If Rev. Omar hollers one more time that it’s gonna be hotter than this in hell, I’m going to have to walk out of this sanctuary. I, for one, don’t plan on spending no time in hell. No sense in gettin’ prepared for a place you ain’t goin’ to.
I kept my feet still, though. He was trying, bless his heart. And it wasn’t his fault somebody stole all the copper out the church’s air conditioning system the night before. People ought to have more respect for the house of God. But I guess when some folks get broke and their babies start crying for milk, don’t matter to them how they get the money so long as they get it.
I’d already asked the Lord to touch the rascal who took the copper; give him a mind to work an honest job and let somebody hire him. Either that or put him in jail so he can’t mess up nobody else’s air.
Rev. Martin said the thief was probably somebody on drugs who needed quick money. “All these Dallas folks movin’ into town,” he had fussed earlier while we rummaged through the storage looking for fans and Kleenexes before the service started. “They bring the dope and the crime problems with ‘em.”
“You sure right about that,” Mother Ophelia Pugh seconded. “I wish they’d find some place else to move. Peasner gettin’ way too crowded for me.”
“Where else you want ‘em to go?” I laughed quietly.
“I don’t know, Beatrice, just not here.”
Peasner had always been a good spot to live. Folk got along with each other, for the most part. We was close enough to the city to have a good doctor and mighty fine shopping; far enough out to not need an alarm system for your house. People still knew each other—families, businesses and whatnot. At least that’s the way it used to be. But since they put that highway loop through Peasner, seem like a whole lot of restaurants poppin’ up. New houses going up so fast, make your head swim.
Ophelia passed me another unopened tissue box. These would come in handy when folks got to sweating. “Sister, I like that suit. Sharp! Tell you what, B, if I lose about fifty pounds, I’mma have to come make my home in your closet.”
I shooed at her. “Please, Ophelia. You know as well as I do, they make pretty clothes for all sizes. Not like back when all you could buy was a muumuu, over size fourteen.”
Ophelia pulled the light switch and stepped down off the stool. “That’s it. No more Kleenexes.”
I looked down at the four boxes in my hand and shook my head. The church had nine pews on each side. On a regular Sunday, all but the last couple of rows would be at least half full. I figured once folks got to standing and clapping and carrying on, we’d need a whole lot more than those few tissues and funeral home fans to keep them from passing out.
Now back in my day, before we had air conditioning, we could worship the Lord all day at church with just the breezes flowing through the open windows. We were used to high temperatures. I do believe God graced us for the Texas heat before He let us figure out how to beat it.
Don’t get me wrong, though, I likes my air conditioner. My late husband, Albert, used to fuss—ooh, Lord, that man could fuss—about me running the air twenty-four hours a day. We never could agree on what degrees the house should be.
I sure do miss fussin’ with Albert.
Well, anyway, I already knew those folk sure would be fussin’ that Sunday. Had to go on and get my mind ready for it. And get myself ready, too. My no-air-conditioning days were long behind me. At seventy-two years old, I had no business letting my body get overheated. If service went too long, I would have to tip out.
“I don’t know, Mama B.” Rev. Martin had sighed, wiping sweat from his forehead already. He led us from the fellowship hall back to the main foyer. “You think we ought to cancel service? It’ll start getting real hot around noon.”
Mother Pugh shook her head so hard her pillbox hat like ta fell off. “We will do no such thing. This church been open every Sunday for thirty-nine years. We don’t cancel service for nothin’. If the flood of ’87 didn’t stop us, neither will a little sunshine.”
“Who’s preachin’ today?” I had asked him.
His eyes shifted off to the right a little, then he replied. “I believe Rev. Omar, from St. Luke.”
Rev. Martin’s face winced a bit. I knew he was suffering, trying to run things in his uncle’s absence and his aunt’s illness. Our Pastor, Ed Phillips, was hit-and-miss on Sundays since they took first lady Geneva Phillips to get special treatment at that cancer center in Oklahoma.
His eyebrows raised, he shook his head. “Mama B, I really don’t know. Uncle Ed says she’s entering stage four.”
In all my years, I done heard so many doctors be wrong, terms like “stage four” don’t phase me none. “Rev. Martin, don’t you be moved by what they say, you keep your aunt lifted in prayer.”
I looked up at Rev. Martin. Spittin’ image of his mother – I used to work with her in the salon. Rev. Martin was still young. In his early fifties. Needed to prove himself a faithful Indian before he took on the title of Chief one of these days—if the Lord ever called him to preach.
Ophelia, Rev. Martin and I entered the sanctuary again through the swinging wooden doors. I took a deep breath. Lord knows I love the smell of His house. The carpet, the pews, the old wooden pulpit Pastor Phillips and my Albert built with their own hands. They set every stained glass window in place, nailed down every pew, laid all the baseboards on top of the carpet. Pastor Phillips wasn’t married back then, so I had to look out for both of them. Brought them iced tea and lemonade, fed them after the end of a hard day’s work—mostly on Saturdays and Sundays because we all had full-time jobs. Took us a while, but Mt. Zion had been built with a lot of faith, patience, love, and sweat.
Back in ’73, when Albert and I donated the other half of our property to build the church on, we knew this space would be something special. A place where folks could come and get help and experience the love of Jesus through His people.
Pastor Phillips really wasn’t that good a preacher back then. He used to read from his yellow legal pad like my kids used to read from their little note cards when they gave a speech at school. Nervous! But God anointed Pastor Phillips and used him anyway because he had a willing heart and he loved people. He was a real good pastor before he was a real good preacher. Sometimes, it’s like that. God give you grace as you go in faith.
Anyhow, we sure did miss Pastor Phillips’ pastorin’ and his preachin’ while he was out caring for his wife. Rev. Martin was doing a good enough job of holding down the fort, but all those different ministers coming on all those different Sundays was startin’ to wear me out. Some of ‘em so wired up, felt like we was at a rock and roll show. And some of ‘em be ‘bout to put me to sleep right there on the front row. I know, I know the Lord just trainin’ ‘em up like he did Pastor Phillips. I got to be more patient.
But wasn’t going to be much patience that day with no air in the building. Already, I could feel my pores opening up, and it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.
I looked at Rev. Martin over the rim of my glasses. “Listen here, I’ll pray and ask the Lord to hold off the heat. You tell Rev. Omar to preach real fast today, okay?”