Momma walked over to Sister Agnes, who was sitting with a worried expression on her face. “Mom Zora said she gonna be a little bit late,” she said, “Go ‘head and start service, she’ll be along in awhile.”
“Okay, baby,” Sister Agnes answered. She nodded at my Aunty Dee, who sat patiently at the piano. She found middle C, then, her E-flat chords. She grimaced a bit, there was always one or two keys that would stick on her. She jiggled the sticky key loose, satisfied, she struck up a tune:
“Made a vow to the Lawd…and I won’t go back!”
Made a vow to the Lawd…”
“And I won’t go back!” the congregation roared in answer.
“On my knees, I made a vow…!”
“And I won’t go back!”
The song, an old call-and-response number, was a COGIC classic….
I’m sorry, what you said?
COGIC? Church of God In Christ, an OG Black denomination, hardcore as they come. Born in the early 1900’s by Bishop Charles Harris Mason, who was put outta the Baptis’ Chu’ch after he came from the Azusa Street Revival speakin’ in tongues. Yeah, they put him out, said speakin’ in tongues was of the debbil. Well, they put him out, but he founded his own chu’ch, and been doin well ever since.
Like I say, COGIC was hard-core: no drinkin’ or smokin’, dippin’ nor cussin’. The women wore long dresses, and little to no makeup, cuz Jezebel the harlot wore heavy makeup an’ lean out the window to temp’ Jayhoo. Jayhoo looked up an’ saw her, and tole the yew-nocks to pitch Jezzie out. I don’t know fo’ sho’, but mebbe the yew-nocks was chasin’ after the same thing Jezebel was chasin’ after, but anyhow, they flex they arm, and out she fly. Splat! The dogs was happy, tho, all that Jezebel juice made for good lappin’. Look it up in the Bible, if you don’t believe me.
The congregation was up, clappin’ and singin’, you know, not High Chu’ch just yet, but well on the way. Besides, there was a bit o’ special sump’tin in the air, cuz it warn’t often a White man preach in Cane Creek COGIC, no sir.
Plus, er’body had heard ‘bout the goin’s-on in Mom Zora’s barn, and I mean er’body, so chu’ch was packed, wantin’ to see this White man, an’ his two hoes. Plus, they wanted to see what Mom Zora was gonna do ‘bout that White man eatin’ up all her food and doin’ the double-butt shuffle in her barn. I mean her rep’tation was at stake, aint no way she could let ol’ Thibodeaux get away with that, and then preach in her chu’ch? No, sir, God didn’t sleep, and Mom Zora was wide awake, layin’ dead onna side.
After while, Thibodeaux walk in, him and his two wimmen, they fannin’ an’ fussin’ over him, like he Elvis Pressley or the Big Bopper. He was wearin’ a white robe, with three racin’ stripes on his sleeve. Daddy said later that them stripes s’pozed to mean that Thibodeaux had gone to college and got his doctor degree, but all them stripes was good for was for Rev to wipe his azz wit, cuz they warn’t worth schit. That’s what Daddy said, and I agreed.
He sot down, in Elder Wimble’s seat, which was highly nervy of him. You don’t sit in no pastor’s seat, ‘lessen the pastor hisself invite you to. If the pastor warn’t there, you sat in the side chair, but Thibodeaux, he just plop his big rump in the big soft chair like it was his’n. Sister Agnes got up to correct him, but Momma was quicker, and went whisper somethin’ in her ear. Sister Agnes look surprised fo’ a moment, then she broke out in a big grin, and turn back around and commenced to pick up singin’ where she left off. Yes, Lawd, sump’tin was up, cuz Sister Agnes didn’t grin too often.
The two wimmen, they come down, and one of them go to where my Aunt
Dee was on the piano, and cross her arm, like she was waitin’ for Aunty Dee to get up. Dee pointed at herself, an’ that yaller mouf heifer nodded her head, and made a jerkin’ motion, like she was tellin’ Dee to hurry up. Dee humped her shoulders, and got up, which kinda put the kibosh on “Made A Vow.” Sister Agnes waited a moment, cause usually right here, she’d start the prayer.
