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There were too many girls in too little a space and three of us slept in the same bed and never with me in the middle, but me at the window with my head on the windowsill where I wrote and scratched out and wrote and scratched out so many messages that there was no paint left on the windowsill. It didn’t matter who I wrote to. Jesus. A hay bailer I saw riding on the back end of a truck. Myself, to not backslide into the mud. Or what dream the messages came out of. It just mattered that I wrote. So I wrote, “I will see Jesus in three months.”
Now, how did I know that message dropped from heaven and didn’t come up from hell? How’d I know that? For Holy Rollers, this was a very important question because you just never knew where the devil abided. Well, I knew because it fell on the third Saturday of the third month with three sisters in the same bed between the hours of nine p.m. to three a.m. (the exact reversed hours Jesus spent on the cross!) and God liked the number 3! Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Simple simple. God also liked the numbers 7, 12, and 40 but not nearly as much as he liked the number 3. To be absolutely certain, though, I asked Grandma, who was the expert on messages and angels from heaven, and she said it was a sin to dream true dreams. That was witchcraft. Unless, of course, Jesus sent them or sent angels to send them and that was the gift of prophesy. So who did it? The devil or Jesus? And I said I believed it was Jesus sending angels through my dream doorway.
Grandma said well, she certainly hoped so because saying Jesus was coming in three months sounded pretty lazy, kinda fishy to her. The Bible said the Rapture was like a thief in the night and a twinkling of the eye and nobody would know so it’s best to always be prepared. Because how are Holy Ghost people suppose to act? First, last, and every time—waiting on the Rapture! Three months might give saints the idea of a deadline.
Anyhow, Grandma said, that’s not to say dreams can’t be helpful. Just don’t get too familiar with those messenger angels on your own. Don’t go hocus-pocus on her. Their home (these dream messenger angels) was the same home as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Yes yes, but also home to Satan and his demons. And you upset their nests and they’re liable to swarm down on you like a pile of mean yellow jackets. And I’d seen that, now, ain’t I? Yesss ma’am, I had. And these demon yellow jackets attached themselves to people like ticks on cattle and sucked their juices of human blood and possessed them. And even if they’re possessed, they don’t act like it. No, ma’am. They act like saintly people. Good Christians. Why, some could even speak in tongues and perform minor miracles. Heal the sick, that type of thing. Yes ma’am, they did. So a real helpful test to see if this saintly person ain’t nothing but devil inspired is to ask him to say “Lord Jesus” three times. He can’t do it. Now say it, child.
Okay, child. You’re okay for the minute. Now, this middle realm. That’s the home of palm reading, insanity, and abnormal passions. Don’t go there neither.
I wasn’t about to go there. I was going to my trusty windowsill to make a running list of the important men in my life. And don’t ask me why. I don’t know why. It just popped into my head same as that time I decided to write the numbers one to a million on the windowsill and used up all the space. That’s why the paint came off. Anyhow, Daddy wasn’t on the list because I didn’t much care for my daddy at the time, so my Important Man List was a short list and went like this: Jesus, Brother Bob, Abraham Lincoln. Of the living, I loved Brother Bob the best. He was our regular preacher down by the bayou church and was in the middle of going bald.
Now, why I didn’t like Daddy.
Momma, Pill (my baby sister), and me tarried (born-again Christian talk meaning “waiting on the Rapture”)?? out back in Quiet Land (our portion of the yard) and Daddy tarried in Secret City (his portion of the yard). When Daddy wasn’t out shrimping (and he was always always out shrimping) he was under the pecan tree with a handy cup of coffee, a pack of nasty Camel cigarettes tucked in his pocket, (and?)laying marine plywood on the deck of a new boat like he was turning out finished cabinets on Momma’s walls. If he wasn’t doing that, he was net patching (which took lots and lots of cigarettes). Daddy hunkered over a torn-up, wrecked net spread on the ground, his eyes just slits to keep out all that cigarette smoke and one cigarette after another getting plunked into his mouth. Sometimes an entire ash cigarette hung off his lip! Then the ash cigarette came tumbling down his shirt and he left it there until one of us girls rushed over to brush it off and he’d swat our hands off, saying, Go away. Easy-like, gentle gentle, like a baby watermelon rolling across a sandy field and bumping your hand. Go away.
