Sunday night church at Grand Valley Church of the Nazarene in Orwell, Ohio was always a bit on the slow side for me. It was the first part of 1979, I was sixteen and the only person available to play the piano for the singing of the very traditional hymns of that time…or rather a time that was thirty years earlier but we all made do. A rousing rendition of “Holiness Unto the Lord,” A reflective “Fill Me Now,” and then, lo and behold, we sang a chorus, “Something Beautiful” which I believe was written by the Gaithers.
There were only about twenty-five of us in the small sanctuary and we were seated on one side with the lights over us as the only ones lit, the other side shrouded in darkness. I had finished my portion and took my place in a pew about two-thirds of the way back by myself. There was no one else near my age there at the time. In fact, I think the person next youngest to me was my mother, who was seated several pews up from me off to the left. My dad began his teaching time standing on the floor in front of all of us, blackboard next to him, which was the Powerpoint of 1979. I settled in.
Anna McGrath was one pew up from me, off to the left, next to the center aisle. Anna was about seventy-five or so, but seemed to have the energy of a teenager. She’d seen plenty in her long life and her face had the character to show for it. She was one of those older people in an old church that a young guy like me appreciated. She never judged, she was always kind, she was always supportive. In fact, we had a lot of those people in that church. Not bad for a small, midwest, Nazarene bunch. I liked these people a lot and they seemed to like me, in spite of myself. Anna was single at the time. She had a couple of older guys who rented rooms from her and I think they all used to be Amish. Looking back one might see this as remotely scandalous, but at the time it seemed normal. She eventually married one of the guys. I think a sitcom could be written about it…maybe later.
Dad was probably talking about holiness or something to do with the Holy Spirit, but as far as I was concerned he could have been talking about welfare reform or the benefits of crop rotation because my attention span was, and is, that of a caffeinated gnat. My mind was wandering around the earth. Dad’s voice lulled me into an attention-deficited haze. White noise sharing the white noise. Or maybe blue noise. Why do they use a color to describe noise? We don’t ever say white taste, do we? What about the other senses? I suppose colors are used for sight for sure. Touch? Smell? Taste? Feel?
“How did you feel today, sir?”
“I felt orange today, thank you.”
I suppose you could feel blue…
Then it happened. The dream of every church-going teenager in the world at a time like this. I sensed movement to my left. Anna was getting ready to stand up…but when she did…
To date, that is the loudest fart I have ever heard in church. It was like a tuba reared back and fired. An english horn snapped off its lowest note and held it for two solid seconds. A semi truck just activated its jake breaks at the edge of a steep hill. I could have sworn it caused my pant legs to move. In itself it was a statement, stated boldly, with conviction. “Hello!” or “Be right back!” or “I’m getting coffee!” or “Save my pew!” It really could have been anything, I suppose.
Yes, Anna stood, let fly her masterpiece, and turned to walk down the center aisle, I’m assuming for a visit to the ladies room. But the gift continued for me. Each step she took introduced burst after burst, like a model A Ford rumbling down a dirt road: fvrt, fvrt, fvrt, etc.
I then became afraid. I was a teenager who just experienced the gold standard of funny and I was not able to laugh. I sat completely still. Impossibly still for a guy with attention issues. Time passed. Nothing. Not a peep from anyone. I glanced at my mother. I could see the side of her face and the back of her head. Nothing from her. Thank God because if that dam burst I’d have been a goner for sure. We all just sat there like the people at Pompeii who were covered by Vesuvius denial. Twenty minutes later the service ended, we fellowshipped with the Nazarene glow on our faces, and we went home, me leaving before everyone else. When mom and dad finally walked through the door of our house, I was on the sofa and the first thing I asked them was, “Did you guys hear Anna fart?”
I thought mom was going to have a stroke. She had to sit down because if she didn’t she would have crumpled to the floor she was laughing so hard. It was that type of laughter like when an infant REALLY cries: there’s a short burst, followed by a silent, wide open mouth, eyes closed, face reddening, vein working its way down the forehead. It was five minutes before she could speak.
I never thanked Anna. I really should have because she gifted me with a memory that made me remember church can actually be fun. Through her I was able to see that God made us as humans who have human tendencies, and sometimes those tendencies leak into areas where they aren’t usually found. Maybe it would be like sitting on the toilet in a crowded public restroom, and to suddenly bursting into song: “Holy, holy, holy! Lord, God Almighty! Early in the morning my song shall rise to Thee!” Maybe if I did that it would be a thanks to Anna.
I really would have liked to have given her a compliment. Kind of difficult to do, however. Society seems to frown on it. I really wanted to yell out, “Nice rip, Anna!” which would have been a huge compliment coming from a guy my age to a person her age.
People used to stand in church during testimony time and tell what God has been doing in their lives. In youth camp it was usually on a Thursday and people would say something like, “I would just like to stand and say I love the Lord and want to go all the way with Him.” Maybe that was what she was saying. Her statement, her testimony, which erupted from her involuntarily was, perhaps, “I would just like to stand and say…I’m human, and God loves me.”