I found 4-H Club overwhelming as a child. The pledge with its four-H motto. Head. Heart. Hands. Health. The procedure of each meeting, like we were some CEOs of a Fortune 500 hundred company or something.
And the Howard County Fair. I was as afraid to face the judges in the baking division as a child is to face Mom and Dad after he misses curfew. And one was expected to enter something. Baked goods. Hand-sewn items. A calf or lamb.
I couldn't sew very well, and my dad was a preacher, not a farmer. So the livestock option was off limits.
Still, my sister and I entered our cheesy bread the year I was in sixth grade. We were given the opportunity to present our recipe to the judges - while an audience watched us - live - like some kid- version of the FoodNetwork television show.
We had practiced our Cheesy Bread recipe schtick. We had it down.
The day of the presentation, I fell into the set dialogue and introduced our subject matter.
"Hi. I'm Denise Johnson and this is my sister Karlene, and we're from the Saratoga Presbyterian Church."
Dad was in the audience. His laughter cut through the murmurs and County Fair noise in the big tent. I paused. What was so funny? My sister looked at me. Her eyes spoke volumes:
I can't believe you just said that.
That's when it hit me. I was supposed to say that my sister and I were from the Saratoga Sunbeams 4-H Club.
Instead, I had told the entire audience that my sister and I were from the Saratoga Presbyterian Church.
That's how it is when your dad's a preacher. It is everything. It is such a big part of who you are that you fall into the image, the inheritance, the identity of it - even when you don't mean to do it.
I am a preacher's kid.
Forget Saratoga Sunbeams. I had just told everybody that we were Saratoga Presbyterians. And my dad was falling off his chair. Laughing.
I haven't changed all that much.
Sure. I'm Catholic now, but even when I don't mean to do it. Even when my mind is somewhere else. Even when I'm dog tired or one Margarita into the evening or at a ball game or a party or a family reunion. It comes out.
Hi. I'm Denise. And I am from the Catholic Church. You think I'm here to make some bread or buy some groceries or get my daughter's back-to-school physical, but you're in for a surprise.
I'm here to tell you that I'm Catholic. All the rest of it is a setting, a backdrop, a epoch that appears to be focused on some unrelated event.
You are wrong.
I'm from the Church of 2,000 years. Go ahead. Give me a script. I'll manage to find a way to say what really matters.
You think you are here to witness a food demonstration. But I'm here to evangelize.
I can't get around it.
I've stopped trying.
And the best part of all? I can hear Dad laughing.
That's my girl.