Momma never knew what Daddy was doing in the front yard because Daddy was a man’s man and didn’t talk unnecessarily to women, and he had been smoking cigarettes since he was four years old. He also never shut the gate to the henhouse and never touched a farming utensil if he could help it (he was a FISHERMAN) and was a big believer in separating a man’s business from a woman’s ear. So what net or shrimp boat he was working on or how much it cost or how many boats did that make for him wasn’t her business to know. Once Daddy bought a skiff for a price he wouldn’t mention and it was hauled into the yard and spent a solid year gathering leaves and ever’ time Momma asked, “Whose that boat out there, Billy?” Daddy said, “Don’t know, Goldie. Don’t know.”
That’s why Momma was on the OTHER side of the yard. Daddy had lived in Secret City ever since his Navy days and we had lived in Quiet Land ever since forever. Momma didn’t own an electric nothing so she hung clothes on a fishing line tied to a rain cistern where I drew a million Gypsies with long black hair and heartshaped faces and plunging dresses with tasseled ends and on their arms dozens of bracelets, doodads dripping everywhere, and long sharp fingernails with nickel-sized ruby rings on at last three, maybe four fingers.
I drew interesting-looking men, too. Hay bailers with long hair hiding their eyes and strong dusty arms to turn hay and deckhands who drifted into town off boats from faraway places like Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana or Port Bolivar across from Galveston. And everyone wearing boots. Rattlesnake boots, alligator boots, boots with shooting stars, toe-peeled boots, unraveled and busted-out boots. Sometimes I drew them wearing rubber boots just like my daddy.
I know, I know, I was a hypocrite and a confused little girl but I was nine and not thirteen (the Age of Accountability and God’s line in the sand saying, Old enough to know better) so I wasn’t shooting to hell just yet. I was four years short of shooting to hell and like the perilous beginnings of all great descents, little boxes need to stack up before little boxes can fall down. Anyhow, Pill was disrupting my evil drawings a dozen times with a made-up a song about baby Moses floating down the Nile and she sang it so loud and long that her voice went hoarse and I knew and Momma knew that Pill would sing the bark off a fence post so to shut her up some Momma said, “Save it for the missionaries next Sunday, baby. “ (Momma always called her baby like she was two years old and the cutest part in the Christmas play.)
Holy Rollers loved missionaries. Hey, I loved missionaries too. They were the generals in God’s army! That’s why I was a Junior Missionette (girls nine to twelve years old). Missionettes always met on Sunday evening right before the night church service so we could get from one church thing to the next church thing without indulging in any worldly nonsense like riding around in cars and chewing gum. We all wore the same Missionette uniform too. White shirt (purity and submission), navy blue skirt (labor for the Lord), and a little gold pin (golden streets of glory), stamped M in the middle and pinned to our shoulder. We’d sit around a metal table in an empty part of the church—ten little girls number painting Jesus’s face in oil and eating vanilla wafers and drinking red Kool-Aid until our lips were red as a horde of Jezebels. We had a huge responsibility on our little white shoulders: just by sitting there we were setting good examples and winning souls to Christ and it was unfortunate that nobody could see us.
After the Jesus faces and the Kool-Aid ran out, the pastor’s wife lined us up to test our memories on books of the Bible. My limit was about seven. I’d go straight for the easy ones: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then I’d hop over to what I called the devil chapters: Deuteronomy and Revelation. Finally, I gave up with the easiest one of all: Genesis.
My momma was a serious serious Christian woman with two preachers in the family and a mother who obsessed over a radio evangelist from San Antonio. But her emphasis was cleanliness was godliness and no body part was too low to be in service so she wasn’t much for batting books of the Bible around with her kids. That was a huge waste of time! She could have two lines of wash strung out before the pastor’s wife said Deuteronomy or Ecclesiastes. So the same girl won every time and the pastor’s wife always handed her the same prize: a scrapbook full of pictures of Christians wearing heavy coats at a revival somewhere in Alaska. We didn’t know who they were.
