At a recent party, a friend handed me a copy of Pulphead Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan. I don’t even want to talk about how good the writing is because it will take me to a dark place. What I will say is that one essay in particular – about the author’s brother electrocuting himself with a microphone and subsequently providing a month’s worth of hallucinogenic quotes from the hospital bed – has inspired me to begin writing down things my 61-year-old mother says over the phone.
This week’s installment? “Fellowship = cookies.”
I call Perk (a nickname she adores – short for Perky Patty) when I have an hour to spare between another episode of House Hunters and my husband’s return home from work. (Honey? Is that you?) She never disappoints.
I call her on Sunday and she picks up. Thankfully. Or I was going to have to text someone or something stupid. She’s in the nursery on the mother/baby unit at work but there’s only one kid in the cabbage patch so she can talk.
“Hi Perk. What’s up?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, mom. I just called to see what you were up to.”
“Oh, well, can I call you back in five minutes?”
Five minutes later the phone rings.
“Hi honey, fire away.”
“No, mom. I’m always talking about me. Tell me about your day.”
“Oh, aren’t you nice? Well, um…well, today, let’s see…”
And then it begins. She tells me this story about how she thought she was signed up to be the liturgist for her little Presbyterian church down the road. My mom is a fantastic liturgist. She really gets into the intonation of the whole Scripture thing, her voice falling and rising like the breath of God or a biscuit. The compliments always pour in after she’s been up at the lectern, and even though I think she’s bragging, I would brag, too, if I were that good.
Anyway, she’s not in charge of the liturgy after all. She’s in charge of “fellowship.” At least that’s what the schedule says when she looks at it. And she doesn’t know what fellowship really means because she came to Christ when she was in her early-thirties and didn’t grow up with all that churchy lingo. So she calls the church office instead of googling it like I might. Some woman answers the phone and gives her a more succinct answer than I ever could have imagined.
“Fellowship equals cookies.”
“How do you mean?” my mother presses.
“Cookies. All you need to do is bake the cookies and stand by them after the service. That’s fellowship.”
“How many cookies?”
“Oh, not that many. Four or five dozen.”
Perk realizes that this is a big job for a single 61-year-old woman to handle so she begins to devise a game plan. She can’t possibly make it to work on time if she has to stand and make nice at fellowship hour, and so she calls her unit to request an EA (excused absence). They give it to her.
And so she begins to bake: chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies, two-different kinds of brownies.
“I hate when they bring in that store bought stuff. It just doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel like fellowship,” she tells me over the phone. Now she knows what fellowship means, and she’s latched on. She even tells me she had to buy new baking sheets because you know those old ones that always stick out the end of the oven so the door won’t close? Well, those just wouldn’t do.
It sounds really superficial at first, that fellowship = cookies. Where’s Christ in the cookie, an evangelical might ask? Are you sure you don’t mean a wafer, a Catholic would insist? But no. Fellowship equals sacrifice. And Perk gets it. I think she always has.
In the last week, I’ve been invited to more lunches at the new church I’m attending than during all of my time in divinity school. And while these lunches might seem easy enough for one to provide, I’ve discovered they’re full of adult food – the kind you need recipes for like Mexican lasagne and banana pudding – that makes me feel divinely mothered. I even spotted a napkin-rimmed basket of molasses cookies at the last one I attended. Here I am cared for. Fellowshipped with.
This is the body broken for you. These are the cookies baked for you.