This is another short story from my childhood; partly apocryphal, never mind which part…
My grandmother, we all called her “Muh” for short, was the church missionary, so’s we always had a preacher over for Sunday dinner, sometimes even durin’ the week, if somebody was runnin’ a revival.
I ‘member one time, this preacher come to town, White man by the name of Thibodaux. I don’t know who done it, but somebody tole him that Mom Zora was who he ought to see for lodgin’ and such. He was travelin’ with a couple of Black wimmens, they was his singers, or so he say.
Well, he came by, told Muh who he was, and back then, preachers norm’ly didn’t have papers and such, all they had to prove theyself was they Bible. But this one, he come with papers, from the bishop, an’ he come askin’ to stay, him and his wimmens, for a couple of days while he run his revival, at our church, no less. Well, Muh wasn’t havin’ all that settin’ up in her house, single man, White man, at that, preacher or not, it wasn’t decent, y’know? But, he was a preacher, he say, and he had his Bible, so she felt ‘bliged to put him up for a few days. Bible say to be hospitable to stranger, ‘cuz sometimes you could be entertainin’ angels an’ not even know it.
Humph. Warn’t no wings on his back, and wouldn’t be none growin’ no time soon, if you asked us kids. We said from day one he wasn’t about nothin’, but nobody lissen to us. Muh had a barn on her property, where she kept her preserves and such, and sometimes my Uncle Hime would sleep in there when he drank too much. She had fixed up a little bed and a gas heater in there for the winter, so she cleaned it out for Thibodaux, and let them two wimmens stay in the house.
Well, let me tell you, the next few days was, as Muh described it, “war in de camp.” The church ladies had gotten together and called a meetin’ over at Sister Agnes’s house to discuss the new arrivals and decide if they was “on de up-an’-up” or not. Of course, some of what I’m tellin’ you now, I didn’t find out ‘til I was grown. Grown folks didn’t discuss grown-folk’s bizness with chirren. But I was always quiet, and I knew a good spot to sit in Sis. Agnes’ kitchen to stay out of eyesight while they talked, so I got this part first-hand.
Sister Agnes was the oldest, and they was holdin’ the meetin’ in her house, so she sot in the head seat, an’ call the meetin’ to order. She rapped the wooden punch bowl dipper on the table, an’ clear her throat. “Brudders an’ sisters, let us be still, while we bow our heads an’ ask the Lawd to grace us with His presents.” She looked around, and spotted her husband nodding off.
“Bow yo’ big head, Elmer!”
Bro. Elmer looked up, and said, “My haid be bowed, Agnes. An’ I don’t ‘preciate you callin’ my haid big. My haid ain’t big.”
“Yeah, yo’ head big,” she answered. “Yo’ head so big, yo’ momma couldn’t have a C-section, she had a A-B-C-D-E-section, doctor just a-cuttin’…D-E-F-G…” They all laughed, while she kept clownin’ him. “G-H-I…doctor still be cuttin,’ ‘cept they stop him!”
“Go ‘head, woman, you spo’sed to be prayin,” Bro. Elmer said.
They were still laughin’, so she rapped with the dipper again. “Bow y’all’s head, so I kin pray…God of Abraham, Iiii-zic an’ Jacom,” she began, “We’s gathered round dis table….hmm…seekin’ yo’ mos’ Holy Presents….hmmm…we thanks you Lawd…welll…”
“Time you finish wit’ all dat, revival be over,” Bro Elmer muttered.
“Well, well,” Sis. Agnes kept goin’ without missin’ a beat. “Lawd remember us gathered ‘roun’ dis table…welll, especially the one wit’ the big ol’ head….yeeeaaaasss, Lawd, remember him, Jesus, he need you bad, Lawd…” She stopped and looked up.
“Pray, Sister,” Bro. Elmer sighed.
“Yes, Sister…pray, Sister,” the others chimed in.
