“Good mornin’ Miss Cook, how is ya’ today?”
I slipped to the front door and peeked out. Big Momma, my grandmother, was at the screen door welcoming someone.
“I’m doing just fine Miss Lucy, and you?”
“Tolerable, just tolerable. My pleurisy’s been somethin’ fierce lately. Can’t hardly catch my breath early in the mornin’. But, the good Lord is with me.”
The voices of the visitor and my grandmother blended into the background sounds of passing cars, lawnmowers, and late afternoon June Bugs as my eight-year-old mind struggled to make sense of what I was witnessing.
Big Momma was a fine Christian woman by every possible Southern standard. She taught the Ruth class at her church, had the preacher over for Sunday lunch, and taught me to love the Scriptures. But, she was also a child of the South. On more than one occasion I had listened as she reminisced about the War Between the States as though she had actually been there. As far as I knew, she had been.
“Have a seat and let me get you some cold water;” Big Momma’s invitation jolted me from my young thoughts.
“Thank you Miss Cook. I’d just soon stand out here if that’s alright with you. But some water shore would be nice.”
Big Momma passed me without noticing as she went for the water. “She such a dear old lady,” she muttered to herself as she walked back out.
“Dear … lady?”
Words like Scallywag and Carpet Bagger often popped out when she spoke of anyone of poor character. Like the door-to-door insurance man that came by the week before. No group existed that she didn’t have a name for when she felt the occasion called for such. White Trash and that other word my father never allowed in our home slipped passed her lips with abandon. Integration was a concept as foreign to her as barbeque to a vegetarian.
“Here you go Miss Lucy. Now I won’t let you stand like that. You come sit on the swing and rest a spell.”
I sat on the hardwood floor with my back to the front door and listened to the creaking of that swing as the two women sat side by side. One pale, the other dark. Both wrinkled from time and worn from the stresses of too hard lives. So different. So the same. Such a contradiction.
As Miss Lucy said her good-byes I found the courage to step out onto the porch and sit by my grandmother.
“What’s wrong Timothy?”
She was the only one who called me that when they weren’t mad at me.
“Nothing really Big Momma. Who was that lady?”
Big Momma looked down the street and my eyes followed. The little chocolate skinned woman had already made it to the third house down from us. She stood talking in the front yard with a man by his lawn mower. I saw her hold a jar of some kind out. The man shook his head, turned and went back to mowing. The old woman moved on.
“He could give her a little something; that Scallywag’s got plenty of money.”
She looked back at me remembering my question.
“That’s Miss Lucy. She comes through here every summer collecting whatever coins people give her. When she fills that jar up she goes to Friersons Building Supply and buys as many concrete blocks as the money will buy.”
“What could someone that old need with concrete blocks?”
Big Momma looked toward the dwindling shape of Miss Lucy trudging on down the street. Her eyes sparkled with genuine admiration.
“She’s building a church, Timothy. She’s been buying blocks for years now. I pray she gets that church built before the Lord calls her home.”
Years later, as I drove to work, I realized I had just passed that same little block church Miss Lucy walked all those miles collecting coins to build. I thought of how our folks and their folks never worshiped together. How my dear grandmother would have never dreamed of doing such a thing. How Miss Lucy would never have dared.
I thanked God for a place of worship where Scallywags and Carpet Baggers, people of all colors, people from both sides of the track are united by a common grace. And what of Big Momma and Miss Lucy? They share God’s porch swing together, forever free of the contradictions of this world.
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