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Friday, August 6, 2010

The Halo Lounge

At age 13, as if by divine intervention, I was chosen to represent the Presbyterian church on a local TV quiz-kid show aptly named, “This Way Up.”

I attended Sunday School in the Chicago suburbs and was their star pupil, an aspiring missionary, who saw God through shafts of sunlight  seemingly directed at me.

Looking at the heavenly skylight, I felt a special connection to my maker, and my church nurtured it.

Though my parents never visited the church, nevertheless, I was recognized in front of the congregation for memorizing more of the Old Testament than anyone else in my class. I basked in the glory.

Little did I know that my Old Testament Bible knowledge would lead to bigger and better things.

In the mid-50s, TV programming in Chicago kept viewers captivated with cooking demonstrations, Howdy Doody puppets, Uncle Miltie, and quiz shows. Being chosen to compete with other churches’ Sunday school contestants was an honor.

Besides appearing on TV, I had a chance to win a $25 bond for the church and a white leather Bible with gold trimmed pages.

To prepare for my TV debut, I carefully picked my hat and slipped my fingers into my pristine, white fitted gloves to be properly dressed in my Sunday best for the auspicious occasion.

There I stood in front of the camera answering all the Bible questions confidently and winning easily. I took home the white leather Bible autographed by the TV host and carried the bond safely back to the church.

The televised event was an epiphany, a transformative experience.

 I ascended from Sunday School starlet to full-fledged celebrity status among the Presbyterians. I was their Junior Miss Achiever.

“What next?” I thought. I was on my way to God, and a door had opened to my fantasy adventure to become “Nancy Drew, Missionary.” It all seemed to be falling into place until one unforeseen afternoon.

After Sunday School, the minister called me into his office to congratulate me on the honors I had brought to his parish. After some polite conversation, the head of the church asked me why my parents never came to services.

Since my parents were of different religious denominations (Greek Orthodox and non-practicing Jew), I had tagged along with friends to find “my church.”

As always, I attended on my own with neighborhood kids. By 13, there was already an assorted list of churches in my repertoire: I had spent time with Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists, Episcopalians and occasionally Catholics.

The minister continued his interrogation. He wanted to know my father’s occupation and where he worked. Suddenly, I felt hot and clammy as my perfect holy life began to crumble. I didn’t want to lie or tell the truth.

The time of reckoning had come. I knew if I disclosed my father’s work, I would fall from grace and off my sacred pedestal.

As if confessing, I stammered that my father was a… bartender at the Halo Lounge… a local bar with a blinking neon halo above the sign of the establishment.

The minister became silent, looked away, made some unrelated comment, and wished me a good day. It was over. I was exposed and embarrassed not knowing what to say in that awkward moment of truth that seemed like it would never end.

My short-lived fame was deposed by a neon halo. I could no longer reign as the Sunday School queen. Like a golden calf from the Old Testament, my holy tiara was toppled by a neon halo.

God works in mysterious ways.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-10 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


  1. I would say, God always knows better. Though I can never understand why people are so quick in judging, particulary why someone as close to the church would make judgements and assumptions just like. Too often it is the reason that kids are ashamed of their parents.

  2. LOL, I like this post. Thank you for the morning chuckle.