Excerpt from “Turn Loose the Angels”
After three weeks being pain-free, Tilda had additional complaints about her stomach. She was beginning to run low-grade fevers in the evening too. Her appetite dwindled. The third day Mom became concerned when Jo told her that Tilda complained of pain when she urinated.
“Okay,” said Mom, “I’m going to take her in. It’s just a month early for her annual physical with the oncologist, but the urinary pain concerns me.”
Tilda went to the medical clinic for tests. They gave her an extensive looking over, then drew blood, took a urine sample, and took an ultrasound of her abdomen. Tilda and her mom left the clinic with no answers. The doctors were very careful not to give away any information they weren’t confident about. They decided to wait for all the test results before they told the family anything that would cause worry.
“Do you want some ice cream, Tilda?” asked Mom on the way home from the doctor.
“No, thank you, Mom. I just want to go home, please,” said Tilda.
* * * * * *
Immediately Mom’s mind wandered back to a time long ago when life was more religious for her and she just wanted to go home. She was about Tilda’s age, and she was at a three-day revival meeting. At the close of the first day, she remembers, her parents and brothers and sisters were outside the trailer, sitting around a campfire. Grandfather called her into the trailer.
“Didja pray to the Good Lord tonight, Elizabeth?” boomed her grandfather.
“I always pray, Grandfather,” said Elizabeth, obediently.
“I mean didja pray the prayer a repentance with the evangelist tonight at the meetin’?” probed Grandfather. “I din’t see ya raise yer hand when Brother Evangel asked those who prayed to show their faith by raisin’ their hand.”
“I’m not sure I understood it,” admitted Elizabeth.
“What? What could you not understand about that prayer? It was a prayer of the heart, Elizabeth. Is yer heart evil?” asked Grandfather.
Elizabeth stared silently. She also didn’t understand how to answer the questions he just asked. Grandfather reached down to take his belt off.
Elizabeth stood frozen, wanting to run away but afraid of what would happen if she did. As a tear rolled down her check, she tried to be brave. She prayed and prayed.
Her grandfather took his belt off and took Elizabeth over his knee. He swatted her three controlled “religious” beatings, using the belt as the persuader to repentance. The belt assaulted the back of her upper thighs, stinging and making her flinch and cry out in pain. Grandfather knew it was for her own good. “Beat the devil out of ya,” that’s what he was doing. When he finished, he laid his hands on her head and prayed for her, “Oh God, of our fathers, heal this girl of the demons of sin and foolishness. We pray that she will repent and be washed in the blood. Help her to hear Brother Evangel tomorra and the next day. We pray she will repent and come to be numbered in the fold. We pray that she will serve you in this world, so she can come on into your kingdom in the next world. Amen.”
“Now, Elizabeth, get to bed, so you’ll be fresh and able to understand the evangelist’s words tomorrow,” said Grandfather.
Elizabeth crawled in the sleeping bag laid out on the front seat of the pick-up truck that pulled the trailer to the meetings. There were many people who managed to sleep in that trailer, but a few family members spilled out into sleeping bags in the truck and on the ground near the fire pit.
The next day Elizabeth made sure she heard and understood the evangelist. Her hand was the first one up. Rather than pray his prayer, though, she prayed that he would quit talking soon so she could just go home.
* * * * * *
It had been decades since Elizabeth uttered a prayer. However, today on the way home from the clinic with her little girl Tilda on the seat beside her, she said another prayer. “Oh, God, please don’t let it be cancer again, please.”