A Warm September Night in Nashville
Mama parked the Chevy in the back row of the church parking lot with the other late comers. Our walk to the pole tent, sitting near the old brick church, consisted more of a list of last second instructions than mobile exercise.
“You stand up when the music begins, hear?” she said, waving her index finger in the air by my nose. “And stay standing when the pastor prays. I don’t want to have to say anything to you tonight about your attitude or your actions. Don’t mess with mama, you hear?”
I mumbled a “yes ma’am,” but my eyes still searched for an escape route.
As we entered through the flaps of the tent, I saw it. There in the back row sat three of my Sunday School buddies. One gave me the “come here” sign with his forefinger and then pointed to an empty seat next to him. I planted my left foot and pivoted sharply, readying myself for a quick down and out to the sidelines. Mama’s hand reached out and grabbed my ear, yanking me back to her side.
“Luke, we’re sitting a little closer than the back row tonight.”
Her athletic effort did not even cause her a misstep as we walked down the sawdust covered aisle, past rows of drab green metal chairs. Most of the seats were filled with people fanning themselves with programs which awaited everyone on empty chairs. A stage with two men sitting on wingchairs, a walnut pulpit, and an upright piano faced us at the head of the aisle.
To my horror, mama continued walking until we reached the second row from the front. There a group of women with tambourines in their laps sat looking up at us with smiles on their faces. Two unoccupied chairs with Bibles resting on the seats closest to the aisle looked like they were saved especially for us.
I stopped and planted my feet in the sawdust. This was too much for a boy with college and pro football aspirations.
“Not here, mama,” I said, looking into her eyes and pleading my case. “It’ll be too noisy. Why don’t we sit somewhere else, where it’s a little quieter and a person can do some thinking about the speaker’s message tonight?”
Mama smiled for a nano second, but then she gave me a look which said everything without saying anything.
She moved ahead of me and sat next to a lady in a brown and white polka dot dress. Both hugged each other like they had not seen each other in ten years. I sat on the chair next to the aisle. My chances of skipping out now needed a tornado or a bomb scare to make it happen, I thought.
A full figured black lady, wearing a long white dress, walked across the stage, and sat down at the piano. The crowd stood up as she began playing, “There’s Power in the Blood.”
Mama clapped her hands and swayed back and forth with her eyes closed as she sang along. The women next to her banged their tambourines with their hands or against their hips as they sang. I stood there, placing my hands on the chair in front of me and slouching down, not wanting anyone to notice me.
Five long songs followed the first one, each one supposedly increasing our expectation for a move of the Spirit during the service. After the last song, the gray haired pastor stood up and walked to the pulpit.
“Let’s remain standing and bow our heads,” he said into the microphone. He then prayed for the service and the offering.
As soon as he finished, ushers passed red plastic buckets up and down the rows. When the offering had been collected, the pastor approached the pulpit again.
(The above is the second part of the first chapter to a new novel I’m writing, The Day LA Died, © Larry Nevenhoven, 2012.)
(Continued in Part 3)