Muh had said she could tolerate it ‘til the revival was over, but I warn’t sure. Rev would say stuff that I knew was raisin’ her hackles, and I was bracin’ myself for when she’d get mad enuf to blow. Not that I’da tried to stop her or nothin’, hell, I’da stole a coupla’ licks on him myself.
She held her tongue, tho’ but it was mighty, mighty close when he said, “You know, Sister Zora, it don’t make no sense for your pastor to only come twice a month. If he was a real pastor, he’d be here every Sunday, pastor y’all nigras right! You nigras needs somebody to look after y’all, make sure y’all do the right thing. Nigra left to hisself is just trouble lookin’ for a place to happen.”
She was cuttin’ okra when he said that, with her favorite okra knife, a nice 6-inch foldin’ blade with a buckhorn handle my Cousin Shug had give her from the Army, or so he told her. Shug aint never spent a day in Uncle Sam’s Army, but that’s a whole nother story.
Well when Rev. said that, I tense up, cuz I know Muh was gonna let go a’ that okra, and commence to cuttin’ her a slice ‘a redneck! Between him talkin’ bad about Elder Wimble, and Black folk in particular, he was skatin’ on thin ice, an’ bout to fall plum through. She stopped cuttin’, and she cocked her head a bit, and said, “You think so, Reverend?”
I had my eye on her knife, just a’waitin’ for her to slice ‘im up, but she just looked at ‘im, started whistlin’ real soft, an’ went back to cuttin’ okra, an’ let him continue talkin’.
When Muh whistled, things was real bad. Usually, when she worried, or grievin’, she’d pray. When she was happy, she’d sing. But whistle? The old people had a sayin’, Whistlin’ woman, or a crowin’ hen, aint no good to God nor men. Rev didn’t know it just yet, but he was messin’ with the wrong woman, trust me.
I tol’ Daddy about it, ‘cause I was mad. I was just learnin’ how to cuss, and I nearly let a few ripe ones out, but Momma was nearby, and she was already on edge because of Rev and all, and the last thing I needed was for her to let off a little steam on me.
Y’see, Momma’s cure for cussin’ depended on where in the house she heard you. If she was near the kitchen, red pepper; if she was near the bathroom, castor oil, so either way, you bridle your tongue around her.
Daddy says, “Son, man like that, that’s the way he think. You could be in a room with a hundred Black people, man like that, he walk in, he figger he in charge.”
“Don’t worry, son,” he chuckled, “I been knowin’ yo’ grandmother a mighty long time. She done seed ‘em come, an’ seed ‘em go. Mostly, they go. This one aint no different. The fun is gonna be how she get him to git up an’ go. She started whistlin’, you say?” He looked at me, and winked. “Son, I b’leve I’m goin’ to church this week.”
I opened my mouth, then closed it. Daddy only went to Momma’s church on special occasions, or when the Masons was on program. If Daddy was goin’ to this revival, I warn’t gonna miss it, no sir…
“Abbie, I’m not sho’ I kin takes much mo’ of this,” Muh was on the phone with Momma. “That White man eatin’ me outta house and home, and them ugly gals is just plain nasty! When they takes a bath….yes, you heard me, when they takes a bath….Abbie…. baby….you should see the rang they leave behind!”
“Stop laughing, Abbie, that aint funny! Hol’ on, I aint tole you the killin’ part yet…..I caint prove it, they moves too quick, when one leave out the bathroom, the other jumps right in, but I b’lieve… they uses the same water! Cuz ain’ no way a bathroom rang be that color behin’ one person usin’ it!”
“What you talkin’ bout? Yes, I said color! Abbie, I been on this earth over seb’nty years, an’ I aint never seed a rang that color! What color it be? Green! You heard me! G-r-e-e-n! What you mean, how I know? Cuz they leave it for me to clean! Yes, ma’am! I’s the little cullud gurl that they got to clean up behin’ ‘em, I s’poze. Towel layin’ on the floor….well, I’ll be dogged, it jus’ hit me….they usin’ the same towel! They must be, baby, unless they eatin’ the other ones they use? All right, then! Nasty, just nasty! Uh, huh…uh-huh…they huddles up in my barn durin’ the day, in between meal times….yes, baby, three meals a day, plus snacks in between!”
“Fo him, breakfast, lessee…fo’ eggs, ten slice o’ bacon, he like it half cooked, grits with a slice a’ cheese on top, orange juice an’ coffee. Oh, wait, I forgot the pancakes…I aint lyin! Them wimmen don’t eat much, they is watchin’ they figger…if they ask me, I tell ‘em, take a look behin’ you, you find yo’ figger! But he eat pancakes on top a’ all that, chile…an’ he don’t stop ‘til he done et ten, sometime twelve! Then fo’ lunch, it’s double helpin’s o’ whatever I cook, chicken, po’k chop, gravy steak, whatever, plus a heapin’ plate o’ rice an gravy, an’ chile, he aint never met a vegable he didn’t like! An’ that’s just’ round one! Yes, ma’am, he be lookin’ fo’ seconds!”
“Then they goes into the barn fo awhile, I lissen once, they be havin’ church up in there, so’s I leave ‘em alone, I be glad for the break! In between time, he send one of them ugly gals in here…my little bird Sweeney can’t stand ‘em, he fuss an’ squawl long as they in here, the only way to stop him is to cover his cage wit’ a towel, so’s he caint see ‘em! They come in here, says, ‘Rev need a glass ‘a milk,’ or ‘Rev need some crackers,’ or ‘Rev was wonderin’ do you have any muffins?’ all prim an’ proper, like it’s my job to make sho’ I got somethin sweet whenever he ask!”
