Let's Go to Red Lobster
By: Lisa H. Owens

1973 - Clearwater, Florida
​​​Clapping aroused me from a deep and peaceful sleep followed by my dad's exuberant voice echoing through the furniture-less house, "Who wants to go out to lunch today?"

"ME!" was shouted in unison from the four tousled heads peeking out from behind three-bedroom doors.

​"Well, get up and get ready for church. We are going to a new one today."
 
We knew the drill. After quickly dressing in our Sunday-best (we were extremely poor; but our best was still passable), we grabbed a snack then headed out to embark on the clown-show that was the six of us and a guitar squeezing into our only car, a 1960 matte sky-blue Volkswagen Beetle. My seven-year-old sister, Julie, went first as Dad held the driver seat forward and the seat-belt harness down so her slim body could squeeze through the narrow gap. She climbed up-and-over the rear seat, into the "itchy wool" luggage compartment and immediately started scratching. "It's itchy," she complained to no one.
 
My nine-year-old brother, Greg, went next and slid across to the far passenger side of the back seat. He settled in, as the baby (Mama's favorite), three-year-old brother Jeffrey, smiled and sat tightly pressed up against Greg's leg, giving his thigh a sweet flat-handed pat. Being the oldest at twelve, I sat directly behind the driver's seat, only desirable because Dad's arm couldn't reach me when he started swinging back, aiming for leg contact in frustration, as our shenanigans and nonsense typically reached an unbearable crescendo. All of us were packed in—sardine-esque—as Dad laid the five-and-dime guitar gently across three laps and Julie breathed, in that raspy pre-anaphylactic shock sort of manner, into my ear. Mom glided into the front passenger seat, cool as a cucumber, and immediately started fiddling with the back of her hair: fluffing and pulling and plumping. The first unofficial Miss Mebane as a teen in the mid-1950s and still a beautiful woman after birthing four annoying children; she incessantly worried about her appearance.
 
Out of habit, she asked, "Does the back of my hair look alright?"
 
"Yes," the four of us chimed on cue—not really looking.
 Dad plopped down in the driver's seat, buckled his shoulder harness, a safety precaution instilled in him when he was a pilot in the air force, and off we went.
 
We began the drive to visit a new church. We did this every so often, usually when Dad wanted to go out to lunch. We turned into the parking lot of a quaint little chapel and went through the clown-show in reverse. Guitar, me, Jeffrey, Greg, and Julie, now covered in hives. We drew a small incredulous crowd. Nothing to see here, folks! (Although, there was always something to see.)
 
We stood together—just one big happy family—then proceeded toward the front entrance, as Dad broke off to whisper to one of the deacons handing out Sunday-Worship bulletins. He and the deacon covertly glanced our way. Mama, the guitar and the four of us continued on to a back-row pew and sat down. Immediately fidgety, pulling out hymnals, visitors' cards, and those little pencils, drew a stern look from Mama. Then Dad slid in beside her, raising eyebrows and frowning our way.
 
The service began, and as usual, I fell into daydreams of horses and beaches and the restaurant lunch to be enjoyed by us after the service, God willing. Images of seafood and hushpuppies and tartar sauce and high hopes that Dad would allow us to order a soft drink instead of ordering the free water this time...my reverie was interrupted by the pastor's announcement,
 
"We have a special treat for you all. A visiting family would like to bless us with a musical performance this morning. Give me an AMEN!" Pastor shouted toward the rafters (and the heavens) in an attempt to startle this sleepy-eyed crowd into action.
 
I heard a few quietish "Glories," and "Hallelujahs," and one booming "AMEN!" from somewhere in the middle, as Greg—guitar in hand—Julie and I made our way to the front of the congregation. Jeffrey voiced his disapproval to be left behind with Mama and Dad; but his time in the limelight would come soon enough.
 
Turning to face our captive audience, Greg strummed a chord, and we broke into a lively rendition of "Do Lord."
 

"Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do you 'member me," we harmonized in practiced synchronization as the guitar kept us on pitch. The crowd awakened as elderly heads were nodding and feet were tapping—with that one "AMEN!" from somewhere in the middle—thrown into the mix.
 
"I got a home in glory land that outshines the sun. Waaay beyond the blue," we continued, as Dad subtly smiled his encouragement.
 
One more round of the "Do Lord" chorus and we wrapped it up, shuffling back to our seats, glad it was over. "Bless their hearts," and "Precious angels," and the "AMEN!" followed in our wake. Safely seated in the back row, out of the view of the congregation, my thoughts returned to lunch as I coughed to drown out my growling stomach.
 
After the service (surprisingly short, as these things went), we made our way to the back of the sanctuary—just a quintessential Jesus-loving family—receiving pats on the head and compliments along the way. Dad broke off to speak to the pastor and deacons as Mama herded us to the Beetle to begin the clown-show one last time, drawing the amused incredulous crowd as usual, but with well-wishes for us this time around.
 
In Dad's absence, I pulled the driver's seat forward and held the shoulder harness down so Julie, whose skin-flare had finally calmed down a bit, climbed in the back for another round with the "itchy wool." Then the remaining three of us—and the guitar—squeezed into the back seat.
 
We had just gotten situated in the all too familiar humidity when long purposeful strides brought Dad alongside us. He had a big grin on his face and a neat fold of bills in his hand—bills the congregation had donated to the poor little misfits out of the morning-service's offering plate. Stooping to look at us through the tiny triangle of a window that was the backseat's only source of ventilation, he asked, "Who's hungry?"
 
All of us (even Mama, always watching her waistline) shouted, "ME!"
 
"Let's go to Red Lobster," he said, plopping down into the driver's seat. 

The End



By Lisa H. Owens
Inspired by true events (1973 in Clearwater, FL).

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