Her point made, Sister Agnes continued. “We needs yo’ wisdom an’ yo guidance, Lawd, concernin’ these peoples dat done come in our midst. We bind every sperrit that’s not like you, Lawd, e’ry confusion sperrit, e’ry backbitin’ sperrit, we cast in the pits of Hell from where it come…yaas, Lawd, an’ leave us with Yo’ sweet Sperrit o’ peace, in Jesus’ Name, Amen…”
“Amen!” everybody answered in relief.
“Ayy-men!” Bro. Elmer said, wiping his head with a red handkerchief. “Abraham jus’ left from de back do’.” he said. “He said the Lawd sent ‘im to ask you to please finish prayin’, cuz He got to get back to work, but He got to wait ‘til you finish, so He know what to work on next.”
Sis. Agnes said, “Humph! The Lord don’t need me to tell Him to work on dat big head of yourn! Dat wasn’t Abraham at de do’, dat was yo’ Momma’s doctor! He lookin’ to finish cuttin’ yo’ big head loose!” She lifted her voice and said, “Look he here, Doc! Put dat scappa down an’ pick up my butcher knife, you got a whole lotta meat lef’ to cut!”
“Y’all quit dat foolishness,” Mom Zora said, wiping her eyes. “Ya’ll is funny, but we got a big problem on our hands. Mostly, I got the problem. Dis White man, call hisself a prophet, come to my house, lookin’ for a place to stay fo’ a few days. I tell you what, I better not fin’ out who tol’ him my house was the place to lay up in!” She looked around the room. Nobody said nothin’, so she went on. “He come there with two wimmen, and now y’all…” she paused and dropped he voice a little, “I don’t mean no harm, an’ God knows I aint got no room to talk, but, that’s two of the ugliest wimmen I done ever seed in my life!”
Sis. Agnes said, “They is ugly, Mom Zora?”
Mom Zora looked over her glasses and nodded. “Yes, Sister, they is ugly. They’s more than just ugly, they’s oogly! They so ugly, they could clabber a glass o’buttermilk! I aint lyin’! They come in my house, all prim an’ proper, like butter wouldn’t melt in they mouth. But then they fool aroun’, and open up they mouth! Sister! The firs’ one, she get to talkin’, her teef yellow like butter! Look like corn onna cob sittin’ in her mouth!”
“Ewww, that’s nasty!” Sis. Agnes exclaimed.
“But, wait, Sister,” Mom Zora said, “Then the other one commenced to talkin’ to me. Sister….! Her breff…!” she paused and shook her head, “She open’ her mouth an’ hit me with a blast…smell like a dead goat! An’ her teef? My Lawd!”
Sis Agnes asked, “Them’s yaller, too?”
Mom Zora shook her head. “No, cher. Aint no teeth sittin’ in that mouth stayin’ yellow. No, ma’am. Them teeth was rotten!”
“Come on, Mom,” Sis. Agnes said, “Come on, now, was they rotten?”
“Rotten? Them teeth had mo’ black spots than the fireman’s dog, you hear me? Look like a set o’ dominoes! I look in her mouth, I almos’ holler ‘Big six!” She slapped the table while they howled.
“Yall stop, now, an’ get back to bitness.” She tried to straighten up a bit, but she couldn’t help it, you know how wimmens is when they get to talkin’ bout somethin’, specially if it be scandalous. She leaned forward, still telling the story: “They sits down, I offer them coffee, you know me, I’m gonna be hospitable, like the Bible say.” They nodded. “So, while I’m settin’ the pot on the stove, he tellin’ me where he hail from, an’ how he know Bishop Walker, an’ how he a travelin’ evangelis’, an’ how he done preach in twenny-five states, an’ he gonna preach in all forty-eight ‘fo he die, the Lawd done promise him that. What he don’t know is, I’m secon’ cousin to Bishop Walker, an’ as soon as he outta eyeshot, I’se gonna give my cousin a phone call, an’ see if dis preacher is on the up-an’-up! If he fo’ real, I give him a place to stay, but if he just humbuggin’, he gonna have to get to steppin’! I’ll swing Ol’ Matilda ‘round on ‘im, and if he move too slow, I’ll quicken’ him up wit’ some double-ought buck, praise the Lawd!”
“That’s right, Mother! Praise the Lawd!” the others chimed in agreement.