Being a Junior Missionette didn’t take up all my time. There was leftover time for the Gypsy drawing. There was leftover time for the windowsill messages. Then there was time for hiding. But almost as good as the hiding was seeing how long I could sleep in the middle of the road before a truck came. So far I have made it six days without nothing major happening except the sun coming out from behind a cloud and blistering me. I was a fierce little bump in the road, as any truck driver would tell you
Anyhow, hiding I did best and I was hiding under the kitchen table and Momma was slaving away over the stove and burning the fish when Sister Pearl shot into the kitchen and shouted, “Praise Jesus, Sister Goldie! The missionaries are comin’! ”
Sister Pearl was a big German lady with a white crepe face and neck and she had more hair then me and Momma put together and always wore it pinned up around her head like a crown of thorns. She was also a big house-cleaning fool with a huge farmhouse with lots of rooms and front and back porches and an attic that needed cleaning from top to bottom and behind boards nailed to the wall and underneath iron bathtubs and in pitch-black closets, so I was watching her shoes and hoping she’d scoot right back to her farmhouse. But she leaned down and peeked under the table like she’d seen me just yesterday fooling around with the worst boys in town. “You know, Silver. Jesus can see you under there. You can’t hide from Jesus.”
Well, I wasn’t hiding from Jesus, but you just never know. No telling where the devil abided. My thinking cap ain’t on straight sometimes. Also, too many girls in a house can lead to sisters getting confused for their sisters so maybe Sister Pearl meant Jesus was spying on Sheena. Did she mean Sheena? Jesus certainly had lots more interesting things to see with Sheena. But I figured it was me. Wicked wicked me drawing evil Gypsy Jezebels with red fingernail polish on the rain cistern. So I hung out my bottom lip more than I normally did until Sister Pearl said, “Jesus is gonna trip on that bottom lip if you ain’t careful, honey.”
If I’d had any wits I’d have realized that Sister Pearl was just missionary shopping. She was a member of the Women’s Missionary Council that met every Wednesday morning and Sunday evening and they were always scouting for missionary-type girls for God’s Army because Satan never played fair and his evil forces were out all the time trying to tempt little girls. So recruitment was critical. And for a missionary scout like Sister Pearl, there was absolutely nothing worse than the devil sliding in with a pout and ruining a perfectly good missionary candidate.
But I didn’t have wits. Wits were a Sheena thing. I was into emotional flip-flopping as fast as I could. I was a regular roller coaster. Faster faster! Drive Momma crazy. Drive Daddy crazy. JesusJesusJesus one second then the next second, whomp, lying in middle of the road or hanging by my toes from a high, slick chinaberry limb in the front yard to see how long I could stay there until my toes gave out. I had been hanging about ten minutes, focusing mightily on my steely toes, when Sister Pearl drove into Momma’s yard in her blue shark-fin car rimmed in silver chrome and before she could say boo I fell to her feet from high in the chinaberry tree.
I was sprawled in the oyster dust, watching the chinaberry tree watch me, not saying a word ’cause words ain’t necessary when you fall on your head. Words won’t describe it. Say the word and that ain’t it. A little electrical storm drummed across my feet like hail pinging a still bay. Pingpingpingpingping. PONG! Suddenly I was cleaning Jesus’s house and he was reading the obituary column, seeing who was dead and where their folks were and who was surviving that family and he already had the phone sitting in his lap with pencil marks on the paper and the receiver at his ear. (capital letters on He?)
How many times you sinned? he asked and I said three and he asked what are they?
Well, I had to think a minute. Stick on my thinking cap. That first time the second-grade class had an Easter party and the whole class was invited to the picture show in town and we all paraded single-file down the road swinging our arms and stirring up oyster dust with our feet. Then we sat in a dark theater and watched Anthony Perkins, dressed up like an Indian, slip into the swamp and disappear. He was carrying something. Bird feathers? A baby? I don’t remember. He just disappeared and that was the end. The whole time, though, I expected the Rapture to commence with me sitting in a picture show.
