Memories from Growing Up in a Small, Religious, Southern Town

I heard the DARE officer got fired for smoking a cigarette behind the elementary school.
Our youth leader forbade us from playing Twister at a youth retreat because it “could get sexual.”
During homecoming, we made these posters for our homeroom doors, and it was a contest—huge deal. My favorite teacher’s homeroom got disqualified for making a “Highway to Hell” door because it “was too demonic.” We were the Blue Devils.
One of my coworkers at the grocery store would buy me wine coolers in high school, and I kept them in the wooden Noah’s Ark chest at the foot of my bed that my grandmother gave me one Christmas.
We had this worship program called “Fifth Quarter” after every home football game at the community center that was an alternative to the “Sock Hop” dance. My best friend said she still doesn’t remember looks dirtier than this one time she showed up late to Fifth Quarter because she’d been at the Sock Hop. (sinner)
I used to label my burned CDs with Christian music artists names—“Steven Curtis Chapman” was really Ludacris, “Amy Grant” was R. Kelly, and “Michael W. Smith” was the (Dixie) Chicks.
Speaking of the (Dixie) Chicks, I knew all the words to “Goodbye Earl” before I ever actually heard it. One time, my dad actually let us listen to secular radio, and he asked what he should call in and request. I said “Goodbye Earl.” When he heard it, he was super pissed I’d been listening to “songs about murder.” Murder is wrong.
Our youth leader told us 80% of teen pregnancies happen in the backseat of a church van.
Maybe the best birthday party I remember attending is this guy in eighth grade whose family had all this river property. We played freeze tag on the hay bales in the field and went snipe hunting in the woods.
When my dad’s church was just getting started, we met in the high school vocational center. There was a portrait of a Blue Devil that stretched floor to ceiling in our “sanctuary.”
Instead of having a real sex talk with me as a teen, my parents sent me to my room with a book, and the first chapter was about masturbation. I didn’t come out of my room for like a day because I couldn’t look them in the eyes.
Back to that youth leader—he called my mom once to tell her my shorts were too short. She told him she’d be glad to give him $100 and let him take me to the mall. He declined this offer.
We had Super Bowl parties every year at one of the churches, but there was an invitation to get saved during halftime, so I completely missed Janet Jackson’s boobs.
We didn’t have sex education of any kind, but we did have this one motivational speaker come and preach abstinence. She told us we should run through the halls screaming “I AM A VIRGIN!” proudly.
The thing I remember most about my seventeenth birthday is my dad and my best friend getting into an argument about Hillary Clinton.
Our manager at the grocery store wouldn’t let anyone off for Christmas Eve, not even this one guy who was in the nativity play at his church.
My mom finally figured out I’d been sleeping over at my boyfriend’s house the year after we graduated high school because we showed up late to church together one morning.
I told my dad I named my cat Selena because I looked in the baby name book he and my mom bought before my sister was born, but really it was because I was obsessed with Selena Quintanilla. I got in huge trouble when he found out, because she was secular. “Anyone who doesn’t use their voice for the Lord is sinning.”
At this one sleepover, we watched Mean Girls, and one of my best friends went upstairs to pray for the duration of the movie because she said it wasn’t Christlike. She’s since apologized.
Football, prayer, and Blue Devil Country are the second holy trinity.

Kathryn M. Barber grew up in southwest Virginia/northeast Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. She teaches stuff at Mississippi State University and edits stuff at Press Pause Press. Her favorite brew is Teaches Peaches (a peach wheat) from Edward Teach Brewery in Wilmington, NC.

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