Authors: Michelle Stimpson
Copyright 2004, 2012 by Michelle Stimpson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for brief quotations in reviews, without written permission from the author.
The characters in this book are fictional. Any resemblance to actual people or events is coincidental.
Published by MLStimpson Enterprises
Cover and design by Delia Latham
With thanks to God for His grace.
When I was growing up, Sunday mornings always found me out of bed by eight. The scent and sizzle of bacon and eggs frying on the stove wafted through the house, gently waking my senses first. I would lie there with my eyes closed, absorbing everything that meant Sunday morning to me: warm sheets beneath me, a blanket that I had pulled up to my neck in the middle of the
night, Jonathan’s favorite cartoon characters singing along with the white ball as it bounced over the words, and Daddy humming an incomprehensible tune while shaving in the hallway bathroom (though I never could understand why somebody who rarely saw the church’s interior would get up so early on a Sunday). Still, Daddy’s scrambling right along with us was a part of the routine. If nothing else, he would help Jonathan get his tie on right.
Momma called from the kitchen, “Get a move on!”
I poked my head out from under the covers and answered, “Yes, ma’am,” in that high-pitched “I’m up” tone. Just one
more minute. Then I began to think about my new white socks and my dress or the way Momma had rolled my hair the night before. I reasoned with myself, willing my feet to swing out and meet the cool rush of air on the other side of that bedspread.
I made my first stop at the mirror, unfastened one of the pink hair rollers, and watched my bangs spring from the foam. A smile spread across my face at the sight of that spiral curl. I pulled it down until it met my nose. My hair still smelled like Royal Crown grease and the smoke that embedded itself in each shaft during the pressing process. If I’d held my head perfectly still the
before, I wouldn’t have any burns behind my ears or at my temples. If I’d jumped at the sound of the hot comb frying what Momma claimed was “only grease,” I might have the marks to show for it.
Momma took a break from cooking breakfast to come in and check on me. She wore a brown fleece robe with pink house shoes, but I had lived the routine enough to know that she already had on her girdle and white stockings underneath. She’d brushed her hair back, but there was no bun at the nape.
Only a few bobby pins to hold her mane in place.
She would be wearing a hat that covered her entire head this morning.
Probably the white one with sequins and feathers all over it.
“Turn ‘round here. I’m
let your slip down a little more. I believe that hem on your white dress is pretty low.” She stood behind me and adjusted the straps on my slip such that it fell another inch or two. “There you go. Let me see you.”
I turned to face her, all smiles. The bags puffed up beneath her eyes as she pushed her cheeks toward a wide smile of her own. “Look at my baby. You’re the prettiest little girl in the whole wide world.”
“No doubt about it.
God blessed me with a pretty, smart, wonderful little girl.”
She planted a soft kiss on my forehead and stood at arm’s length to look at me again. “Won’t be long before those little boys at church start
takin’ a liking to you, you know.”
“I don’t like boys.” I wrinkled my nose and bared my teeth. I didn’t like it when she teased me about boys.
Especially not since I’d started getting that tickly, peculiar sensation in my stomach every time I saw people kiss on television.
She gave me a glance that said, “you-just-wait-and-see.”
Then she left my room, half singing and half moaning one of her favorite congregational hymns: “Servin’ the Lord Will Pay Off After While.” I wished that she would come back and do something—anything—in my room. I wanted to smell her powder, hear her sing, and feel the warmth in her notes surround me like a tattered family quilt passed down through generations.
Worn to threads in some spots, but worth its original weight in gold.
* * * * *
“Now may the grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rest, rule, and abide in us all until we meet again. Let the church sing,
Pastor Simmons dismissed the congregation of True Way Church of God in Christ, and a bustle of conversation began. Sisters and Mothers, clad in a colorful array of tailored suits with fancy hats and sparkling jewelry, hugged each other and planted soft, saintly kisses on each other’s cheeks. Mother Frances hugged me and told me what a wonderful job I was doing with the children, as she always did when I saw her. “You keep up the good work, baby. God’s got a blessing for you.”
