Mother Wanda

I am standing with my beloved Mother Wanda. On the left we are hugging after a church conference in 1998. (That’s my cousin photobombing us). The photo on the right is of us in 2021.

We became close through her niece, one of my childhood best friends, LaKeisha.

LaKeisha, Me and R’achel

LaKeisha was my Holy Convocation best bud.

Anyone who grew up in a holiness church can probably attest to the importance of church conferences, especially the Holy Convocation.

We became friends simply because she wore what I didn’t wear like tight African braids and painted nails and in contrast; I said all the things she didn’t say, like, “of course I like boys!” and “guess what I have a boyfriend!”

Sister Wanda didn’t know about any of that culture exchange stuff going on between LaKeisha and I. While she was very protective of her sweet niece, and did not allow her to hang around the huge temple with just anybody’s kids, she allowed me to show LaKeisha around. I, of course, introduced her to my cousins and best friends. They had one thing in common, they were from the south. I was the only one from the north.

LaKeisha had great respect for all adults. She would constantly ask me if my mom knew about all the crazy things I did- like getting water from the fountain to pour on John while he spoke to Mother Wood.

“Lystria, you shouldn’t be doing that!”

“Why? He hit me and now it’s time for us to get him back!”

“But not with water!!”

She’d run behind me holding my bag and books.

Before she could say anything else, and before Anthony could warn John, I splashed him and the elderly mother with cold water.

As if nothing happened, we then walked back into the sanctuary, just in time to join the saints in singing, One Way to God before Bishop Goodwin started his sermon.

LaKeisha would tell me about her life, her church in particular. She’d ask me questions that I’d gotten used to by all visitors. However, unlike my school friends who would frequent my church, Kee Kee (which is what we called her) was always thinking about aristocracy, interested in the pulpit. She didn’t ask incompetent questions about dressing and hair, but she’d ask questions about the structure of the church that I sometimes had as a little girl- which is why our friendship lasted.

Why are people who don’t know how to sing or play called up to sing and play?

We would giggle next to Sister Wanda before being given “the look”.

Then the sermon would start and she would ask-

Do you have your Bible? Do you know how to find the scriptures?

We would find our way through the Bible and act really serious until she’d pass me a note about the church mother sitting next to us, why is she saying amen to everything Bishop says?

And we would hold our laughter.

Sometimes we got into trouble. Sister Wanda became like a mean auntie then. She’d separate us then explain to both of us why she was doing it. LaKeisha would roll her eyes but I was afraid to roll my eyes or even talk back, because she could have done worse. She could have sent me back to my mom who was also looking at me with a warning eye five benches behind! Yep, we were at the front of the church acting up.

Somewhere between middle school and high school, Keke stopped coming. As young adults, now in college, LaKeisha and I caught up just to tell each other we were alive… via Facebook. But in real life, My mom and Sister Wanda connected. They talked about their similarities. Age. Birthdays. Growing up in the same state. Whatever adults talked about.

Soon the only two left were Sister Wanda and me.

My mom passed.

Long before the church appointed Mother Wanda as a mother, the highest title for women in the church, she reached out to me as a mother would, without any title.