The Cross in the Stairwell

Alan P. Scott - Memory

marshmallow crucifix reminiscence

Clayton Weaver wrote in email [quoted with permission]:

I always thought that an appropriate response to a burning cross 
in someone's yard would be to get the marshmallows and roasting sticks 
out.  Gotta let it burn for a few minutes first, so the gas that they 
use to light those things up with burns off (otherwise your 
marshmallows taste funky).

That reminds me of a true story:

In my home town in West Virginia, there is one Unitarian Fellowship. It's not even a full-fledged church, just a small group of inoffensive road-middlers from the local university holding meetings in a large house situated just a little southwest of what's really downtown, in a mixed-use area near the main rail line.

When we started dating, my wife R. was living in this Fellowship House, as one of a small group of university students who were ostensible caretakers of the premises. They got low rent in return for keeping the place picked up and burglar-free. There was a lot of turnover, and not all of the residents took their responsibilities as seriously as R., but most of 'em were pretty good about it.

One of the other ones, who lived there only briefly, was a beefy Iranian guy, an obsessive weightlifter named, let's say, Hamid. Strange fellow, especially by West by-gawd Virginia standards. According to him, he was the son of an erstwhile high official in the deposed Shah Reza Pahlavi's government; he was constantly on the lookout for agents of the Ayatollah Khomeini (in WV!) who were supposed to be gunning for him. Once he took all the phones in the house out for more than hour's ride in his car; this he did not explain. He did state confidently that there were ghosts in the house; his evidence for this were the fact that the attic door sometimes swung open without being touched, and the way R.'s cat would sometimes bristle and hiss at nothing.

In retrospect, it seems likely that both his physique and his perspective were the product of anabolic steroids.

However, this is not really his story, although it's certainly related. Apparently, even though Hamid was in a rather tempestuous (and often noisy) relationship with a woman named Donna Duncan, from Dunkin' Donuts (I'm afraid that's her real name and occupation... I couldn't make up details like these), he took some sort of exception to my own budding relationship with R. He moved out of the Unitarian house in the middle of the night one night, taking with him the house coffee maker and R.'s repro poster for Gone with the Wind, and leaving behind him some commentary for us to find in the morning: charred bits of centerfolds strewn around her room, and the cross from the basement, wedged into the stairwell to the second floor.

The cross. Oh, yes. Not some namby-pamby little thing made out of popsicle sticks or even two-by-fours. It'd take more than a neurasthenic blond Jesus to carry this sucker up the Hill of Skulls. This was an 8-foot crucifix made from huge squared-off timbers soaked in creosote (not suitable for marshmallow-roasting, I'm afraid), *railroad ties* or some such, and charred all over in some long-ago conflagration. Lord knows how even this steroid-pumped slab of paranoia managed to drag it up from the basement and halfway up the next flight of stairs to get it wedged into the stairwell.

But, of course, that's not the biggest question, which is: Why on Earth were the Unitarians storing such a thing in their basement to begin with?

This is where it turns into a typical West Virginia story.

See, some time before either R.'s or Hamid's tenure in the Unitarian Fellowship House, the local chapter of the KKK had worked long and hard in those hot bedsheets one night, setting up this huge cross on the lawn without being detected and then setting it ablaze, scaring the bejesus (so to speak) out of the residents but also mystifying them terribly... until the Klansmen sent a badly-spelled letter a day or so later to apologize, a letter which in essence said simply this:

"We're sorry. We thought you wuz the Moonies."

The Moonies?!?

The UnifiCAtion Church.


So the Unitarians saved the thing. For the story.

What the hell... break out the marshmallows anyway.

Original content on this page ©1999, Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.

This document was last updated March 6, 1999.

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