Hugh and the Old Turkey Leg

HU.jpg

“You’ve taught me you pray, now let me teach you how I pray.”

Marcie pushed herself up from her armchair with great effort. She wore a billowy mu-mu covered in floral print and hefted herself to a standing position with a great exhale of air, the gust of which hit me in the face. It smelled like partially digested sausage and salsa.

Marcie stepped through the piles of magazines and boxes. She was just a few steps left of a hoarder, rarely throwing anything out and rarely left her home. In our first visit with her, she had told us how she’d grown up in this house, and had stayed here after high school to take care of her mother after her father died. A few years before, her mother had died as well, and now she lived off of her inheritance.

Marcie found a tape player in her kitchen and set it on the coffee table, running the cord to the nearby outlet. Elder Bourne and I looked at each other, confused. Just days before, we had knocked on her door, seeking to teach her about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She lived in the nicer part of our area, in north Philadelphia, which was divided into opulent old homes filled with mostly white people, and extreme poverty row homes filled with mostly black and Puerto Rican people. She’d gingerly invited us in, saying she loved religion and wanted to learn more about hers. Now we had just completed the second discussion, and she wanted to teach us about her religion.

As Marcie selected a tape to put in the cassette recorder, she explained. She had a habit of clicking her tongue, making a wet sound like she was gumming potato chips, as she spoke. Her hair was grey and pulled back into a tight bun, and she wore no make-up. On her feet were bright pink bunny slippers.

“Elders, listen {slurp}, I joined the Eckankar religion a few years ago {pop}. It is all about the worship of the Light and Sound of God. You pray {slurp} with words to God, but we pray with {slurp} sounds to revere God. This is the sacred sound of {pop} Hu.”

Elder Bourne, who already looked grossed out (he hated clutter and mess) choked on a laugh. “Hugh? Like Hugh Grant?”

Marcie giggled. “No, no, no. Hu. H. U. Hu. Here, listen. {slurp}”

She pressed play on the recorder and we heard a group of human voices begin to make a long sound. It was a collective chorus, unbreaking. “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.” It went on. And on. After nearly forty seconds, a bell dinged briefly, and the chants continued. Elder Bourne and I made eye contact. What was happening? He started to laugh, and then I couldn’t help it, I started to laugh. The laughs came out of our noses in gusts as we tried to contain it. It was disrespectful to laugh at another person’s religion like this.

Marcie was unaffected as she dropped herself back into her chair. “Shh, listen {slurp}. This is an experience, a love song to God. It’s beautiful. We gather {pop} to worship this way whenever we can, although the primary Temple of Eck is in Minnesota {slurp}.”

At the words Temple of Eck, Elder Bourne started laughing out loud, and, at least somewhat offended, Marcie jerked the cord to the cassette player out of the wall, silencing the unending “Huuuuuuuu” chant. She muttered that there still several minutes left to the prayer, and we apologized profusely, and soon departed. Several minutes?!?

A few days later, Marcie called us and told us she wasn’t interested in learning more about our church, but she looked us up on line and discovered we did service projects as missionaries. She said she had an old room in her house that she needed to empty and wondered if we might help as she couldn’t do it due to her health problems. Elder Bourne begged me to say no, but I didn’t feel right doing so, so we agreed. Marcie promised us lunch, and we arranged to go back over the following Saturday morning.

This time, wearing jeans and t-shirts, we knocked on Marcie’s door, and she walked us upstairs to a room she called her dad’s old office. Inside were stacks of thousands of books, floor to ceiling, draped over old furniture, a dusty couch and desk. She provided us with medical face masks to wear as we began scooping piles of books into boxes, sending clouds of dust every direction, filling the air with it. The room had bene undisturbed for years. There were works of fiction, encylopedias, self-help books, romance novels. Marcie explained that her father bought books everywhere he could, though he rarely read them, and that he couldn’t bear to throw them away.

Hours later, we finished the task and reentered the house covered in dust. As we brushed ourselves off, Marcie explained that a friend would come with a truck to take the boxes to a thrift store for donations, and that she planned to turn the room backing an office again. She was busy stirring a pan and asked if we were ready for lunch.

We sat at her messy kitchen counter as Marcie prepared our plates. She set them in front of us, with a can of Sprite on the side, as she had heard we didn’t drink caffeine. There were scrambled eggs flecked with black speckles that we later learned were pieces of Silicon from her flaking old frying pan, a scoop of loose yogurt from a grocery store family size container, and gray-colored turkey still on the leg, something a Viking might have eaten.

“Someone from my church brought me dinner last week {slurp}. The turkey legs were leftover. They should still be good {pop}.”

We found a reason not to eat the food, claiming we were not feeling well from the dust, and Marcie, frustrated and disappointed, accepted our offer to help us clean up. She asked if we could at least stay for another prayer, and she held up her cassette tape, trying to be tantalizing.

Instead, we walked out the door. Elder Bourne promised he would never speak to me again, but I promised to buy him Burger King for lunch and I was swiftly forgiven. As we sat down at the table, he dipped his first fry in ketchup, and I muttered, “Huuuuuuu” over the table, only to wind up with a french fry flipped at my face.

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