Yaller Mouf looked at Sis Agnes, who close her eyes and started up Prayer Chant #1, “Yassss….Yasssssss…”
The congregation picked it up: “YASSSSSSS!…….YASSSSSS!
It’s the oldest meter in COGIC history, six bars in a slow blues rhythm. Bishop Mason said that the best thing you could tell the Lawd was “Yes” and “Thank you.” So, they made it their prayer meter, an’ they sprinkle it all through the service, kinda like black pepper.
Sister Agnes bein’ the prayer leader fo’ tonight, she picked the lyric, and the congregation repeated it for five bars. When she decided enuf was enuf, she’d broke off the meter, and begin to pray in earnest:
“Here tiz’ me once agin’…yo’ mos’ hum’lest servant….I thanks you Lawd, cuz you touch de button o’ Nature…and my eyes sprang open…my bed was not my coolin’ bo’rd…kivver not my windin’ sheet…tung not gloo to the roof ‘a my mouf….my eyes not closed….with the blue curtain of Death…”
Spooky, aint it? Make you scared to go to sleep at night, first time you hear it. I won’t give you the whole thing, take too long. She pray real good, tho’, she’d get happy, right towards the middle, make a good whoop…
What’s a whoop? Po’ thing, where you from? You must be one of them Pressbeeterians, don’t know what a whoop is. It’s kinda like a rockin’ beat you use, when you preachin’ or prayin’, almost like singing, but not quite. E’ry now an’ then, a White boy come along, tries preachin’ that style, but you needs rhythm to pull it off. Now, not all Negro preachers kin whoop neither, and long as they don’t try, it’s okay. Nothin worse than a Negro preacher whoop when he don’t know how.
Martin Luther King didn’t whoop, but he string them words together like a college boy, made it sound good. Now, you want to hear a good whoopin’ preacher? Reverend C.L. Franklin, or Leo Daniels, them’s the whoopers. Look ‘em up, you’ll see what I mean…anyway, hush, and let me talk!
She finished prayin’, and stood up. She got the offerin’ basket, and said, “Now we shall lift up our church offerin’. We gonna raise an offerin’ later for the preacher, but this offerin’ go to the chu’ch. She look aroun’, and er’body with good sense got the gis’ of what she was sayin’. I look to see how Ol’ Thib was takin’ it, but he sat there with his eyes closed.
Them 2 wimmen was Negroes, but I guess they been away from Negroes fo’ too long to know what was up.
Daddy leaned over to me an’ whispered, “Dat White boy aint gonna see a penny of dat collection, watch an’ see. Here, go put this in the basket,” and hand me a ten-spot.
Me, I was proud as punch, made sure everbody saw that ten, plus the one I added. Held it high, like I was offerin’ it to the Lawd. Elder Wimble taught us that.
Had a good bit of money in there, like I said, the place was packed, and most ‘a them folks had good sense to know where the first offerin’ was goin’.
When we finished puttin’, Sister Agnes blessed the offerin. She says, “We thanks you, Lawd, fo’ this offerin’, bless those who give, bless those who desire to give, but didn’t have it, bless them to have it next time. Let this offerin’ be use to the glory of God, in Jesus name, Amen!”
The congregation said “AMEN!” while Sister Agnes took her long pocketbook out of her bosom, and stuck the money in it, then put the pocketbook back in her bosom, and that was that. Daddy leaned over and said, “Lockdown in Fort Knox,” and started chuckling to hisself. Momma gave us the eye, but Daddy didn’t pay her no mind.
Sister Agnes struck up a song to open Testifyin’ Service, and I have to give Yallow-Mouf credit, she could play the piano pretty good. Sister Agnes was singin’ “Don’t Let the Debbil Ride,” a old standard. Sister Agnes had a reedy, kinda’ thin voice, but she was loud enuf to make up for it. She sang:
“Don’t….let the debbil ride….
I said, do-ooon’t……let the debbil ride…
Cuz if you let him ride….he gonna wanna drive…don’t let him ride…”
She open her mouf to sing the second verse, an’ lo an’ behol’, that rotten mouf woman took her song!
I aint lyin’!
Rotten-Mouf took Sister Agnes song!
My eyes popped, cuz you didn’t take nobody’s song, specially Sister Agnes!
