It was the late sixties.
My sister and I sat side by side on a pew near the front of the sanctuary. Our hair was pressed and curled. We wore, blue dresses with matching crop jackets, white stockings and black patent leather shoes. Our shiny purses were filled with penny candy from the corner store. We knew we'd have to be careful sneaking it. The ushers at our church had keen ears for candy wrappers and sharp eyes for gum chewers. Kids could not so much as twist a cellophane wrapper without an usher shoving an opened bulletin in their face to collect it. Old ladies, on the other hand, could unwrap and share peppermints with not so much as a slide of the eye from those same ushers.
So, armed with pencils, church bulletins (aka. note paper), and unwrapped penny-candy we settled in for service.
The senior choir had strained out the final selection and its members were in various stages of seating themselves. The director slid from the organ bench onto the front pew, settled back and crossed his legs. Ushers scanned the congregation to see if anyone else needed fans, as it was a hot summer day. Our Pastor sat in his chair behind the pulpit. The associate minister sat in the chair to his left. To his right sat a man we did not know. Pastor stood and walked to the pulpit as the ushers stood, facing forward, in the isle ways. He did not wear his usual black robe. Today he wore a suit. This meant only one thing...we had a guest preacher.
My sister and I safely sneaked candy into our mouths as Pastor began his introduction. This guest preacher was the brother of one of the choir members, *Mrs. Ryan. At Pastor's request she stood, clad in a gold choir robe, salt and pepper wig, and cat eyeglasses that appeared to be smiling along with her. Our guest preacher, *Reverend Branch, had come from somewhere south of Ohio. We were asked to welcome him with a round of Amens. To that, our Pastor returned to his seat.
Reverend Branch shifted the bible to his right hand, rose and approached the pulpit. Only his head and neck extended above it. My sister and I locked eyes momentarily, then returned our gaze to him. He lifted the thick black bible high in the air before laying it open on the pulpit in front of him. His neck disappeared.
My sister elbowed me. I looked straight ahead. She snorted a little giggle and my head fell. Both our shoulders began to hunch wildly as we tried to stifle the laughter. We looked at each other and a bit of laugh slipped out. We both looked into our laps.
"Try to stop," I whispered.
"I can't," she burst.
"Sh-h-h". It was the lady behind us. The usher turned our way and we straightened up for as long as we could...not very long.
By now the good reverend was getting into his sermon. His little arms rose above the pulpit and we dissolved in a fit of silent laughter. Our faces were red and tears streamed down my sisters face.
"Sh-h-h". It was the lady behind us again.
We straightened up again. My sister was the first to crack.
"Stop laughing," I managed before giving way to heaving shoulders again.
"I can't," she giggled.
"Go to the bathroom," I said.
"Okay," she snorted and slid past me to the isle.
I slipped a piece of candy into my mouth and tried to settle down.
Five minutes later, she was back.
We managed a few minutes of silence before the Reverend pounded his little fist on the pulpit.
It was a struggle to remain composed until the sermon ended fifteen minutes later. Not even the thought of our parents finding out was enough to sober us for long.
All these years later we still laugh about that day and wonder why everything seems twice as funny in church when you're a kid.
*Names changed to protect the innocent.