Growing up half Mexican and attending Calvary Gospel was an odd experience at times. There were people who seemed to view me as white and then there were others who made it clear that they saw me as a person of color. The Grant’s real feelings about things were never spoken of over the pulpit and so when I was confronted with them it always surprised me. An adult once told me that the church did not believe in interracial marriage. When I asked about the people who I knew had interracial children I was told that if you were in an interracial marriage before you were saved it was ok. Hmmm ok, even as a kid that seemed off to me. As a person not seen as white or black I lived in this weird out of place world where I felt I did not fit in anywhere. Plus no one would give me straight answers about where I fit in, everything was communicated in looks and second-hand information.
Darlene Grant pastor Grant’s wife never spoke to me, I mean never, unless she was delivering criticism. If she said something to me regarding the school or the youth choir there was always a sharp edge to it even when there was no need for it. She communicated her dislike with every glance and I was left to wonder what I could have done to deserve her attitude. I suspect it had to do with Steve Dahl but who knows it could have been for a multitude of reasons.
Once or twice a year our church would be visited by a very popular evangelist. His name was Brother Hightower. He was very animated and funny and everyone loved it when he would pass through town with his family. He would pack the house and the altar would be filled with people. These revivals would last for up to two weeks and they had the feel of a festival. Less boring than a normal church service because they were more fun and more high energy. This particular event happened when I was about 13 years old. The Hightowers were in town and they brought their son who was the same age as me. The whole family was very sweet to me. It was clear that they did not view me the same way the Grants seemed to. Their son was kind of sweet on me and he would ask to sit by me and my friends during church. His mother was very strict about behavior during church but she didn’t seem to mind him sitting with us. One day he asked me if he could have my phone number and I said sure. We liked each other but it was strictly a very puppy love situation. He was only in town for a couple of weeks and I imagine it was hard to travel with your parents and not have any friends your age around. Somehow the Grants got wind of him asking for my phone number and I bet you can imagine how that went over.
One night after church Sister Grant sat down next to me. She asked if she could speak to me for a moment. This sent my heart up into my chest because she never came bearing good news. She informed me that I was not to sit next to my new friend anymore and if he called me I shouldn’t talk to him. She also forbid me to explain to him why I was no longer speaking to or sitting with him. Better to just cut it all off, because in her words, “We do not believe the way they do.” I couldn’t tell him why because it might offend them and pastor Grant did not want that to happen. So she laid in my lap rejecting the friendship of this sweet boy and forbid me to explain thus making me feel like a monster. She did not care how this action would make me look to him or his family. She was expecting me to be a mean girl in order to save her and pastor Grant from having the adult conversation they should have had with the Hightowers if that was so important to them. I will take this time to remind you that I was 13.
It felt like what they were saying is, you are too brown to be white, but too light to be black. They would not have wanted me to marry their son, but they also did not want me to be friends with this black boy who was infatuated with me. Can you see how this was all so confusing to me? I also feel that they thought this black family was good enough to come and minister/entertain them and their congregation but they were not good enough to have an honest conversation with or to “mix” with too much. They did not bring this situation to my parents they plopped it into my lap and left me feeling like I had once again done something really wrong. Over time I would see this kind of attitude play out over and over. Church kids (mostly white) don’t really mix with Sunday school bus kids even if those kids had been attending for years. I would befriend these mostly black kids because I worked the bus route and they were my age. By choosing this action I was ensuring even more side-eyes from the adults around me. Eventually, you get to the point where you recognize that no matter what you do they will look at you that way so you just give up.
I know that the church has changed some over the years. I am only speaking regarding my experience. As a side note, before the Hightowers left Sister Hightower pulled aside and told me that if I was ever in their hometown I was welcome in their home anytime. She smiled sweetly to me and I had the feeling she could see what was really going on. That gave me some relief from the shame I was feeling, shame that did not belong to me but to the adults in this twisted situation.