That second time, I was standing under the chinaberry tree (the same tree I just fell out of in the front yard) and the words damndamndamndamn came into my head as easy as pie and wouldn’t shut off for days. Drove me flat nuts! Damndamndamndamndamn. Like that!
Then the third time our neighbor Ticky (he later took an ax to his brother, but at the time he was living nicely down in the pasture with him) went to California to bat tennis balls around and he came back with a box of women’s silky underwear and lounging pajamas and when he dropped them off in Momma’s kitchen, I had a screaming fit with my sisters over some red leotards.
Jesus looked down at the obituary column, then back up at me. His eyes were pitifully sad. “That doesn’t sound too good. Now, which kid of Goldie’s are you?”
“The middle one,” I said.
“And how old? “
“Nine,” I said,
“Oh, you’re too young, then. “
I wasn’t dead after all. So for that “not dead” reason, plus her own missionary agenda, Sister Pearl said, “Praise Jesus! This baby’s beat death to be a missionary in the Congo. It’s a sign. A miracle. Thank you, Jesus.”
She was right, you know. Besides Gypsy drawings and toe hangings and lying in the middle of the road, I was dough on anybody’s dough board. I was missionary dough on Sister Pearl’s dough board and nurse dough on Momma’s dough board. Momma was a born-again Christian but big big on nursing. Her dream for a short while was to be a nurse but she got married and, BOOM!, had seven kids instead so she transferred her aborted nursing dream onto her daughters. It was a tangled, twisted little fetus of a thing. Never quite living, not quite dead. But no matter, the nursing dream was like a possum up a tree and she was the kid with a stick trying to hit it over the head; she never hit it squarely on the head, but ever’ time she thought about it, she went out and took another swing at it.
Momma had lived all her life in one little town and had never went beyond the city-limit sign until she was about twenty-five, when she and her three kids rode on a train to Clute, Texas, to visit an uncle. By nightfall the uncle wanted to know when she and that batch of kids was leaving so Momma left Clute and went home crying. She never left again. Momma said the only reason a woman needed to be outa the house was if she was making money and if she was woman she wasn’t making much so really there wasn’t no reason for her to be outa the house. Unless she was a nurse. Nurses made lots of money. So Momma wanted every one of us girls to be a nurse and hardly one of us was heading that way so Momma ran out of ideas on what to do with us besides sending us to church. Maybe one of us would be a missionary. Sacrifice and money. Momma was big on one and knew a lot about the scarcity of the other. So make lots of money or go to the Congo as a missionary and get hacked to pieces and buried in a shoebox. (No missionary made it alive out of the Congo.)
But in the beginning, I was even too much for Sister Pearl, the missionary hunter. I had no personality. I didn’t talk. I had an odd habit of lying in the middle of the road. I certainly wasn’t Sister Pearl’s favorite pick to clean her house because I never let out a peep about what was going on in our house or what my other three aunts were saying and all their kids were doing. Kids that didn’t talk and tell stories about what was going on in the house was no fun for Sister Pearl. How was she to know anything? Later on, though, Sister Pearl decided not talking wasn’t so bad. It was a good quality for missionaries. Who needed a complaining missionary?
In Sister Pearl’s book, a missionary was the highest calling Jesus gave out. It beat the brother passing around the collection plate, it beat the deacon, it even tied with the preacher and, in terms of sacrifice, it beat the preacher. And for plenty reasons. Missionaries were all about sacrifice and no fun. Fun was the devil. Fun would lead you astray. Fun would lead you down the woolly mammoth path of iniquity. So consequently, missionaries were dead serious and did dull things like die. (Whoosh, off with their heads and bury them in a shoebox.)
So when the missionaries finally came to town (just like Sister Pearl prophesized) it was strongly advised that nobody mess with them. No foolish words. NO JOKING! A mighty spooky time for everybody where even the cedar trees made the most mournful whooh whoooh and the waves crashed on the shore and the graveyard—oh, that was a mighty dangerous place to go.
