Sunday, March 11, 2012 / 3:01 pm

Ladies in Long Dresses

Christian women strut their stuff.

by Donna Schoenkopf

Fundamentalist Mormon women
Fundamentalist Mormon women

Yesterday I saw my fifth group of ladies in long dresses.

There have been usually two women together, but sometimes up to four.

They are members of at least two different offbeat Christian sects.  I don't think the women in long dresses are of the same sect because their hairdos are slightly different.  One group has the high pompadours and braid down the back that the Mormons on Big Love wear.  Others have head coverings over their hair.  But they all have one thing in common – they wear long, loose-fitting dresses down to their ankles.

I wonder how they got a foothold here.  Oklahoma is a very homogeneous state and they definitely don't fit the mold of dress or hairdo.  All I can think of is that they are another evangelical Christian group, with a twist.  (The evangelicals are 53% of the population in Oklahoma.  That's why Rick Santorum won the primary here last week and President Obama lost 15 counties to Randall Terry although he did win over 50% of total votes.)

The first time I saw a group of them I was with Joan and Janice having lunch at Benedict Street Marketplace which is Shawnee's most fashionable place for lunch.  In they walked, a group of four, and went directly to a nice table near a window.  Joan tittered about them, Janice smiled, and I enjoyed the fact that they were so very different than the rest of us.

The second time I saw two of them in the grocery store.  They walked down the aisles pushing their cart, long dresses to their ankles.  The women had on brand new denim dresses.  They walked amongst us with pride.  They knew we all were making note of them.  I could definitely identify with their weirdness.  I embraced it.  They were so very sure of the rightness of their beliefs and so very proud of who they were.  They looked neither to the left nor the right.

Then a few months later I saw two of them pumping gas.  That was the time they looked most natural.  The body language of their chore made them seem as normal as apple pie.

There have been a few more times I have spotted them.  When I see them it's like spotting a rare bird.  I get kind of excited about it.

I both love them and hate them.  I love them for their courage in stepping into the   world with their hearts on their sleeves.

And I hate them for hating me.   I know they do.  I don't wear my hair the way they do and I am immodest in my dress or, shall I say, lack thereof.  I know they think I'm going to hell and that just plain makes me mad.   How dare they presume.

And that's when I realize I am presuming to know what they believe.

And then I realize with a thud that  I am one of them (of course) because I am convinced that I am right in my beliefs and they are silly in theirs.

But then I realize I am NOT one of them because I know I don't have all the answers.

(Just most of them.)

Donna Schoenkopf recently retired from teaching at 61st Street School in South Central Los Angeles, and has moved back to Oklahoma, where she spent her teens.
donna@fourstory.org

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