She nodded her head a couple of times and kept talkin’, “Well, baby, I been puttin up wit’ dis since Sunday, an’ tonight is his day-bew, like that ugly gal with the rotten mouf like to say when she drankin’ coffee. Baby, ‘twix you an’ me and the tree, I done made a point to mark the coffee cup she use! Oh yes, I make sho she gits the same cup, an’ I promise you, when they leave, dat cup gonna fly daid in the trash can! Yellow teef is one thing, but a rotten mouf like that? I ain’t got enuf disinfect to clean no cup she done used. Minute she gone, I’m gonna take the hammer to it, ‘fo I pitch it, make sho’ nobody drink behin’ it, never, no mo’ in dis worl’! Stop laughin’ Abbie, that aint funny!”
Later that day, we kids was playin baseball out near the barn. Well, what we was really doin’ was tryin’ to get a lissen on what was goin’ on up in there with Rev an’ them two wimmen, but if we would’a just huddled around the barn, Muh would’a runned us off. It was me and my brother Jock, plus our cousins Bobby, Tojo, and Charlie, plus eight or nine of the neighborhood kids, Peanut an’ ‘nem, you know, the ones who lived on Garbage Alley, where the trashman made his round.
Anyway, we playin’ baseball, but we got our ear out on the barn. Sho, nuff, Rev and them wimmen havin’ church, singin’ and praisin’ the Lawd, carryin’ on, havin’ theyself a good time. They must’a been ‘Postollick or Cogic, cuz they cuttin’ up! Just three of ‘em, but they soun’ like twenny. They sang awhile, then they commence to prayin, an Lawd, did they make some noise!
I was playin’ first base, an Bobby was pitching to Jock. Jock hit a grounder to Peanut, and he threw it low, and ‘bout the time I scoop it up, Jock was safe. We listen in, and Rev an’ them wimmen just prayin’ up a storm! Jock grinned at me, and said, “You think we ought’a bust up in there?”
I said, “An’ do what once we get inside? Pray with ‘em?” His face fell, he hadn’t thought’a that. That’s how he was, he always come up with some devilment, but never think it through.
We kept on listening, and they was just a-prayin, you could hear them jus’ as clear as a bell, “Yes, Lawd! Thank ya, Jesus! Yaaaaasss! Praise the Lawd, Halleyloooyah, Halleyloooyah! Glory! Glooooraaaayyy!” I mean, just cuttin’ up! We just a listenin’ and laughin’ at ‘em, cuz we know they aint no good, but then, the sound kinda changed. That White man said, “Yes, sister, take it off! Take it all off for Jesus!”
We looked at each other, cuz we aint never heard nobody say that, not in no church we ever been to, an’ we been to plenty church, trust me. He says it again, “Take it off, Sister, take it off to Jesus!”
I said, “Take what off?”
Jock said, “Hush!” He waved Bobby over to take a lissen, an’ by the time he got there, she must’a had done took it off, cuz he says, “Yes, Lawd, nekkid I come into this worl’, an nekkid I shall leave! Praise the Lawd, Sister, we are nekkid befo’ the Lawd!” Then they started makin’ some funny noise for a minute, an’ Rev said, Yes, Sister! Yes, Lawd! Don’t stop, Sister! Praise the Lawd!”
Bobby said, “Ooo-wee! If that’s how they have church, I wanna join!”
I said, “What you mean?”
He waved me quiet. “If you got to ask, you too young to know,” and he started grinnin’. “Yeah, Ol Rev havin chu’ch up in there, heh, heh, heh! Praise de Lawd!”
The rest of them had crowded around by now, and Charlie said, “Wha—wha…what dey do-do-doin up in there?” He stammer a bit, you know.
Tojo said, “What you think they is doin’?”
“Well—well…if I—I knowed what—what—they doin’, I—I—I wouldn’a ask you!” he answered. We listened for another minute, and then the sound changed, sound like both them wimmen done gone crazy, gruntin’ an’ groanin, hollerin’ “Ooohh, Jesus! Jesus, sweet Jeeezus!”
Charlie’s eyes got big an’ roun’ like gingersnaps. He turned ‘round quick, and said, “I’m goin’ tell!” He ran off before we could stop him.
A minute later, Muh strode grimly towards us, Charlie in one hand, Matilda in the other. We stepped back from the door, as she asked, “What in the worl’ goin’ on here?” Bobby pointed to the barn. “Rev and them wimmen havin’ chu’ch,” he answered with a straight face.
Muh cocked her ear towards the barn. “Je-je-je-je-jeeee-zus! Jeeeeee-zus! Ohhh, Lawwwd!”
She raised her shotgun, then looked around. Charlie put his hands to his ears, Matilda being the next best thing to a cannon. Muh looked around, hesitated a bit, then lowered Matilda to half-mast. “Charlie, Jock, and Buck, y’all go in the house. The rest of y’all, go home! Bobby, when you get home, tell Pacon to come pick me up, y’hear? “
“Nasty, jes’ plain nasty! Yes, Abbie, they still in there! No, I didn’t bus’ up in there, them chirren was right there wit’ me! Oh, I had a mind to let a little double-ought fly around in there, but I’da have to pay to get the roof fixed….oh, but wait, baby, jes’ wait fo’ tonight! I’se gonna fix Revum’ Thibodeaux’s lil’ red wagon….Stop laughin’, Abbie, that aint funny!”
End Part 2