Well. This was some hot stuff. My leg was itching, but I held off scratching it, cuz I didn’t want to draw no attention to myself, and get runned off.
Muh kept Matilda in the kitchen next to the pantry, and she kept it loaded. I was twelve or thirteen, ‘bout that time, so it was my job to keep Matilda cleaned, so I knowed she warn’t lyin’ bout that double-ought buckshot.
But anyways, let me finish tellin’ you…
“Well, I starts to pour the coffee, an’ that’s when he ask me ‘bout stayin’ for a week to run his revival. He says, ‘Mother, the Lawd tole me that you is a woman’o’ Gawd, and this is the place for my evangelistic headquarters, while I preach the devil out of this Godforsakin’ city, praise the Lawd!’ and them wimmen say, ‘Praise the Lawd!’ and gets to shakin’ like they got the Sperrit, you know?” They nodded. “I almost burned myself when he said that, he was soundin’ like he was plannin’ on stayin’ a looong time! So, you know me, I asks him, point blank, ‘What you do with these wimmen while you settin up yo headquarters,’ and he say, ‘Well, Mother, they always stay with me.”
She looked around at the shocked faces. “Yes, Lawd, that’s what he say.”
They gasp and carry on, cuz they was scandalized! White man is one thing, but White man and two Black wimmens? Stayin’ together? Oh, no, not in Mom Zora’s house, they wasn’t. They mumble and hum ‘bout it for a while, then Muh said, “I was bumfuzzled for a minute, ‘cuz you s’pozed to put preachers up, I been doin’ that fo years, y’all knows that, but the Bible also say let everythang be done decent and in order. So, I puzzle on it a spell, then it come to me, praise the Lawd, put them wimmen in the house, and put Rev. in the barn! If it good enough for Hime, it good enuf for him. So I tells him what the ‘rangements gonna be, an’ I can tell that warn’t his first choice, but it beat layin’ in the ditch, so’s he says okay.”
She went on: “Sisters, let me tell you, that man can eat! I fried some chicken and some potatoes, I figgered that’ll fill ‘em up pretty quick. Sisters, that man polished off two whole chickens by hisself! I ain’t lying!”
She wasn’t. Y’ see, me and my cousins always try to make it our bitness to come by Muh’s house just around mealtime. The two wimmen ate normal, almost po’ly, but him? He stacked his plate three stories high, and that was just for starters. Muh always had a sweet bread or teacakes hanging around, but not now. Thibodeaux sucked up them sweets like a Hoover vacuum, and then that nervy s.o.b. had the gall to look around in my plate and make comments like, “Don’t you think you done had enuf?” First time he tole me that, I open my mouth to cut ‘im down to size, but Momma was standin’ there, an’ she give me the eye to keep quiet, so I picked up my plate an’ went outside.
Later, I tole her, “I be glad when ya’ll get some sense, run that White man ‘way from ‘round here. He ain’t after nothin’ but some money, plus whatever he can pick up on the side.”
Daddy said from behind his newspaper, “Dey’s hard-headed, son. Don’t tell em nothin’. Long as he don’t try nothin with yo’ momma or grandmomma, I aint got nothin’ to say ‘bout it. Minute he slip, tho…I’m-a put my foot so deep in his azz, his breff gonna smell like Absorbine Junior…don’t be lookin’ at me, woman, I is serious!”
Muh smiled, a grimly satisfied smile. “Revival meeting starts tomorrow. I kin put up with ‘im fo another day or so. I gots my eye on him, him and them ugly wimmen of his’n. I put in a call to my cousin the bishop, he say Thibodaux’s a preacher, all right, but he a little too loose with money, that’s why he don’t stay in one church, ‘mongst other things. Pastor be here Sunday, by then, I’ll have the whole story. Just keep yo’ eyes and ears open, Mom Zora gonna take care of some bitness ‘tween now and then.”
She chuckled. “Yes, sir, it take a pretty early bird to bild’ a nest in my hair, trus’ me. Come Sunday, Ol’ Rev be done find out how we do the shake down o’er here in Cane Creek!”
End Part One