tie, but no longer slip my feet into). Nearly a full generation’s shift later, the liturgies of the hallowed place remain, most hymns familiar. The pews shine less, the glass stains more, I mean my eyes, the glare from the light, the cataracts. I bowed to the cross on Sunday, although I have to be more careful. I didn’t grow up with the Roman ways, ours more of the hard-working, practical Protestant flavor, or so the family long held. No special dispensation here, these folks say in jest. I kinda like them and their popishness.
Kneeling for prayers, with help, I felt the sanctuary full for a post-pandemic December day. It was crowded with all the old Advent decor, but just one candle so far lit on the thick wreath, too early in the shopping season and too dim for these aging eyes. These days, more gluten-free, some masks even still. I forgot mine. Thankfully, less perfume and much less cologne, a much-needed change in the sultry air. I do miss the old, overpowering mist of incense, though, long gone for allergies outspoken was the talk. The air vent to my left blew ice-cold right over my balding head. I say balding for good humor, although next to none left upstairs to come down. Sniff…s-n-i-f-f… Mildewy A/C, the latest fashion in sacred scents, apparently. I reached for my sports jacket, no longer a coat-and-tie man at church, but I needed something warmer.
We buried Mom last week, Dad two months earlier. Long damn lives, both of ’em. Damn. I didn’t think I would cry at either funeral. I was right. Not planned, I didn’t stifle it. I just felt I knew how it would play out. We’d had some ninety years to rehearse. Lifelong voters, faithful church members, not of a faith in their obituaries, but lifelong members of a very specific church (both were adamant about that line in their obituaries). That wasn’t all. Proud parents of four boys. Or rather sons, men, we corrected them until the last. I ended up forgetting my tie for the drive over that last time. What a hoot, no boy, no tie! Indeed.
I had to leave service early this past Sunday. We were singing the middle hymn, the one when the priest and the acolytes process to the center of the congregation for the Gospel reading right before the sermon. Mom’s all-time favorite hymn: Nearer, My God to Thee. She would watch that Titanic movie again and again because of that song….That’s when it happened, when I lost it. I buried my head in my neck, wishing for baby powder to sop up the gush. Where were all the powdered old ladies? “What a baby, what a boy,” I whimpered. Gospel reading ended, folks turned back into themselves. Relieved from potential stares, I unfolded. As they re-seated, I took off and out the door. Torrents out of Noah’s playbook deluged my city’s world. I gave no notice until a block later. The forgotten umbrella tucked under my arm laughed at me, all these Midtown puddles here and rivers there, all so far from the Chattahoochee, my tears found companions in the street’s madness. I collapsed emotionally but stayed afloat physically as if something buoyed me. Half-way home, I started stepping in those many pot-holed basins, wading a joyous dance no longer dallied about, now fully soused in the wetness of it all. David dancing in his Psalms! I laughed, different tears. Thought of Mom telling my five-year-old boy-self, “Dance, David, Dance!” when she caught me barefoot in the muck every rainstorm of my childhood. The country boy caught–
Once home, I looked at myself. In the wall-size bathroom mirror, I saw me. Reddened face, aged?, but relaxed. Older, better? I thought I looked younger. Tears shed in the street, now lighter in spirit, as an old friend might say, but still no boy, I said in my head. I chuckled. I laughed hard at what I saw. I smiled at my hands and the reflection of the over-loaded clothing rack. I reached for a stained item. It was my oldest neck tie, and I thought of his trying hands.
4 thoughts on “No boy, no Tie by R. P. Singletary”
Such a sad and wonderful piece. You never know what the memory will hook on, and you show it beautifully with this.
A moving and nicely constructed piece – captures the feelings brilliantly.
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I think every single one of us will take something out of this.
Memories and processing can be happy or sad but mainly confusing.
All the very best my fine friend.
When it comes back around to “where were all the powdered old ladies” it hit me. What a great piece on mourning a world that has been lost.
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