Let me ‘splain it to you, cuz you look like you don’t understand. Takin’ somebody’s song means you tellin’ the person you aint singin’ the song right, sit yo’ azz down, an’ let me sing it for you. It take nerve to take a song, an’ it’s a good way to make an enemy, specially somebody like Sister Agnes. She had a long memory, and once you made her schit-list, that was it. Keep an eye on yo’ back, ‘cause fo’ getting’ you, yo’ azz was got.
Rotten-Mouf took it, tho’, and I can’t lie, she had a real pretty voice, but you had to close yo’ eyes tight to enjoy it. Them teeth was just too rotten to look at. When she open her mouf wide to hit the high notes, you could see nothin’ but black. Look like she been chewin’ raisins. Nasty, jes’ nasty! Daddy whispered somethin’ to Momma, and she hit him on the arm with her fan, and bent over, jus’ a-laughin’. I knowed fo’sho’ something was up, then. Momma didn’t laugh in church, no sir.
Sister Agnes sat down, real mad. Well, that’s all she could do, after Rotten-Mouf took her song, either that, or look like a fool. Sister Agnes sot down, and fold her arms, as if to say “You conduct Testifyin’ Service, then.” So, Rotten-Mouf walked over an’ stood behin’ the offerin’ table an’ conduct. She sang a few verses of the song, then finished with:
“Doooo-n’t…let him sleep in yo’ bed…
I say, doooo-n’t…let him sleep in yo’ bed….
If he sleep in yo’ bed…..you’ll wake up dead…don’t let him riiiiide…”
I was puzzled. I leaned over, and asked Daddy, “How you wake up, if you dead?”
His shoulders shook a bit, then he said, “Hush, son, just sit there and enjoy the show.”
Yallow-Mouf an’ Rotten-Mouf sang a duet. You could tell they been singin’ together a long time, cuz they sing in harmony, not in unison, like most folks roun’ here do. They sang “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” and they did a nice job, a couple of folks in the middle row even got happy.
They must-a been from outta town, cuz nobody in Cane Creek was gonna shout over nothin’ them two was gonna do. I don’t care if an angel swoop down ‘roun they head, they could forget it. Hoes is hoes, an’ after that stunt
they pulled in Mom Zora’s barn with that White man? No, baby, it wasn’t happenin’, trust me.
I looked around. Something wasn’t quite right.
Then it hit me, Muh hadn’t come in yet.
I leaned to look at Momma, who had her arms folded, then it hit me again, Momma hadn’t gotten happy yet. Shoot, by now, Momma be done got on the floor and cut her a rug or two. Momma liked church, she said it was better than the club. That’s what she say, me, I didn’t know. But she’s sittin’ there with her arms folded, but she wasn’t mad, I could tell. Matter o’ fact, she looked like she was on the verge of bustin’ out in a laugh, but she was holdin’ it. I looked at her, and bless my soul, she wink at me! You don’t know Momma, but she don’t never wink! Somewhere in the Bible, in Proverbs, it talk about how a winkin’ eye aint no good. Well, sumpin was up, an’ Momma was in on it, that’s fo’ sho’…
They finished singin, and then they begin to sing Amazin’ Grace, an’ erybody know the preacher comin’ up next. Yallow Mouf introduced the preacher, real long and flowery, but I noticed that when she got to talkin’, Momma got up and tipped outside. A minute later, she came back in, and sat down with a smug look on her face. I leaned over to ask her ‘bout it, but Daddy hunch me with his elbow, so I sat back.
Thibodeaux got up, an’ commence to preachin’. Well, what pass fo’ preachin’ in some parts. He start off in the book of Genesis, how Adam an’ Eve was White people, an’ the Garden of Eden was in Switza’lan’ somewheres…I hope I don’t have to explain how much a’ humbug this was? Anyway, he says that Eve was tempted with the fruit, not by the debbil, but by her Negro servant. Now, that foolishness got on my nerve, but what really sot me on fire was a couple of Negroes in the back said “Amen!” Daddy said later some people never lef’ the cotton field. I believe he was right, fo’ sho’.
