That Time Social Pressure Made Me Burst Into Song About Apples
When I was growing up, my family always prayed before we ate. I can't remember if we did it publicly in restaurants, but we certainly did it around our table at home, and it was always the same prayer:
Come dear Lord and be our guest.
May this food to us be blessed.
The funny thing about this prayer is that I can barely remember it when I am not actually sitting at a table with my family. For instance, tonight it took me two hours to remember the words, and when I was a kid and had supper at my friend Laurie's house, it would escape me altogether.
I don't think Laurie's family was religious. At least, I don't remember them going to church or talking about God ever, but her mother always tried to show respect for the fact that my family did, and whenever I had supper at their house, she would ask me to say grace before the meal. It made me feel painfully awkward, like I, an 11-year-old kid, was somehow leading the uninitiated through this really intimate ritual of faith.
And then to add awkward to awkward, the words to my family's grace would disappear, right on cue, and it never occurred to me that I could ad lib grace. It had always been a rote deal, so the first time they asked me to pray before we started eating, I think I just mumbled the basic instructions for saying grace, as though a brief education in meal prayers was what was called for.
"You just kinda say thanks for stuff so God knows you're grateful that He gave you stuff," I said.
Laurie's mom graciously let my instructions pass as prayer.
The second time I prayed over their supper, I tried to pass off a pale substitute that I'd heard on The Flintstones over lunch hour that day.
"Rub a dub dub and thanks for the grub. Amen," I said.
"You don't really say that at home, do you?" Laurie's mom asked.
"Nope, but it's easy to remember," I said. I felt heretical.
The third time I said grace at Laurie's mom's behest, I was starting to feel a little more comfortable with the idea of performing grace in front of these people, so I was sure I would remember the proper prayer before we sat down. I racked my brain for half an hour before supper, but it just wouldn't come to me. By the time Laurie's mom silenced everyone and looked to me to start grace, I was still blanking on the words.
"Ahem. Huhm." I cleared my throat.
"Are you going to say grace?" she asked.
I was stalling. I had only one prayer in my head. I didn't want to go ahead with it, but in the absence of every other religious thing, it had to be done. They had me seated at the head of the table, and they were all staring down at me, waiting on my words. The social pressure was too much, so I did what I had to do.
I started to sing. I sat at the head of the table and sang to Laurie's family.
Like any 11-year-old, I thought I would die, but you can't stop singing a prayer mid-verse, so I soldiered on, and that's how I found out that what made for a fun round of four-part harmony at Mennonite church camp became a mortifyingly thready a cappella when performed alone for non-religious people who'd never heard a Mennonite kid spontaneously break into a song about apples.
Oh, the Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need,
the sun and the rain and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.
Laurie's mom laughed. "Johnny Appleseed. Wasn't that the guy who planted trees?"
"Well, I guess we're thankful for apples, then," she said, passing the bread.
And that was the last time they ever asked me to say grace. Thank God.