The White Boy Who Listened To Gospel Music

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
A story about a crossing culture lines and a white boy's love for gospel music.

Submitted: November 04, 2013

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Submitted: November 04, 2013

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With my left hand on the wheel on my car, I found myself quickly turning my radio to 106.7 WAMO on the FM dial. As I adjusted my tie while looking at myself in the rear view mirror, I evened out the gel in my hair that I forgot to do before I left for work. Approaching the large hill by the Raccoon Township Fire Department, I became excited as I knew what was going to happen next. Almost instantaneously, I felt the warmth from the morning sun which I could see visibly over the valley. While I had to squint as not to become blinded while driving, the rays bounced off my white dress shirt and gave my face an orange glow as I looked in the mirror. It was Sunday and once again, I felt the presence of God.

“Good Sunday morning Pittsburgh! It’s now four minutes after eight o’clock and I’m here with you for the next three hours to give you some gospel music for your ride to church this morning,” a woman said the radio.

While I typically worked the evening shift at the grocery store, I also worked Sunday mornings. And even though I couldn’t attend church services on Sundays, I was okay with that because working Sunday mornings was like attending a church service for me. In fact, it was my Sunday church service.

For me, my church experience would start in the morning as I would drive to work as the sun would begin to rise. Usually I would get my first peak of this morning sun as I would crest up a large hill on my commute to work which allowed me to see a beautiful sunrise off to the east. In the summer time, I would occasionally see the fog rising from the valley below. In the winter time, the sun liked to reflect off the snow which sat on top of the trees making it look like something you would see on a postcard.

But there was something more than driving to work that made my Sunday mornings at the grocery store a church like experience for me. Just by walking through the glass doors at our grocery store in Aliquippa, PA, a blue-collared, former steel mill community outside of Pittsburgh, I would always smell the fresh baked goods and our signature cakes baking in the ovens. While I couldn’t take communion, having a piece of fresh bread given to me by one of the old ladies in the bakery was sometimes just as spiritual to me as if it was given to me by a minister in a church.

Later in the morning after church services would let out, customers would clog our aisles to buy fresh cut meats and the finest green vegetables we had in the county. And despite our store begin hectic with customers, there was always a sense of joy watching people as old neighbors would greet each other in the aisles and introduce their spouses and children and talk about memories of playing football in high school or about their own dads working together in the mill. I also enjoyed working as a bagger on Sunday mornings because it allowed me to converse with people like I would do after church.  Though, typically after church I don’t ask people if they want paper or plastic.

But besides the smell of freshly baked pastries and even the joyful pressence in our aisles, I also considered my drive to work on Sunday mornings as ‘my church service’ because I got to listen to Vicky on my way to work.

Looking back, I probably thought at that time I was the only young, white, farm boy who listened to a gospel music program on a Pittsburgh urban radio station on Sunday mornings. And I think Vicky, the program’s host, was surprised that a young, white, farm boy listened her radio program. I figured this out after I called her radio show to request a gospel CD that was being given away to her first ten callers. I recall the silence I heard after I asked her if she had any of the CD’s still available and told her my name and I was from Hookstown (which is known as a small farm town in PA.)

“Um, ha. Um, I am just curious. Are you a brother?” she asked me as I leaned over the customer service counter at the grocery store holding the phone which was stretched across the front desk with my co-worker looking at her watch and then me at me impatiently.

“No, mam, I’m not. I mean, I am a brother in Christ but I just really like gospel music. This music brings me closer to the God and makes up the only Sunday church service I can attend to which is in my car on my way to work,” I replied.

“Lord have mercy,” she replied. “God is full of surprises, isn’t he? she laughed. 

After a few minutes of telling her about my Christian faith, feeling called to become a minister someday, and feeling that God speaks to me through gospel music especially the artist Kirk Franklin, she told me that she was glad I saw her radio program as being like a church service in my car. She then asked for my address so she could send me the CD.

“Wait a minute, I live by your store and was there Friday night. You wouldn’t be a tall, white, big friendly guy  with glasses in his early 20s who helped me put water in my cart and told me everything I need to know about bottled water?” she asked.

Quickly, I found myself trying to remember if I had helped anyone put water in their grocery cart. Her description unfortunately could be applied to all the other males who worked in my store at that time. But then I recalled helping a small-framed, friendly African American woman by putting water in her cart the Friday night before and then told her about the difference between regular water and distilled water.

“Wait, were you wearing a Steelers jersey?” I asked.

“Yes, that was me!” she replied joyfully. “This is God’s doing!”

Surprised that I had met the woman who was almost my pastor over the airwaves on my way to work every Sunday, I talked to her for few extra minutes more before she had to get back on the air and my boss would notice I was still on the phone.

“Well, thank you for listening, she said before hanging up. And do you work most evenings?”she asked.

“Yes I do,” I replied.

“Well, maybe I will see you sometime,” she responded.

After hanging up the phone, I didn’t realize until years later that even though I just wanted to get a CD, I had also done something more. With my love of gospel music and by sharing my love for it with her, I had unintentionally crossed a a line and changed a stereotype between how white people worship God and black people worship God.

I was happy that my CD did come in the mail a few days later.  But I was even more surprised about a week later when I was in our back store room and my store manager said some lady dropped off two tickets at the front desk for me that was to a Kirk Franklin gospel music concert. When I asked my manager who it was, he said she only told him that I was ‘one of her brothers’ and that ‘we both took church music very seriously.’

Staring at me with a raised eyebrow, my boss waited for my response.

“Oh, we worship God together every Sunday,” I replied.

 

 


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