My mother had a slight speech impediment. Barely noticeable. Hardly worth mentioning. She did not pronounce the “T” sound very well. Sometimes, not at all. Words like “art” were pronounced “are,” such as in The Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who are in heaven.” And, that’s where I tended to notice it, at church, where I knew exactly which word she meant to say. Like I said, it was hardly worth mentioning.
My parent’s church sponsored several missionary teams. Throughout the year, these teams would return to the United States to collect offerings for the work they performed in faraway lands. Such was the case this particular Sunday. The missionaries presenting the service this week built churches in Togo, a small African country which bordered the Atlantic Ocean near the equator. I actually enjoyed their presentation. It was a nice break from the usual fare of hellfire and damnation sermons. These missionaries presented a slide show of the church they had built and the native people that helped them construct the crude structure. The church was little more than an open-air thatched-roof carport with benches and a pulpit. At the end of their presentation, a special collection was taken for their mission work. During the last hymn, the missionaries walked to the rear of the church to shake hands with the congregation as we all exited.
When it was our family’s turn to shake hands with the missionaries, my mother decided to invite them to our house for dinner. She took the hand of the young woman missionary.
“Do you already have plans for Sunday dinner today?” she asked.
This was a spur of the moment decision, because we already had two other dinner guests invited over this Sunday, my parent’s good friends, the Penningtons, would be joining us. When the woman missionary stated that they had no plans, my mother asked her if they would like to come over for a chicken dinner. The missionaries smiled and seemed quite eager to accept her invitation. However, while still holding the young woman’s hand, my mother told them that another couple, Doris and Peanuts Pennington, would also be joining us.”
Remember that speech impediment I mentioned earlier?
What my Mother meant to say was, “Doris and Peanuts,” but what I heard—and what the missionaries heard—was “Doris and Pea-nus.”
I remember the missionaries looking at my mother, and then at each other, confused, in absolute silence. I knew they were replaying it in their heads, “Pea-nus,” yes, she said penis. The oh-my-God expressions were frozen on their faces. They must have been thinking, there’s no way this woman just said “penis.” Surely they misunderstood this nice Christian woman who just offered them a free meal. The moment passed without an answer. They smiled and still seemed ready to accept the offer of a free dinner. However, my mother was still holding the lady missionary’s hand. She misinterpreted their silence and must have felt compelled to explain the nickname as if it were a dirty little secret,
“You want to know why we call him Pea-nus? Because his head is shaped like one,” my mother giggled.
No denying it this time—she just said it again.
My father, who was immune to my mother’s speech impediment, didn’t hear the mispronounced word and laughed in agreement.
“It really is,” he added with hand gestures that traced an imaginary peanut, “It’s shaped just like one.”
This latest bit of information was followed by an uncomfortable silence and dropped-jaws.
For me, it was one of those rare moments when the planets align.
What the missionaries only thought they heard the first time had been repeated quite clearly—and this time the poor man’s nickname was explained to them in graphic detail. They were still replaying my mother’s explanation in their heads, “you want to know why we call him Penis? Because his head is shaped like one,” followed by my father’s reply “it really is.” They looked at one another again, still stunned, and conveniently remembered a previous invitation.
It was a hoot.
As the missionaries excused themselves from my Mother’s invitation, they quickly looked past my family to shake hands with the next people in line. I was the only one who understood why the missionaries declined our dinner invitation, but I wasn’t about to explain it to my parents.