I’ve written “Meetinghouse” stories before, using as byline “Lee Van Dyke.” Sometimes, though, I can still hear my mother’s strict, harsh, piercing tones speaking my entire baptized name: “Leon J. Van Dyke, how could you?” I was born Calvinist, in a strict Dutch Reformed church. Calvinism has “original sin” as a fundamental premise, discourages all art, except music. (Think of the Puritans.) Guilt came with my territory.

Consequently, I always had things to rebel against. If I could get away with it, I would. Drinking or smoking weren’t allowed, so I thought smoking cool. At around 14, I skipped school in order to hide out in a field, and spend a warm afternoon smoking and playing cards. Later, I would drink pre-legal beer while out dancing. Remember: no dancing, no cards, no beer. Bases loaded.

But frivolity, dancing, drinking beer and a Dionysian-like state that has you tipsy, slightly skewed in one’s rational senses, seemed to me pure joy. Sometimes I’d get caught. I think now that my mother would often pretend not to know what I was doing. I would sneak around thinking I was fooling her. I wouldn’t want to hear that severe, fierce, sad, ominous, frightening voice. I am convinced, as is my daughter all these years later, that if that stern Calvinist family voice of mine gets heard, it is wise to run for cover.

When I was around 12 years old, I thought I’d steal some corn silk from a local grocery store, and roll it in cigarette papers, smoke it and get a little high. I’d heard that it would make a smoke almost as good as tobacco. As it was easy to get my hands on ears of corn, I decided I would give it a try. Got caught smoking behind the garage and heard “Leon J. Van Dyke, how could you?”

Mom decided to make me smoke more of it, thinking that it would teach me a lesson. Maybe make me sick. I didn’t love the corn silk smoke, but I smoked rolled corn silk all afternoon before we all gave up. I stopped and said: “Forgive me!” It seemed to me a smoke not worth the guilt.

Probably not corn silk. Cigars? Worth hearing her voice in my memory? Not for all time. On special days, in celebration, I will chance “hearing” her voicing my name. When my daughter was born, I distinctly remember driving home, then submerging my body in a bathtub and lighting a cigar. I had seen in a “Western” what disgusting macho pleasure it would be to smoke a cigar while soaking in a warm bath. You use the bath water for the ashes. I recommend it! I still forgive myself for easing out of the everyday, and indulging my senses in one of those guilty forbiddens. From out of the distant past I can hear her voice call out my name, “Leon J. Van Dyke.” I know I’m guilty. “Sorry!”

There is a kicker. I knew she’d always love me. Oh, it’d be fiercely voiced, middle name and all. Now I realize that she always would forgive and never withdraw her love. I do still smoke a cigar once in a while, just for guilty pleasure. I do prefer you to call me “Lee.”

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