AND THEN CAME SUNDAY
Train wheels crank out a persistent tune as it carries Bessie Dee far away from tenements, treeless streets, and the sounds of a city bloated with urban blight. Miles after miles of countryside flash by as if seen through a kaleidoscope in full speed. She presses her face close up to the window and tries to catch every unwonted scene.
After six hours of window watching, munching on a home-packed lunch, and playing with paper dolls, the train pulls into the station. Almost simultaneously, the Conductor intones her destination and Bessie Dee, along with her three sisters, grab their bags, and head for an unknown land of outdoor toilets, wash basins, well water, chicken coops, a real pig sty, and southern Sunday mornings.
Even though the world is at war, and memories of bread lines refuse to lay dormant in the hearts and minds of men and women who cannot forget, Sunday mornings in the land of cotton keeps no company with current events. Its sole mission is to bring the opiate of optimism to a country church, a country preacher, and to parishioners longing for repose from a week of toil.
Sunday really began on Saturday night.
Saturday night baths were an equal opportunity experience. Everyone took their turn drawing water from the well, carrying it inside and pouring it into the pot waiting on the wood burning stove. And then the countdown began. There was just enough time to pour the heated water into a large wash basin and wash a few body parts before the big chill began to set in. You learned to wash quickly.
By the end of the summer when Bessie Dee and her sisters head back home to running water and hot tub baths they have become masters of the quick wash.
And then came Sunday.
Auntie’s house stood a corn field away from the church that Bessie Dee's great-grandfather built. The modest steeple stood like a sentry over the graveyards that lay on the opposite side of the dirt road. You could not easily forget the bells in the belfry of the steeple. For Bessie Dee, the rooster’s early morning cry, and the slow chant of church bells resounding throughout the countryside signaled the start of a day like no other; dress-up day, where old folks wore white dresses and black hats, aunts, uncles, and cousins drove or walked from across the meadow and beyond to a great gathering of kin folk.
No, she would never forget the church bells or the feast that followed the singing, clapping, shouting and the “thank God I’ve been redeemed” altar call. Somewhere between the first “Praise the Lord” and the last “Amen,” long tables mysteriously appeared, placed dangerously close to ancestors buried in the front row of the graveyard. Busy hands quickly clothed the tables in white, and just as quickly multiple trays and bowls of southern Sunday cooking covered every inch of white – irresistible hot rolls, corn pudding, fried chicken, sometimes a sinfully glazed and tender, succulent ham, sweet potato pudding, corn bread, freshly picked string beans, pickled beets from Auntie’s garden, and sweet and juicy corn on the cob with dessert to follow.
Bessie Dee’s favorite was lemon pie that looked like bread pudding and tasted like something only heaven could duplicate.
It was time to eat, to play, and to build memories.
The wheels of the train that brings Bessie Dee back have not changed their rhythm. Not so with the countryside. There’s a house where the corn fields stood; where she once played hide and seek among the tall stalks. The one room schoolhouse next to her great-grandfather’s church is now the dining hall. No need to trample on the dead anymore. The well that she was always afraid of falling into no longer stands next to the chicken coop. With indoor plumbing who needs it? Wide open verdant fields where cows grazed and grew fat are now suburban prairies of front yards and driveways. The chopping block that offered no reprieve for helpless chickens has gone the way of the outhouse. But Auntie’s house that looked so big through a child’s eyes is, except for the new bathroom, now what it always was – a little house untouched by time that still sits by the side of a dirt road.
Her Auntie’s gone.
The rooster no longer calls forth the morning, but the church bells still toll from the belfry on Sunday morning.
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