We were having a perfectly wonderful conversation when the word “God” came into it.
I was riding the other bus in Nashville – the bus that most working-class people take home. I jumped on because I was exhausted by the heat and it cost $2 as opposed to the $20 bus tour that circled the city packed with tourists.
Since I was a little girl, I had always wanted to go to Nashville. I loved country music – my secret obsession: Loretta Lynn, Tanya Tucker, and Charley Pride. Oh, how I loved Charley Pride.
Since I couldn’t get anyone to come with me to the twang capital of the world, I ended up going alone. I’d been going bar to bar, drinking gallons of lemonade morning to night, listening to some of the best singers out there, but by mid-afternoon of the third day, I was wrung out and had hours to kill until the Grand Ole Opry concert.
When I paid my fare, the bus driver said in a lovely Southern drawl, “Ma’am, the tour bus is coming along in a minute.”
I said, “No, it’s okay. I can take this bus.”
I made my way down the aisle and took a seat toward the back. As I looked out the open window and watched as we exited the tourist area. As the song Wagon Wheel which leaked out of every other bar got fainter and the other Nashville came into view, industry and endless construction and rundown tenements. Pervasive poverty. Streets that smelled of urine, made worse by humidity. Steam rose from the sewer grates. You had to squint to see the forms that lay there. Old men with no shirts thumbing their noses at people passing by as the afternoon heat threatened to turn them into a puddle. Some young teens in school uniforms boarded the bus. School had been let out for the day as they were carrying backpacks, talking about boys and laughing wildly. One beautiful girl flopped down on the seat ahead of me. She looked back at me and then did a second take and said, “Hello, ma’am. You know this is not the tour bus.”
“Yes I do. Thanks, I am okay.”
Across the aisle sat a wiry black man clucked his teeth, saying ‘Uh huh, Uh huh girl.” I could see he too was about to tell me that I was on the wrong bus.
I interrupted him. “Yes, I know, wrong bus.”
A belly laugh bubbled up from the end of his shit-kickers. “Oh, I get it. You are slumming it.” Then he looked around to make sure no one was listening and leaned in. “Now tell me ma’am, are you European? Because, you got that British-European air.”
“Oh, no. Sorry. I’m from Canada,” I said, fiddling with my Pashmina scarf which now seemed pretentious.
“Canada. I love you Canadians. You people got it going on.”
“Well, I love Nashville and now I am going to the Grand Ole Opry.”
When I was a little girl, Grandma and Grandpa Kimmett drove my brother Kevin and me – for what seemed like forever – up to a Country Christmas Jamboree, way out in the middle of nowhere. I remember a man with a bolo tie got up on stage and sang “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” Grandma turned to me and said, “I love Charley Pride’s music. He always sings that when he appears at the Opry.”
She meant she liked the song, but I was little – likely about seven – and I thought the skinny guy singing on stage was Charley Pride, and that we had driven all the way to Nashville. When I was climbing into bed that night I told mom, she said, “Well, you silly girl, you didn’t see Charley Pride, and the Grand Ole Opry is in Nashville. That’s in the U S of A. You only just went down the road to the Stirling Theatre.” The small community theatre was only about an hour from where I lived – but when you are a little, a drive in the dark seems like it goes on forever.
Now here I was almost fifty years later sitting on the other bus on the way to the real deal.
I said, “I think you have a lovely city.”
“It’s okay but it’s not home. I’m from Louisiana. From the Bayou.”
“Oh, lovely,” I said, in that sophisticated European way for which I was becoming known.
“I love to cook Cajun,” he said.
“What kind of Cajun food do you cook?”
“Oh, are pancakes Cajun?”
“No. Pancakes are just pancakes.”
“No, I mean, like, what do you add that makes them Cajun?”
“I am a Cajun. I make pancakes. That makes them Cajun pancakes.”
“Oh.” I smiled that too-big smile that is retrofitted for my foot to enter.
He was Southern, so good manners were ever-present. He felt the pressure to come up with something to make me feel okay. “I do sometimes add nutmeg.”
“Well, that sounds delicious. I have added cinnamon.”
“Cinnamon is bitter.”
“Do you find that?”
“Nutmeg is a confusing taste in the mouth.”
And then, for the next hour, we went from pancakes to the Vietnam War and how guns were ruining his country. When we finally arrived I pulled the ringer, gathered up my stuff, and dropped my tour pamphlet.
He leaned down to pick it up and as he handed it to me whispered, “Would a God-fearing woman like yourself want to go for a drink?”
That word. God. My mind snapped shut. Why did he have to go ruining it all?
I didn’t mind this man assuming that I was a British woman with a European air, but when he said “God-fearing,” it rankled. Even though the word God is the one I yell out when I stub my toe in the middle of the night, I have spent 50 years wrestling with that three-letter word. This man looks like his God would fit inside the lyrics of a country music song. And let’s say I did tell this guy I was a God-fearing woman. How would that go? Would we be talking about fearing the same kind of God? Was he assuming I fear Jesus’s Dad? Not Allah?
Tell me, what sort of God-fearing woman are you looking for, sir? Because I’ve bowed down at the feet of them all.
The real Gods and the false. Booze, men, self-help, and Facebook. Danced with witches, whirled with Sufis. I’ve meditated and smudged and explored the Power of Now like there is no tomorrow, always looking for meaning in everything. After all this time and money, you’d think that Amazon would’ve delivered me a deity in which I could have complete certainty. But I am as confused as ever because not only am I on the wrong bus, my brother, who is the most God-fearing man I ever met has an illness that has left me doubting everything I’ve worked so hard to create. Every ounce of faith I had has been squeezed dry by his dilemma.
However, when a lovely man on a bus asks you if you are a God-fearing woman, you don’t need to give him your spiritual history. You just smile and say, “No thanks, I’ve got Vince Gill tickets.”
He sat back down, looking hurt. “No worries, I don’t beg, no woman.” Then he turned away looking out the window as if I didn’t exist anymore.
Oh great, our first fight.
All I wanted was to come to Nashville, listen to some shit-kicking music and forget about the state of my spiritual status for one minute, but there I was, on the wrong bus staring at a good-looking man who was now mad at me.
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