But, anyway, right in the middle of Rev’s sermon, the door creak open, an’ Muh walked in with somebody, which wasn’t too unusual in an’ of itself, cuz Muh was always bringin’ somebody to chu’ch. But what was strange
was who she had with her. Uncle Hime walked in, an’ my eyes popped open wide, I mean wide. Uncle Hime aint never come to chu’ch, not in my lifetime. I lean over, Momma an’ Daddy both fightin’ a grin. I lean over the other way, my brother an’ sister eyes popped open bigger than mine. Erybody looked as he walked in an’ sat down, right in front.
I gotta ‘splain this to you. Uncle Hime was Muh’s baby brother, ‘bout ten years or so. He was one of several town drunks in Cane Creek, an’ if you ask me, he was the best one of the bunch. He drank T&T White Port, and every so often, Muh would pay us to pick up the scores of bottles Uncle Hime had pitched behin’ the barn. He was harmless as they come, but he was allergic to bathin’ and shavin’, as well as changin’ clothes. He’d walk all over town, hummin’ and singin’ to hisself, and sometimes, he make his way outta town, and end up in Church Point or Jennings, somebody who knowed him would call Muh, an’ she’d get Uncle Pacon to go an’ pick him up.
Like I said, Uncle Hime was harmless as a fly, he jus’ looked ferocious. Momma had tole us one time that Uncle Hime was a prizefighter, back in the old days, an’ he fought undercard to Jack Johnson, once or twice. But he got hit a few times in the head, well, quite a few times in the head, you know how it was back then, warn’t no three-minute rounds, you fought ‘til somebody got knocked down, count less than ten, fight some ‘mo, ‘til somebody out cold. He drove 18-wheelers after that, drove all over the country, ‘til he too old. Muh took care of him, made sure he had sumpin t’eat an’ such. I got another story about him, maybe I’ll tell you that one next.
Well, he sot down on the front bench, an’ cross his legs, jus’ like a deacon. Muh sot next to him, reached up, took off his hat, and put it on the bench. Uncle Hime took his hat, and put it back on his head. Muh didn’t bother with it, there was more important things afoot. She cross her legs, so’s they look like a pair of bookends. Ol’ Thib just kept on a-preachin’, he never notice how the crowd shift when them two walked in. He say:
“…an the Lawd sent me here, to heal the sick, an’ to cast out debbils! Debbils, I say, who make you sick! Debbils, I say, who wreck yo’ home! Debbils, I said, debbils, who enter into men an’ turn em’ into wild beasts! The Lawd sent me here, to lay hands on the sick! The lame! The afflicted! The blind, the crippled! The Lawd sent me here, an’ brudders an’ sisters, I ain’t leavin’ until I done cast out every debbil in Cane Creek!”
That’s when Muh stood up. Thib was sweatin’ an’ spittin’ an’ wavin’ his hands, man, he was jus’ a-goin’! He was all excited when Muh stood up, I guess he thought she was gonna get everybody more whipped up than they was, but he was wrong. He says, “Testify, Mother! Tell us what the Lawd has done for you! Tell us, TELL US!!!”
Muh said, “You want me to tell er’body what the Lawd has done for me? He kept me–”
“He kept you, Mother?” Thibodeaux interrupted. She was calm, tho.
She said, “He kept me from shootin’ you an’ them two hoes you brung to my house. An’ as far as leavin, you an’ them two nasty wimmens gittin’ outta here tonight. An’ I don’t mean outta my house, I mean outta town!
Well, that’s when the diaper hit the fan. Thib turned red as a beet, an’ made a sign at them two wimmen, an’ they come up, lookin’ to pug it out. Rotten Mouf was the closest, an’ she made a step towards Muh. But, she forgot she had stolen Sister Agnes’ song, so Sister Agnes called it to her ‘collec’shun.
What she did? Jus’ grabbed her by the arm an’ whipped her in the pew, real hard. Knock the wind plum’ out ‘a her, then, jes’ in case she had a breff left, she sot on her! Oh, I forgot to tell you, Sister Agnes weigh nigh close to fo’ hunnert pounds. Yeah, now you get it. Rotten Mouf should’a never took Sister Agnes’ song, no sir.
Yallow Mouf, po’ thing, she never stood a chance. She stepped up towards Muh, an’ Muh said, “Put yo’ hands up, heifer!”
