Holy Roller
Diane Wilson
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Buy *Holy Roller: Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; Or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus* by Diane Wilson online

Holy Roller: Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; Or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus
Diane Wilson
Chelsea Green
210 pages
October 2008
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Holy Roller author Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation shrimper, has already dazzled the world with her activist biography, Unreasonable Woman. In that book, she told the story of what it is like to fish in dead waters polluted by toxic waste and detailed her struggle against the industries in the Texas gulf responsible for the poisonous seas. That book is subtitled "A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas." Again demonstrating her penchant for long subtitles, this new book, a childhood memoir, bears the heading "Growing Up in the Church of Knock Down, Drag Out; or How I quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus."

As anyone knows who has ever attended a dyed-in-the-Southern-wool Pentecostal church service, it is an experience not to be forgotten. For an impressionable child, such a display of sound, light, noise and the threat of hellfire would have enormous impact. Throw some snakes into that mix, and the theatrics take on a life-and-death thrill and call forth a deep, fear-based faithfulness. Here's the author's child's-eye perspective on a typical New Year's Eve service:

"Preaching, praying, singing, testifying, speaking in tongues, healing all sorts with cloths soaked in olive oil and placed on your head, midnight suppers in the fellowshp hall, two a.m. victory marches around the church, foot washing (men only) at the altar, reenactments of Baby Jesus's birth with teenage boys in borrowed housecoats and cute little kids in cardboard angel wings singing 'Silent night holy night' to a young girl holding a baby doll in front of a makeshift curtain made of two bedsheets, and, once (this under the direction of a visiting evangelist wearing a light blue, three-piece polyester pantsuit) an elaborate reenactment of hell."
Diane got her Bible lessons early, being taught as young as two that Jesus is "God's little boy" who lives in Heaven, and that all kids have two fathers, God and Daddy. From the get-go Diane, the hard-working, hard-playing kid of a man in a hard profession and his long-suffering wife, is given to understand that "The devil is mighty smart, and the only thing that will cut his smartness in half is y'all praising Jesus in the spirit." With her earthly dad away much of the time, Diane becomes attracted to the mixed bag of spiritual flim-flammers and sincere snake-handling prophets who minister to the fishermen of Seadrift. She is charmed by the traveling evangelist Brother Dynamite, who "wasn't attracted to anything more than riding around in his car and advertising Jesus and the snake faith that cured all evil." But she confesses, "The closest I ever got to speaking in tongues was when Daddy's shrimp boat got to rocking and a-rolling in a squall and the shrimp tubs and the shovel were flying across the deck and I nearly got washed overboard. I got so excited and gibberish that Daddy sent me down to the engine room to cool off."

Little Diane's adventures and her intrepid entry into the secret world of adults and their adult problems give this book some Harper Lee undertones, complete with a murder mystery for good measure. The photos of her family offset the surreal sense of fantasy, bringing us back to the realization that Diane was a real kid embroiled in real events, and that's how she got grown up. The kid Diane gets pulled into a search for something more precious than treasure, spurred on by her powerful grandfather, Chief, a man who goes his own way. Diane the adult has gone her own way, sometimes at odds even with her neighbors and definitely not afraid to speak truth to power. As the dust jacket blurb so aptly puts it, Holy Roller could be subtitled "Portrait of an Activist as a Young Girl."

Bold as brass and a self-made wordsmith, Diane Wilson is a true American pioneer, angel wings and all.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

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