Copyright © 2010
All rights reserved to Miamac
Our first church,
I’d overheard mama discussing some new church Miss Johnson had visited. The pastor was supposedly on fire for Jesus, an appropriate description for his radical preaching style. They also had an amazing church choir, something
The two of them were giggling like school girls on a first date.
“Emma, really? Even those gorgeous green eyes? Lord, Jesus!” she'd squealed. Mama was what you’d call ‘man hungry.' She'd gone without a man for so long that most of her thoughts were consumed by their being. And although her new religion restricted her vessel from indulging in such fantasies, her mind still ran free.
Everybody had said she’d sounded like Aretha Franklin. One time Aunts Shirley and Esther had convinced her to enter into one of Parkside's community talent shows. She’d won, too. But this was when she used to laugh for no reason at all, before religion had gutted her insides.
Surprisingly when mama hung up the phone she was still in a good mood. Indeed a rarity.
“Hey ya’ll, tomorrow we're going to a new church. So Lynette, make sure the girls take their baths early so I can do ya’lls hair. And Junior,” she said looking around, “where is yo’ brother?” Steven had begun disappearing more and more but because he dutifully gave her money, she hadn't really made that big of a fuss.
Junior just shrugged his shoulders and kept on watching cartoons like the rest of us. We only owned one TV and it was a Zenith 25 inch floor model, color and not black and white like most tenants had. It had taken mama almost a year to pay it off using Kmart’s lay-a-way plan and was one of few luxuries we owned so she was very territorial.
Mama took a deep breath, exhaled and then shuffled towards her room. I could hear her humming Aretha’s version of “Amazing Grace” while she searched through her closet and dresser drawers in an early attempt to find something to wear to the new church.
Mama usually prepared Sunday dinner the night before and depending on what she was cooking, sometimes it ran over into Sunday morning. A feast of Biblical proportions, it often yielded two of everything, including desert. After sitting listening to the good word for three hours long, she looked forward to coming home to a good southern cooked meal that she could just reheat and dig in.
All week we’d been limited to eating the welfare special -- bologna and
The aroma always tickled
“Did mama’s cooking wake that baby?” Mama had always been a good cook and like singing, it usually put her in a good mood.
The kitchen was right off the living room and one by one we’d all drag in hoping to get lucky, well, everybody except Junior. That boy could sleep through an earthquake.
After everybody had tasted one or two dishes mama announced it was time to get ready.
“Where’s Junior?” she said frantically. “I know that boy ain’t still sleep. Lord, Jesus. Lynette, go wake that child up and make sure the little ones wash their faces and brush their teeth. I don’t won’t ya’ll embarrassing
“Yes ma’am.” Lynette was nearing fourteen and had begun taking on more and more responsibility each day. She first stopped at the boy's room and called to Junior to awake. She'd thought she'd heard him mumbling and headed into the bathroom to complete mama's command.
“Lynette,” mama yelled from her bedroom. “You seen my girdle?”
"No ma'am," Lynette quickly answered. Knowing the drill all so well she gritted her teeth and rolled her eyes as she braced for mama’s next words.
"Well, would you come help me look for it ‘cause I know I put it on my bed yesterday and now I can't find it no where? Devil sho' is busy this morning of all mornings."
Lynette stammered down the hallway towards mama’s bedroom, angrily muttering as she went. "First it was grandma's fault, then daddy's, then ours....now since she don' found the Lord, she's blaming the devil himself. I wish somebody puh-leez give her a mirror."
Having an idea where it might be she knelt down near the bed and blindly reached underneath it, scattering her hand about the dusty floor. Touching something soft, without looking, she pulled it out. Covered in a thick layer of dust and still rolled together entangled in a pair of stockings exactly the way she’d pulled them off after church last week, was the girdle. She handed it to her.
"It was right there under yo' bed."
"Unh-unh-unh. Now I wonder how it got under there? That ole devil!" Mama mused.
In a mad rush she took the girdle, shook the dust off and then bent over and quickly pulled it on stockings in tow just like a one-piece, oblivious to the fact it no longer provided her any support. Grossly overweight she‘d quickly outgrown the largest size sold, over wearing the only one she had, stretching it well beyond its limit, ruining the elastic hold. Now fully dressed she headed into the living room so that she could give us a final inspection. All but Junior was present.
“Junior!” she yelled impatiently. We were trying hard not to look at each other or at mama since we worried our anxious eyes could fuel new anger. But the TV was off, making it almost impossible.
Just eight more seconds and the game would be over. "Baby, I'm hot," he boasted to himself as he quickly dribbled the ball down center court. With the final playoff game on his home turf he knew family and friends were watching and for the few of them lucky enough to get tickets to the jam packed, sold-out game, they, along with the other crazed fans, were probably all up on their feet anxiously awaiting him to make the final shot. He could hear them wildly chanting his team name.
"Tank! Tank! Tank!"
Tied at three games each, it all came down to this, the final shot. Fully hyped, he felt cocky.
