Last Saturday, Denver reminded me of the separation of church and state and the way religion changes families.
Walking down 14th Avenue on Capitol Hill, I passed several houses of worship near the Capitol building:
1. The First Church of Christ Scientist, which looks like a large temple and has a green dome on top and an inscription on the front that reads: “The eternal God is thy refuge.” It is right across from a credit union, which involves another kind of veneration.
2. The Scottish Rites Masonic Center, kittycorner from the Capitol.
3. The First Baptist Church, which is across a street from both.
The Christian Scientist structure was so stately, I wish I’d taken a picture of it. My father was Christian Scientist. I can’t think about the religion without thinking of how his family prayed over him after he got polio in 1927 at 9 months of age (not that there was anything else to do for polio in those days) or the family legend that his devout mother found out about his father’s bigamy from the Kansas City papers.
(My grandfather was a minor politico for the South Side Democrats, who supported Shannon, a rival to Prendergast. That’s why his extramarital shenanigans ended up in the paper—the editors were trying to embarrass political rivals. The “south side” was the white neighborhood in the 1930s and today would be considered pretty far north, around 40th Street or so; KC was racially divided between north and south instead of between east and west as it is today.)
My father didn’t convert to Catholicism until after he married my mother, but that didn’t scandalize her family because her parents were some kind of Protestant that I can’t remember.
My mother got to the bosom of the Catholic Church by a circuitous route. Her maternal grandfather committed suicide (another family legend: he tried to feed his wife ice cream laced with arsenic, but she refused it). Suicide was a much bigger scandal in 1915 than it is today, so my great-grandmother packed up her three daughters and moved the two eldest from Connecticut to an orphanage in/near Waterloo, Iowa, where her mother lived. The baby she took with her to Kansas City, where she got a job and where her other two daughters eventually joined her.
One of the sorrows of my life is that I never talked to my grandmother or great-aunt about their years in the orphanage. Or if I did, I’ve forgotten what they told me. I don’t even know how long they lived there, but my great-aunt converted to Catholicism, and because she was my mother’s godmother, my mother was raised Catholic.
Whew. No wonder I’m conflicted about religion.
Here’s a rather mysterious church. Apparently heaven is smoke-free.