I ran into my pastor, Bishop Green, when I was coming out of the post office. He was just as surprised to see me as I was him.
When I was a little girl, the ushers would walk up and down the aisles looking for people sneaking candy in church. If caught in the act, children would be forced to spit it out immediately. That’s when and where learned how to eat discretely. Not in class. In church.
I remember, all children would enter the sanctuary with mini brown paper bags filled with peppermints, Choward’s Violet Mints, mini gummy hamburgers, mini gummy pizzas, war heads, tootsie rolls (only chocolate), sour gum, winter-fresh, and the list goes on. The girls would hide the bags in their purse and the boys would place it in their suit jackets.
In those days, you only needed a dollar or two to fill a brown paper bag. Offering money went to the man at the store across the street (we never said corner store because it wasn’t on a corner and we had to stress that it was across the street because only certain children were allowed to cross the street). If you were like my friend Angela who could not go across the street, then you went to Mother Woods who was the alternative. She ran her own candy store inside the temple. Which was where you got more for your money. She supplied everyone with candy for Sunday night service.
We ate so much candy, rules were created. Gum chewing was the greatest sin. Teens would chew gum and place it under the pew. Then, children would scratch the chewed gum off and place it in their mouths. If caught in this act, you were made into a laughing sport and everyone crossed their fingers and whispered cooties. This only lead to someone being escorted out of the service to be spanked.
There were also ways to pop candy into your mouth- act like you are coughing and then put the candy into your hand and place it in your mouth or bend down like the adults would do. And the instructions to how to eat a huge peppermint ball some still follow now. Find someone with strong teeth (those days my strong person was Patrick ) and ask him to bite the mint. This rule was created because of kids choking on hard candies.
Finally, the demographics of the church changed and the new temple was built and just that fast, the store across the street went out of business.
I remember my last talk with the man across the street. I was now a teen and could go across the street anytime. He said to me, after your pastor died, not many people come anymore. Why?
I don’t remember my answer. But I remember a feeling of sadness being washed over me as I walked back into the temple.
A couple of years I stopped eating candy. This doesn’t stop people from offering or asking me for candy. Every Sunday after church, my purse has five more soft peppermints; which I save until Sunday night broadcast, for choir members who ask for candy.
When I was a little girl, my mom would send me along with my siblings to Virginia to spend time with her family. Those trips south ended too quickly and as an adult I have only a few memories.The memories are the ones my siblings and I spoke often about when we returned back home.
The most popular memory is of my little sister telling my Grandma her spanking didn’t hurt. We were all stun when she spoke back after getting a spanking! And, we remember what happen afterwards, my Grandma got another switch from the tree outside. Somehow my sister became a hero of us all and we celebrated that story by reciting it to all who would listen. We didn’t care that she got another spanking, what mattered was, she was not afraid to talk back!
Another favorite character of our memories was The Eagle. For some reason, we were also obsessed with The Eagle. Our grandma would warn us not to wander far from her house (which was in the country) and told us of the bears and other scary animals which lurked behind the trees. We were most afraid of The Eagle that could come at anytime and swoop a child up from the ground.
One day her stories turned into a frightful event when she ran outside her house while we were all playing and told us to hurry back in. She could see The Eagle in the distance. We ran back inside and watched The Eagle land in her yard. We were all sitting on the couch looking out the window, our hearts beating fast. The only two not crying were my older sisters. But everyone was truly afraid.
When we arrived back in New York, our mom had a time telling us that The Eagle didn’t travel to the Bronx.
Then there’s memories that are very faint.
One of me stepping on my older cousin’s feet just to see him get mad and ask my grandma ‘What’s wrong with her? She keeps stepping on my feet!” But of course I don’t know which cousin it was? Andre, Raymond?
Then there’s one of my grandma telling us to come back inside. She had a swing set attached to a see-saw that was made out of metal. It was green and white and as a little girl, I thought it was very huge. Every morning after a hot breakfast, we would run outside to play.
I remember the clothes line and the wash machine at the back of her little house. The clothes were always white and smelled of fresh lemon and grass. I would run back and forth between the white sheets until my grandma told me to stop.
I remember eating lunch and dinner. She would make mashed potatoes and ground beef with lima beans. That’s the only meal I could remember. I think it was my favorite.
And we always ate icys or ice cream for desert and snack. It was served to us at the diner table. The ice cream was always served in cheap, plastic bowls. The ones you’ll find at the dollar store. The icys were always on a stick. I remember us watching our grandma bite the icys without a care in the world. We didn’t know she could not feel the cold because of her false teeth.
Of course she took us to church services but I don’t remember much. So recently when my cousin drove me to the temple in Norfolk, I was certain it was my first time there until my aunt reminded me that I used to come to Norfolk as a child.
Yes. With your Grandma.
As she spoke, the memory of the layout of the church returned to me. I remember thinking how strange it was that all the pews in the sanctuary were not facing toward the pulpit, but some were on steps and placed against the walls. I remember running up those steps, thinking, a church with steps in the sanctuary is so cool! I remember sitting with my older cousins, Shawn, Mona and Dina who had the best handbags filled with stuff to satisfy a little girl’s imagination. I remember being given money to go to the offering but then, that’s where the memory stops.
I had many high notes for the Showers of Blessings Conference. But the two that happened at the very end was having the opportunity to sing ‘Blessed Assurance’ with my 95 year old grandma and hear her tell me, God Bless You repeatedly. The next one was spending time with my church sisters, my childhood friends. We stayed up until three in the morning talking about Race and Men (doesn’t that sound like a book title?)!