One Saturday in the fall of eighth grade, my friend Craig and I rode our bikes through Lincoln Park in Rock Island, and then past Alleman, the Catholic High School.
Across the street from the Catholic school was a big white house with a fence of spiked logs, like they used in the Old West.
"See that house?" Craig asked. "Do you know why it has such a big, spiked fence?"
"Because it's full of Catholics?"
"No, because it's full of men with guns. If you go in there, they'll shoot you."
Men with guns?
I wasn't afraid of guns. My Dad and uncles had been taking me hunting ever since I learned to walk. I liked the all-masculine preserve, and the phallic symbolism of a gigantic gun pushing up from a guy's crotch.
"So...what do the Men with Guns look like?"
"Oh, they're big. With big muscles. They can tear a steel girder in half with their bare hands."
Being a naive twelve-year old, I didn't realize that Craig was putting me on.
"Let's take a look!" I exclaimed. I was anxious to see these muscular men polishing their guns and tearing steel girders in half.
"Um...er...we can't do that. We'll get shot."
Ignoring him, I parked my bike, walked around to the back, and peered through the gaps in the wooden spikes. I could vaguely see a grassy yard, two trees, and some lawn chairs -- wait -- was that a guy in a swimsuit?
I needed a better look.
No way was I going to try to climb that fence! In fifth grade, I nearly killed myself falling into an outhouse while looking for Uncle Edd's gun, and last summer, I banged my head into the side of the pool trying to see if my boyfriend Dan was kissing another guy.
How about just going to the door and knocking?
I had an excuse: the preacher was always talking about the importance of soul-winning, going door to door to win strangers for Christ, or at least inviting them to church. Two or three times a year, the high school kids divided into groups of three and went soul winning in different neighborhoods in Rock Island and Moline.
I was too young to go with them, but maybe I could convince my Sunday school teacher, Brother Dino, to bring me.
The next day in church I told him, "There's a house by the Catholic school, and it's full of Catholic sinners. I rode past on my bike yesterday, and God laid a burden on my heart to win the souls inside."
"Are you sure?" Brother Dino asked. "You're a little young for soul-winning."
"I'm mature for my age,"
"But...Catholics are advanced. Satan has a strong grip on them. They'll try to brainwash you."
"You're big and strong," I said, taking his arm. "You can protect me from anything, I bet."
We walked up to the door, and Brother Dino knocked. I felt my heart racing. Any moment now, I would see the inside of the house, with muscular men cleaning their guns.
A cute guy in a black shirt with no buttons answered the door. He eyed our Bibles suspiciously. "May I help you?"
"I'm Brother Dino, and this is Jeff and Cecilia. We're here to share some Good News with you."
"Good news? What...."
"The Good News that God has a place in heaven waiting for you. All you have to do is accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior."
"Um...ok, won't you come in?"
He ushered us into the most Catholic room I had ever seen. A framed portrait of the Pope! Statues of saints and the Virgin Mary! Crucifixes, rosaries, candles! A scary, evil Catholic Bible on the coffee table! Catholic magazines!
Seeing our faces drained of blood, he grinned. "Maybe you'd like some tea before you tell me about Our Lord?"
Brother Dino turned and ran from the house as if he was being chased by monsters. Cecilia and I followed. We jumped into the car and zoomed away, and didn't stop until we got back to the Nazarene church.
Then he started yelling. "Catholic priests! You brought me to a houseful of Catholic priests! Do you have any idea how dangerous they are? We were lucky to get out of there alive!"
But I couldn't help thinking: There were two men living in the house without wives. They had found a way to escape the "what girl do you like?" brainwashing, not with guns, but with Catholic cassocks. .