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Filled with the Spirit 

Catherine A. Kelley

According to family tradition, my great-grandmother, Elsie, was a Pentecostal holy roller. She was known to hold the Bible to her chest and dance as she sang, “Nearer My God to Thee” or “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” She often raised her hands over her head, both at home and in public, and thanked the Lord out loud—for rain, for healing her children of colds, for helping her find nickels and dimes discarded on the sidewalk that she could use to buy milk, and for just about anything that helped her survive this vale of tears we call life. My mother told me that Elsie’s husband, an itinerant Pentecostal minister whom she married at seventeen, moved their family of four, six, ten, and finally thirteen, around the Western U.S. whenever he got restless. He promised them horses in Texas and a swimming pool in California but usually provided little else but four walls and a mud floor and days on end of water biscuits and water gravy. Their five-year-old daughter, Abby, died of pneumonia when Great Grandpa William’s anointing of her feverish forehead with olive oil didn’t do the trick. According to my Great Aunt Dorothy, Elsie refused to let go of Abby for an entire day and from then on slept in their daughters’ room.  


When her husband finally died, Elsie praised the Lord again and, because her husband had never allowed her to get a driver’s license, she moved to a trailer park where everything she needed and wanted was within walking distance, including a Pentecostal church. She impressed the earnest congregation with her knowledge of Scripture and her enthusiasm for prayer and hymns and soon gained a reputation as a truly God-inspired woman. Every Sunday morning, Elsie sat on a pew in the front row, her face turned to heaven and her arms raised, replying, “Amen!” to every other sentence the minister spoke. That is, unless he spoke on certain verses, such as Ephesians 5:22 and 23: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife.” At those times, Elsie bent her head down and cleaned her nails.  


Then one Sunday, after Elsie had turned seventy, she was so filled with the spirit that she spoke in tongues during a sermon. Her church’s new minister had asked the congregation to turn to I Peter chapter 3. “In the same way,” he began, “wives, submit yourselves . . .” Then Elsie stood up and out came sounds that no one understood, but everyone listened, including the minister, whose voice would have been drowned out anyway. Addabataya loyaroora tayabelaiya nayabouliyataya rayugaboteeya . . . She went on for a several minutes. Some individuals in the congregation thought she may have spoken Russian or Arabic or even Chinese, but others were certain it was a holy language straight from Heaven.  

Catherine A. Kelley is an ESL teacher from Southern California who writes flash fiction almost exclusively. She has had stories published in Everyday Fiction, The Frogmore Papers, East of the Web, and The Bookends Review

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