My dress is sparkly with little bows all over the bodice. The organdy fabric is starched and pristine. I twirl my way to the church and hop, first on one foot, then the other, up the steps. I can’t keep my eyes off my black patent leather shoes. Their shiny surface reflects my face back to me like an inky mirror. The rusty handrail feels solid and familiar as I run my tiny hands back and forth over its bumpy surface.
The church folk trail each other into the small sanctuary. The fans on the ceiling slap the humid air around the room, and the smell of Ivory soap and Old Spice shaving lotion wafts on the breeze. The chirrups of the summer crickets join the helicopter buzzing of the June bugs flying in the open windows.
Right in front of us sits the lady that draws my attention every Sunday night: Sister Parcher. I think she must be a hundred years old, but more than her advanced age keeps my eyes glued to the back of her head. To me, she’s the most interesting Christian I’ve ever known. At first glance, she looks frail and bent, but when the Spirit comes on her, she turns into a whirling dervish.
Mom spots me staring at the lady in question and leans across my toddler brother to give me THE LOOK. I sit straighter, my head pointed down toward the hymn book that takes up my whole lap, but my eyes are slanted up beneath the camouflage of my lashes. I can see Sister Parcher’s gray bun bobbing to the music already.
Soon the service shifts to special music. It’s our turn to sing. I swish my way behind my sister up to the front. Our preacher lifts, first Barbie, then me, onto the broad top of the altar rail and the music begins. Like sweet angels, we sing “Whisper a Prayer”* in perfect two-part harmony. The ladies wipe their misty eyes with their floral hankies, and the men beam at us like proud uncles.
As the final words of our last stanza drifts heavenward, we hear encouraging “Amen’s” and “Aren’t they just so dear?” when we pass by the pews on our way back to our parents.
This is the moment I’ve been waiting for all night. The choir files out from their seats and fills the space behind the pastor. Now the tempo of the music picks up, and the Pentecostal Spirit of the Holy Ghost enters the building.
Mom has handed our baby brother to Sister Parcher so she can join the choir, but I see in her face hesitation and uncertainty. Will she or won’t she? Mom appears to be thinking. I’m betting she will. And I’m right.
Sister Parcher starts to swing her free arm round and round like a windmill, and my brother sways in her other arm. His eyes are as big as saucers. My sister, who is a year older than I and much more of a mother hen, looks startled and worried for him, but I am selfishly delighted. Now things will get going and the excitement will build.
It doesn’t take long for Sister Parcher to orbit out into the aisle, and in a minute more, she’s twirling in circles while my brother’s little head swivels to find his focus on Mom’s face in the choir. Around and around they go, Sister Parcher whirling, and my baby brother swiveling. Sister Parcher makes her way to the front and begins to sing in the Spirit.
“I saw him wraaapped around a telephone pole,” she intones. She makes up her songs as she sings, the inspiration coming from her worried dreams over a wayward grandson. The congregation lets her sing out her troubles, softly praying “Bless her, Lord” as she winds down her holy dance. The pastor leads her gently back to her seat. In the meantime, my red-faced Mom has rescued my brother, the women nodding and smiling at her motherly concern.
I’m giggling. Happy. My sister throws me a frown.
“She could’ve dropped him,” she whispers fiercely. But I don’t share her worry. I can hardly wait until next Sunday night when the Spirit will once again move upon Sister Parcher and send her swirling for the Lord.
In my young spirit, I sense a tiny touch of Heaven’s glory in the old saint’s dance. I clap with joy and twirl myself around just like Sister Parcher.
“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.” Psalms 30:11-12, The Holy Bible, New International Version
*Whisper a Prayer, Composer Unknown
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