This be my house. Nobody gonna stop the Tank!
Yet he still debated whether he should risk it and go for the three when he heard it.
It was clearly his mama’s voice. Pride swelled within him, giving him the extra assurance he needed.
He went for it, effortlessly releasing the ball with the buzzard going off as it floated in the air. Pleased with his form and with his hands still hanging limp up in the air, he confidently muttered, "All net baby!" Then as if someone hit the slow-motion button, the ball came down slowly, bounced once off the rim and went right back up again. Coming down a second time its position was now centered, practically guaranteed to fall straight through the net. But before he could know for sure her brash scream jolted him awake.
"Demon!" she screamed standing right outside his door, "You better have yo’ behind out here ready and dressed in five minutes!”
Half conscious with a thick trail of slob seeping down from his wet, moist lips, he attempted to open his crusted-shut eyelids, pulling him back to the reality of the dim, pint sized four-bedroom apartment he'd come to know as home. Wanting to escape a confrontation, sermon-style, he quickly answered.
"Ugh, yes ma’am,” he said barely audible, his mind still half court.
He jumped out of bed, wiped away the slob using the back of his hand and threw on the same black jeans and plaid shirt he'd worn the day before, secretly hoping she wouldn't noticed. Dressed, he hurriedly walked into the living room and quickly sat down on the couch next to
He saw that mama wasn’t looking and gave
"Boy, did you wash your nasty behind?" Mama fussed.
"Yes, ma'am," he lied.
Lord, Jesus, mama sniffed. This demon knows he’s lying. Up in here stinking like some filthy alley cat. Just as she was about to open her mouth to chastise him she heard a loud horn.
"Lynette go out on the porch and see if that's a blue bus." Mama got up in Junior's face and shook her finger. "Demon...you're lucky. I’m gonna deal with yo’ behind when we get back home."
A few seconds later Lynette appeared and breathed an answer. "Yes ma'am."
“Grab my Bible off the table,” she instructed before heading out the door, so assured that we'd be tailing close behind like good baby ducklings.
With each step mama’s weight caused her hips to sway, shifting her body enough so that Brother Sam could catch a glimpse every now and then of us children, who well hidden behind her large frame appeared to be playing hide and seek. Once she'd gotten close he swung the lever, opening the door for her to board.
"Praise the Lord, Sister,” he articulated with a plastic smile, “You are sure looking good this morning."
"Thank you, Brother,” mama graciously grinned.
She stepped onto the bus and as if hoisted on a spring, it gave into the pressure, bowing down as she boarded. Mama quickly peered over her shoulder. "Ya'll make sure ya'll speak."
"Yes, ma'am," we answered in unison before mouthing a forced greeting upon entering the bus.
Intent on making his schedule Brother Sam closed the doors and hit the gas pedal two seconds after the last child boarded, not caring if we had to scramble just to make it to our seats.
Fatigued from the short walk to the bus mama gasped for air until her breathing stabilized. "Whew!" She exhaled, “That fool barely gave me a chance to sit down!”
Miss Johnson was pulling her station wagon onto the lot about the same time as the church bus. I counted five children in all coming out of the tightly packed boxed vehicle. Head-to-toe they all appeared very well groomed; fresh haircuts for the boys, new perm and presses for the girls with coordinating hair ribbons and barrettes to match their pink, yellow and blue Easter-looking church outfits.
Mama Johnson didn’t look too shabby, either. A tall woman in statue, she wore a classic but stylish navy blue outfit that she topped off with a wide brim hat of the same color, a pair of low-heeled white pumps and a single strand of egg-white pearls around her neck. The look perfectly suited her strong, earthly features: beautiful caramel-butter skin that even without makeup was flawless; chiseled jaw lines and high cheek bones that made her lips appear strained; thick, bushy eyebrows and vitamin-rich, shoulder length mane that untamed bounced with each step she took. But very peculiar were her eyes; the dark black pupils seemed to peer straight into the depths of your soul.
“Praise the Lord,” Miss Johnson retorted while scanning each and every one of us. “So where’s Steven?”
”Oh,” she raised an eyebrow, “I see.” She then gallantly strode into the church. This would only be her second visit and already people were going out of their way to greet her.
Service was thirty minutes away and yet the sanctuary was already half full, quickly filling up with gossipy church folks.
Mama could feel the increasing wattage of the excited crowd and couldn’t wait to lay eyes on their shepherd, Reverend Valentine.
On schedule the ushers closed shut the vestibule doors as an old man wearing an off the rack Sears' special, a black two-piece polyester suit, and a pair of hush puppy low-riders, walked through a side entrance and took his place at the podium. The boisterous audience quickly quieted as they surrendered the floor.
“I was glad when dey said let us go in da house of da Lawd.” Holding tight his Bible he continued. “Let us prepare our minds fo’ what Gawd has fo’ his chill-ren by makin’ our way to da altar fo' community prayer.”
