My family moved to Brazil when I was twelve years old and for the next five years my parents engaged in missionary work while we kids attended a school for Americans in central Brazil. The following is an excerpt from my novel in progress entitled, "All We Like Sheep." It's about growing up gay in a homophobic family. It's about questioning the motives of Fundamentalist missionaries and finding love in the most unexpected places. The year is 1967.
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Dad spent less time at home now than he ever did in the States. Mom never knew where he was or what he was doing. It wasn't uncommon at all to walk out of my Civics class at the end of the day and come across Dad leaning on a post and talking to Uncle Elwynn or Mr. Killcrease, poised perhaps with a hammer in his hand, perhaps a tire iron, engaged in some project which was halted for long stretches of time while he elaborated on Eternal Security, the Resurrection, New Testament church principles or jokes about colored-guys. Dad never put much stock in book learning. After all he dropped out of grammar school without completing the eighth grade and not only did it not, as he put it, hold him back, his very ignorance of worldly affairs actually enabled him to meditate that much more deeply on spiritual things. He often quoted I John 15-17: "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust of it; but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." Dad, of course, intended to abide forever. He saw himself first and foremost as ordained in the ministry of Jesus Christ, then secondly as a husband, the father of four children, every one of them born-again, their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb. Way down at the bottom of the list was Dad's place in this secular world, this corruptible world, where for now Satan is having his heyday but only until Jesus says enough is enough and comes again and takes away all them that believe on him. We used to sing about it.
Although Dad's ministry took first place in his life, he had by example blazed a trail for us to follow. He had turned himself away from worldly things. He'd thrown away his cigarettes, dumped down the kitchen sink his last bottle of beer, sold our house, our washer and dryer and our brown velvet sectional sofa, paid off our debt to Jorgensen's Savings and Loan of South Milwaukee and set off on this mission for God, baptized, sanctified, ordained and humble. And no matter the cost we kids were to follow in his footsteps. This included the Lord's things as well as Dad's special brand of gender consciousness. Dad believed it was best for boys my age to spend quality time working beside their fathers and developing by association their masculine traits. He frowned on growing boys who wasted precious God-given time in leisure, designing board games or hanging around the house with their mothers who could easily soften them up by teaching them more than their share of domestic skills. Unfortunately for me, it was around this time I discovered Mom's recipe for pound cake. It was a gray day in September. Humid. Smell of coming rains and mildew. The clock on the cupboard said 4:15. I knew it was forbidden, the wrong kind of stuff for a boy my age to be seeing. The pages were thick, waxy, almost sticky and gaudy colored pictures splayed out on every page. The shots were seductive. Teasing the senses they captured juices just about to run from tender cuts of rump roast, from butt steak, from succulent mutton chops, from thick juicy hams pierced with clove. I saw myself someday preparing meats like these, manipulating that raw flesh with expert hands that found by instinct hidden veins and tendons, or lumps of stubborn fat that succumbed almost with a sigh to my probing, my censorship. I could feel those exotic spices grind between my hot palms and the cool surface of the meat: cumin, curry, cilantro, salt. There was next a section on poultry, a full dozen pages: game hen, goose, turkey, all naked and gaping spread-eagled where mounds of gooey stuffing were caught by the camera's eye just about to spill. Capon marinated in olive oil and wine vinegar and stuffed with wild rice. Pheasant stew. Boiled squab. Duck with plum sauce. The room began to spin. Quickly I flipped to chapter three, Sauces: hollandaise, marinara, three cheese. There was mayonnaise florentine and a whole section on tartar sauces, sauces for eggplant, sauces for chicken parmigian as well as a la king. I found tips at the end on whisking and simmering corn starch. Gravies were explained both lumpy and not. But finally there it was on page one hundred and sixty nine, one page past chicken cacciatore and directly below the garden green capital letters that said desserts, lay a flawless loaf of pound cake, brilliant gold and rounded on top just right where the heat had begun to burst the crust with a fissure running the full length of the cake. Did I dare? I took a deep breath. Through the window I could see Mom hanging up her dripping underthings on the clothesline rope. Already dangling were Dad's boxers, the striped ones. I heard the swine at play in the sty next door. My own pulse throbbed in my temples. Suddenly I didn't care anymore. Nothing mattered. I reached to the top of the cupboard and pulled down the can. With a tablespoon I scooped out two thirds cup of white and creamy shortening softened in the tropical heat. The globs made a plopping sound as they hit the stainless steel mixing bowl. The bowl rang accusingly in my ears, but I stood my ground. I paused again, listening. Then with fiendish eyes darting back and forth I slowly poured two cups of Tico Tico sugar over those soft mounds of shortening and began to blend both wonderful substances together, dry crystals melting in creamy fat. Under the pressure of Mom's wooden spoon the two became one. One gooey sticky paste. One day I got caught. I heard a cough and spun around. Dad was standing in the doorway in his dirty jeans, sweaty curls, icy blue eyes. He seemed to enjoy that he'd caught me up to my elbows in flour with vanilla extract smeared across my cheek. Blood rushed to my face. I stood there with an egg in my hand and felt cheap and feminine. Without saying a word Dad went out on the back porch to wash the axle grease from his hands and I went ahead and popped the cake into the pre-heated three hundred twenty five degree oven and prayed he would forget I had disobeyed him and spent the afternoon in the house. That night at the supper table when it was time to report what each of us had done that day, Jackie had learned a new Bible verse, Joey had beat Sr. Oscar's nephew in a marble tournament. John had killed a rabbit with his slingshot and skinned it and rubbed salt into the hide and nailed it to a board to keep it stretched as it cured in the sun for two weeks before it became a hunting pouch. But I had made pound cake. Dad's namesake. His eldest son. The one who was supposed to be the man of the house when Dad was away. I had spent my day with my head in Mom's oven and my mitts on her pot holders. And there was the evidence. On the blue and white flowered serving platter that was once Grandma Glidden's were six of the moistest and fluffiest slices of pound cake ever made from scratch with just a hint of lemon, stacked like pancakes, a half dozen golden examples of my faulty masculinity, my membership in the hall of sissy. But did they eat them up, all six slices? Did the real men in the family, the masculine ones, the ones who showed up for dinner smelling as if they'd spent the day rolling in carrion, did they barely have time to lick the fried chicken grease from their grimy fingers before descending like buzzards on my pound cake, a cake prepared by hands that were not normal, a cake prepared by hands that saw no clear gap between the genders, hands that no amount of rules or shame could keep away from Betty Crocker recipes or Nancy Drew mystery novels or mom's Godiva hand cream with lanolin? You bet they did. Every last slice.
I've got a mansion, just over the hilltop
In that bright land where we'll never grow old
And someday yonder, we'll never more wander
But walk on streets that are purest gold.