Amazing grace, the sound was sweet to me. I wished my little sister would stop squirming and get to sleep. Shortly, she curled up on her side of the bed and I sang softly, amazing grace, amazing day. Now, I could think about this most amazing day in a billion, trillion years. You see, today I went with mammie Dot to Daddy Grace’s funeral.
Dot gets paid five dollars a day to keep the house and take care of us “chillun.” She said Papa pays her more than most mammies get in Charlotte.
Every afternoon at three o’clock, before he dropped dead from what the newspaper called liver something or ruther, Dot and I tuned into Daddy Grace on the radio. The show opened with Daddy Grace singing “Amazing Grace” in a deep low voice all by himself. Then a band joined in and the beat got faster. The choir came in and we sang with them. The music got wild and Dot raised her hands. “Hallelujah, hallelujah, sing it, Big Daddy,” we shouted. I spun round and round with my hands raised high until mama called down from the sewing room and told us to lower the noise. We listened to the rest of the program on the sofa, my head in Dot's lap. She stroked my hair as the preaching went on and ever-now-and-again she whispered words that sounded like angel music.
I begged Dot to talk mama into letting me pay respects to Daddy Grace.
“Child, your Mama and Papa is giving me a day off with pay to go to dat funeral and I don’t want to lose my job by losing you. So if you gets to go, you best hold my hand tight as your fingers can curl up, and anyways, I ain’t at all certain a little bitty girl belongs in a crowd of weepin’ and wailin’ colored folk.”
“But, Dot, it’s Daddy Grace ” Please make them let me go. I won’t get lost.”
“ I swanny, child, you surely do wants to go, don’t you? You mind me today and I reckon I’ll sees what I can do.”
I was good as sugar. Later, at the supper table, I saw Mama give Papa the look she gives when she wants him to talk with me bout something ‘portant.
He cleared his throat and said, “Little girl, you hear me good. Your mama is going to permit you to go with Dot tomorrow. Now, mind you, we didn’t care much for Daddy Grace, but we understand the colored thought highly of him and Dot tells us you loved his singing and preaching. So you stay close by her and don’t stray off. Folks will be coming from all over North Carolina and it’s going to be one big hoop-de-do. Remember, these folks aren’t our folks and we want you to be safe.” He looked at mama as if to ask if that was good enough. I guess it was, cause she smiled and he popped a buttermilk biscuit in his mouth and that was that.
After supper, I asked Dot what Papa meant. I always thought she was “my folks”. She rolled her eyes and ‘splained it to me best she could.
“When we gets on the bus to go downtown tomorrow, your folks will sit up front and my folks will stand in the back.”
Dot was right, cause this morning she sat me right in behind the bus driver. She marched to the back with her head up high, while her body swung from side to side. Soon the bus jerked to a stop. We got off, walked through the crowd and found a spot along the street where we could see. First came the bands, playing music that made my heart feel like homemade peach ice cream. People began to swoon when the glass cased coffin rolled by surrounded by the choir “from Heaven.” Women wearing white Sunday dresses waved long feathers and fanned the swooners.Tears formed in my eyes. They were singing “Amazing Grace,”just like on the radio show. My heart sang too.
When we got home, Dot said she had the vapors and needed to lie down. I went upstairs and sang my sister to sleep with the song I’d learned so well.
Amazing day, Amazing grace. I fell asleep as the words swirled through my mind.
I swanny, I thought I heard Daddy Grace singing in his deep low voice.
During the mid 1950's an evangelist called Daddy Grace developed a large following of African Americans in the North Carolina area. He built a church in downtown Charlotte. Some say he was con-artist, others a messenger from God to the poor and minority population. A bigger than life character, he sported fancy clothes, rode in a limo and had five inch fingernails painted red, white and blue. His funeral blocked the streets of Charlotte and was attended by throngs of people.
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