People willingly came forth in droves. As he began praying, mama along with those remaining seated just bowed her head. She let her thoughts run free.
Emma must be blind ‘cause this man don’t look nothing like no Smokey Robinson. Smokey the ugly bear maybe but definitely not Smokey ‘Green Eyes’ Robinson.
Frustrated she'd considered coming up with an excuse to leave early but then decided since Miss Johnson had gone as far as to lie about the way the Reverend looked, she might as well stay the duration. But she would not be tricked again. Unh-unh. The next time I’m gonna….
The stirring in her spirit abruptly and irrevocably shutdown her thought engine as the old man fervently began praying. He pulled each syllable out from the depths of his belly and like a well-seasoned blues singer, belted each word.
“Our Fad-da, Our Lawd,” he began, “We come befo’ you, cal-lin’ on yo’ mighty name. Dat name is Je-sus, da Lamb who was slain and who died fo’ our sins dat we might have da right to live a-nother day. Oh, Law-day, yeah, Law-day….send yo’ an-gels of mer-cee, down right now…”
Caught up, several people around the altar began weeping loudly like they’d just seen the coming of the Lord, and a like a wine press, the weight of His Majesty and Glory had crushed their spirits, causing water to pour out of their earthly vessels.
Visibly shaken mama could no longer contain herself and openly began wailing, embarrassing us to no end. “Yes, Lord, Je-sus! Bless yo’ Holy name.”
Too choked up with emotion the old man could no longer mouth the words and just began moaning, “Yeah, Law-day,” over and over again amid piercing screams and shouts of joy.
Some minutes later Wendall, the music director, began softly playing the piano. And without ever interrupting the flow, the old man brought his prayer to an end, releasing those who’d gathered around the altar back to their seats.
The ushers open the doors wide to a continuing double row of choir members beautifully dressed in sparkly blue and white robes. Wendall nodded and they abruptly began marching in place. It sounded like horses anxious to break free of the gates having them bound. Their eyes remained locked onto his. He nodded again and they began singing.
“I just can’t stop, praising His name. I just can’t stop, praising His name. I just can’t stop, praising His name – JESUS!”
The music stopped for a nanosecond, giving the bassist just enough time to sing their short but emphatic chorus solo, which although only four words, was delivered with such depth, power and clarity. “Praise His holy name.” And then just as fast, it picked right back up again with them collaboratively repeating the main chorus. “Can’t stop…”
The harmonies sounded angelic making the church audience go wild with praise. Every sound and word was crystal clear and mouthed in unison, like they’d sung together since birth, and having practiced every waking moment of their lives, perfected their sound. Like well-trained children their focus remained on the music director, who nodding again, signaled for them to begin clapping. They did, practically uniform, encouraging the audience to join in.
Mama grinned as she tingled with pride. “Lord, they bad!”
And again Wendall nodded and like horses they charged out of the vestibule, full steam, with their faces fully animated and set. And as if performing in front of judges, they dramatically swung and clapped their hands, forcibly filling the balloon designed sleeves of their robes with air and yet deflating them just as quickly with the same velocity.
They landed each step with an extra bounce, turning their march into more of a stomp. The people so taken up with their performance became wild and noisy as they loudly exchanged praises amongst each other, reminiscent to that of a soul concert. By the time they’d reached the choir stand which was located directly behind the pulpit, just about everyone was up on their feet, singing and clapping to the beat. Mama was fascinated by their performance and so was I.
As the song finally came to an end the people whose spirits were stirred up began crying out to the Lord in celebration. It lasted for a few minutes more before Wendall broke in with another slower paced tune that provided a calming effect. Mama recognized the hymn and began softly humming along, making Miss Johnson, who was seated in front of us, whip around to gain a closer listen. Realizing she’d been exposed, mama grew quiet.
When the hymn ended the ushers placed iron rod folding chairs at the end of each and every pew, all the way down the aisle to accommodate the overflow. After most everyone was seated the old man again stood at the podium and gave instructions for the usher board to prepare the offering.
Mama reached down for her purse and hearing whispers, quickly raised up. There he stood in the pulpit, a much younger man in a bright, white robe with two large blue crosses stitched diagonally down each side, shaking hands and hugging those already there. His body was turned slightly making it difficult for mama to get a full view, but what she could see peaked her curiosity, making her eyes hungrily grope for more.
Miss Johnson turned around and gloating like a proud wife said, “Girl, didn’t I tell you.”
“You mean---,”Mama’s mouth was gaped open as she examined his every fiber. Miss Johnson just grinned and bobbled her head.
He took his seat in the big chair centered directly behind the podium, a seat customarily reserved for the pastor of the church. He was a far cry from your traditional, age appropriate clergyman and was as close a Smokey Robinson look alike as you could get. Mama just couldn’t seem to digest what her eyes were witnessing and after dropping her $2.00 in the circulating basket, just thought, “Lord, I’d known I was in for a treat – but I surely didn’t know you’d be sending a Miracle!”