I kissed her soft, wrinkled cheek and replied, “Thank you, Mother Frances.”
“How’s your mother?” she asked. Mother Frances was part of the underground reporting agency my mother used to keep tabs on me at True Way—I was sure of
“Oh, she’s doing fine.”
“Tell her I said hi.”
The men, what few there were, exchanged handshakes and visual inspections on their way to the vestibule. Younger children, who rarely got the chance to beat on the drums, ran to the drummer’s empty seat to beat out a few loud clashes before the organist shooed them away. The cheerful hum of church folk idly socializing filled the sanctuary but quickly succumbed to Deacon Bradbury’s it’s-time-to-go signal of dimming the lights.
I grabbed my tote bag filled with pencils, pens, and paper, and rushed over to talk with Sister Charles. I found her just past the swinging doors of the sanctuary at the water fountain. She was bent over, Bible in left hand and the bag from our denomination’s annual women’s convention slung over her right shoulder.
“Hello, Sister Charles.” I tapped her as she swallowed her last gulp.
“Hi, Sister Smith.”
She wiped the stray drops from her lips and then pulled me into a hearty hug. “How did Alvin do in tutoring tonight?”
“That’s what I came over to tell you—he worked so hard! I have never seen anyone put so much effort into learning fractions in all of my life,” I laughed.
Alvin, who was standing at her side, put his head down and smiled. Sister Charles’s face lit up, her oily, smooth complexion reflecting every bit of light possible. I got the feeling that this was the first piece of good news Sister Charles had heard about her Alvin in a long time. “Did he really?”
I placed my left hand on Alvin’s shoulder, animating my words with my right hand. “Alvin, you can do anything you put your mind to. But you cannot give up when things get hard.”
“I’m so glad you all started this Wednesday night tutoring before service here at the church. I can’t afford any of those fancy tutoring centers right now.” Sister Charles shook her head and smacked her lips. “Besides, you all are doing a better job here than anybody who’s ever worked with Alvin. I didn’t see Brother Jenkins tonight. Isn’t he the one who usually tutors Alvin?”
“Yes, but Brother and Sister Jenkins just had a new baby, so Brother Jenkins has taken some overtime at his job. Looks like it’s going to be just me for now,” I admitted. I curled my lips in and let out a heavy sigh. At the rate the tutoring program at our church was growing, I would soon be overwhelmed with struggling students.
“Well, I’ll see you next time, Alvin. Keep me in your prayers.”
“And you do the same.” Sister Charles smiled back. “Have a blessed evening.”
I walked out of the church and into the blanket of night interrupted only by the two street lamps recently added to our church’s parking lot. Those things cost an arm and a leg, I’d heard, but came with the price of progress. True Way was growing each week as people sought out what seasoned saints called “the
I knew that sanctified path well. I understood the dos and don’ts: do raise your index finger if you need to walk in church; don’t sit with your legs crossed knee over knee—cross at the ankle. The traditions and idiosyncrasies of the Church of God in Christ, whether founded or flippant, had been instilled in me from childhood. As I walked to my car with my black skirt brushing my ankles, I was ever thankful to have been raised in
church; with faith, and love and a quick pinch from an usher for passing notes during the sermon.
Brother Paul Pruitt’s red BMW sat next to my Honda in the lot. I hurried to unarm my car, hoping to get inside, buckle up, and drive off so that he and I wouldn’t have to cross paths. I didn’t have anything against Brother Pruitt. He was the “okay” kind. He had a lot going for him—he was active in the church, mentored young boys, had a good job, had a good attitude,
the door open for women, and so on. But he just didn’t make my heart go do any flips.
Not at all. And although True Way COGIC was filled with single black women, nobody was knocking on his door so far as I knew.