My Mother Wore Pants!

My mother was the greatest teacher I have ever known. She had an eleventh grade education from a small country school in Saline, Louisiana and married my father when she was 16, just a month away from her 17th birthday. She grew up on a share cropping farm with four sisters and a brother. My father and my mother lived on a farm until 1941 when my mother convinced my father they had to move to Shreveport, Louisiana and he had to find a “real” job or they would starve on the farm.

My mother drove a school bus most of my young life. Because of that, she preferred to wear pants. And she made those pants herself to save money. This is important to understand because a woman wearing pants in the church in the 1960s was forbidden. Why was this important? My father was a bi-vocational “choir director” and the entire family was at church every time the doors were open. (the photo is from our visit to Disney World in 1994 — A story for another day!)

Now my mother loved the Lord. She taught me to love God and to love others. She always told me, “Bruce, you may be better off than someone else, but you are no better than someone else. We are all the same in the eyes of God.” Maybe that kind of unconditional love is what her college kids saw when they drove a couple of hours from nearby colleges on Sunday morning to sit in her Sunday School class at Blanchard Baptist Church.

In 1970 the world was turning upside down. Culture was changing more than it ever had in decades. Hippies, drugs, free love, war protests, long hair, bra burning and the Vietnam War to name a few of the challenges. Mutual annihilation was only a push button away at the height of the Cold War with Communist Russia.

And here on Sunday morning, college age kids came to hear my mother teach the Bible. At times almost 30 kids showed up to sit in the living room of the house donated to the church by a long time late church member. The house sat on the church property and had become the hang out for the youth.

I was only 15 in 1970 and I was supposed to be in the tenth grade Sunday School taught by Stanley Tiner, an award winning writer for the Shreveport Times. But, although Stanley was an excellent writer, he was not a captivating teacher for a bunch of rowdy tenth grade boys. So I went to my mother’s class.

One Sunday our pastor showed up for the class. The living room was packed with college kids and one teenager, me. I will never forget that morning. Why? Because the pastor was not here to celebrate these young people coming to church. No, he was there to set my mother straight.

First, he said, these college kids were not coming to the worship service. They couldn’t come to Sunday School unless they came to the worship service also.

Second, he said, my mother and father were corrupting these college kids at their home on Friday and Saturday nights.

Third, my mother was wearing pants on Sunday nights when women were supposed to wear dresses!

My mother rarely showed her temper. You saw it on the school bus when someone got out of hand. I saw it when she got mad at me and made me go out in the yard and get a switch from the “switch bush” (which I tried to burn down every fall when we burned leaves. It always grew back!). I was expecting the storm to rise at the pastor’s words.

Instead, my mother merely paused and starting counting heads. When she got to 27, she turned back to the pastor and said, “There are 27 college kids in Blanchard for the weekend. They could be sleeping in at their dorms. Instead, they are here in Sunday School and they are here at their parents’ home for the weekend. With all that is happening on college campuses today, I would say they are right where God wants them to be.”

“As to Friday and Saturday nights, Slayton (my father) and I cook a big pot of chili and invite any of them over to the house on a Friday or Saturday every weekend. They come and eat and we play canasta and rook and talk. They share their heartaches and their victories. They are at our house and not in a bar somewhere or sharing drugs somewhere.”

The pastor was unmoved. “I hear they dance at your house.” You see, Baptists don’t dance!

“Yes, we let them dance to rock and roll music. Slayton and I sometimes dance with them. And before you complain, remember that David danced before the Lord. I’d rather they dance at my house rather than a bar somewhere.” She paused. “As to wearing pants, I’ll wear a dress from now on every Sunday night service if you will allow these college kids to keep doing what they are doing.”

The pastor was taken aback at that statement and walked out of the class. The college kids were stunned and merely looked at my mother as she sat back down, picked up her Bible and picked up with the lesson right where she left off.

Yesterday, I attended a funeral of a man killed by a botched convenience story robbery. His family and mine have been close for decades. Everyone was asked to wear Hawaiian shirts and shorts. As I sat in the funeral, I recalled my mother’s funeral and the many people who showed up, some of whom I had not seen in over 30 years. I also recalled that at my mother’s funeral, I wore a Hawaiian shirt because she loved those colorful shirts.

My mother taught that class for about three years until my father retired and they moved back to their hometown of Saline. When my mother passed away in 2004, I was shocked to see some of those college kids, now middle age adults show up at her funeral. She made a difference in the lives of so many by being unique in the expression of her gifts from God. She was more than their teacher. She was their mother. And I miss her dearly on this Mother’s Day!

About Bruce Hennigan

Published novelist, dramatist, apologist, and physician.

Posted on May 14, 2023, in Steel Chronicles. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on My Mother Wore Pants!.

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