Well, she didn’t.
Muh said, “I warned ya,” and put up her fists like Joe Louis.
I aint lyin’!
She started bobbin’ an’ weavin’ her haid, and Daddy hollered, “Jab! Jab!”
He didn’t have to coach her, tho’. Muh hit her with two stiff ones, daid in the fo’head, rocked her straight back! Then, she dropped her shoulder, an’ swung a uppercut, knocked her square in the jaw!
She fell with a thunk to the floor, out like a light, I mean o-u-t!
Ol’ Thib was sweatin’ buckshot by now. Both of his wimmens was M.I.A., an’ he warn’t too shure ‘bout hisself.
Muh walked up to the altar table, an’ pointed at him, and says, “Next time the Lawd tell you to come to Cane Creek, you tell Him Zora says ‘No!’”
He says, “Now, look-a-heah, girl, you don’t tell me what to do!”
Muh didn’t answer him, she just reach over, an’ rang the Sunday School bell….Ding!…..Ding!
Uncle Hime jump straight up. Somebody screamed, I guess they thought he was about to get saved or somethin’, I don’t know. He took his hat off, an’ throwed it on the pew, an spit in his hands…
I aint lyin’, I’m tellin’ you what happened!
He spit in his hands, an’ rubbed ‘em together, then sot hisself like Jack Johnson, I mean he went way back! He rolled his head a couple of times to the left, then to the right again, then he shuffle his feet, and went skippin’ towards Muh.
“Where he at, Zora?” he asked.
Muh pointed at Thibodeaux. “Sic ‘im, Hime,” she said.
Well, it wasn’t pretty. Uncle Hime leaped up in the pulpit, just a bobbin’ an’ weavin’. Daddy say Hime fight just like Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Me, I say Sugar Ray, but that’s me.
It don’t matter none, cuz Thib was a preacher, not a fighter.
Not at all.
Hime bob an’ weave, while Thib tryin’ to cas’ the debbil outta him! What he should’a done was put up his hands an’ try to block some of them blows Hime was getting’ ready to throw on ‘im. Hime hit him with about five or six shots to the belly. Thib’s belly was kinda big, but Hime bend ‘im over pretty quick.
He bent over, an’ Hime stepped in for the kill. Hime put his lef’ hand on top of Thib’s head, an whipped his right hand roun’ an’ roun’.
Jock said, “Bolo punch him, Uncle Hime!” an’ that’s just what he done.
Revund’ Thibodaux’s haid jerk back, an’ he fell in a heap! Muh rang the bell, an’ Uncle Hime came bobbin’ an’ weavin’ back to his seat, then sat down, crossed his legs, and put his hat back on his head.
Rotten Mouf took a deep breath, Lawd knows how. Sister Agnes said, “You wanna sing, you black toof skanch?” got up, and sat down again.
Rotten Mouf said “Oooffff…!” and started turnin’ colors.
Muh said, “Get offa her, Agnes, ‘fo you smother her!”
Sister Agnes smacked her lips an’ said, “I wanna hear her steal another one’a my songs!” She started bouncing in Rotten’s lap. “Come on, sing, heifer, sing!” she said, Rotten going “Oof!” with every bounce.
Took Muh ten minutes to talk Agnes offa that woman.
The deacons drag Thib outside, and throwed him into Uncle Pacon’s cab. The two wimmen staggered in there, too, and off they go.
Well, after all that, they had to dismiss chu’ch. Erybody shook Muh’s hand, tellin’ her how wonderful the revival was.
“Yes, praise the Lawd,” Muh kept tellin ‘em, “Praise His Holy Name!”
Uncle Hime stood up, and walked over to Muh. He put his hand out, and Muh put a ten-spot in it. He stuck it in his pocket, tipped his hat, an’ said, “Praise the Lawd!” an’ walked out.
Well, that was too much for Momma. She had knowed the whole set-up, an’ had to hol’ on to it until it unfold. She bust out laughin’, and I mean she jus’ fell out!
Muh just looked at her for a minute, then she shook her haid an’ said, “Stop laughin, Abbie, that aint funny!”
Tales From Cane Creek is an upcoming book written under the pseudonym Nat Hime.