The sisters in the church did lots of cooking in preparation for the missionaries’ arrival; soft simmering gumbo with shrimp and tender okra and fresh tomatoes hand-plucked from the garden and dewberries from the pasture. Nothing too harsh for those saintly mouths! The brothers hauled shrimp from the bay then stood outside the church (they were fishermen and just traded their fishing pants and boots for dark pants and shoes and white long-sleeved shirts) and ever’ now and then they slipped back in, quiet and respectful, through the side screen door to make sure the sisters didn’t need some more shrimp hauled in. Then they left without saying a word or bumping into anybody unnecessarily.
Then the pastor rounded up the mommas and told them to keep their kiddies home tonight. The true but horrific stories coming out of the mouths of the missionaries might terrify them. Better to just send the Missionettes. Those little soldiers of Christ. So the Missionettes were stuck on the front row at the Church of Jesus Loves You and I was nine and a Missionette so I was stuck there, too.
Then the Jesus crowd piled in and oh, glory hallelujah, it was an exciting time. Not nearly as exciting as the Rapture, but close—close. The band was doing its best to keep up—playing guitar, fiddle, bass fiddle, banjo, and tambourine to every gospel song they knew plus venturing into a little something the guitar player’s first cousin played with a country western band. And wasn’t it just too bad that country western band wasn’t swiping through Corpus on a bus tour ’cause then that cousin might just show up, duded up and decked out in his black pants and black Western shirt with the long fringes. Then he’d show the crowd! He’d do some real fancy picking on his electric guitar plugged into a huge black box.
Normally, band qualifications were pretty slim so anybody with guts enough to play something or sing something was welcome to get up there and try. And if the Holy Ghost anointed you, why, that was even better. Get on up there! What are you sitting down for? Usually a sister or two would get up and harmonize on a song they’d made up that morning, and once a prickly haired boy with a banged-up trumpet that he couldn’t get a note from because he said he’d washed the horn in soapsuds that morning to get rid of some old spit. Another time a brother (clearly a Yankee or why else was he wearing that floppy corduroy hat?) hit two clattering spoons on his knee. What a treat! A first time for everything.
Hopefully, the Holy Ghost had arrived. Hopefully, he was present and hovering, but if he wasn’t, he certainly needed to be invited in. Somebody needed to do something. So the band started playing a victory march and the brothers and the sisters in Christ joined hands, going round and round the chairs, praising Jesus, hurrahing for the Holy Ghost, and laughing when they whacked their hips against a chair ’cause they weren’t feeling any pain. You don’t feel any pain when you’re waaay above it all and headed for Canaan’s Fair Land. Only the older sisters and brothers who couldn’t get on their feet easily and the mommas with tiny babies were excused from the victory march but, even then, some got up and cripped around, shouting, “Better to wear out then to rust out!”
Being a missionary-type girl and terribly shy, I wasn’t much for front-row anything so I scooted back to the mid-row seats where Momma was sitting with Sister Pearl. Momma was holding a worn Bible from the house in her lap and a paper fan Sister Pearl had given her and she was whacking the air so fast I could hardly see her face. WHAM WHAM WHAM. Between the fan’s whacking and the holy-rolling dancing, Sister Pearl clapped her hands and tapped her foot and ever’ now and then she reached over and patted my leg, saying, “My little missionary.”
Behind the band, a black-haired evangelist sat on a three-seat section of folding chairs and cleaned his fingernails. He was waiting his turn. Sister Pearl leaned over and whispered in my ear, “He’s just fillin’ in for Brother Bob while he’s workin’ in Seguin, honey.”
Well, I knew that already ’cause Sister Pearl ironed ever’ stitch of his clothes after he arrived in town, same as me and Sheena ironed ever’ stitch of hers while she stood and watched from the kitchen door to make sure we did it right. It didn’t make sense what she did. Iron his. Don’t iron yours. But I was nine and clearly I didn’t understand evangelists. Evangelists probably had wives. Maybe they did. There was nothing that said they couldn’t have wives. They just didn’t need wives. Not when there were women in the church to wash and iron their clothes, feed them home-cooked meals, and give them downtime with nobody to bother them. In return all they had to do was liven up a dead church with tongue speaking, a little jumping, dancing, singing glory hallelujah, saving the sinners, and resaving the backsliders. And maybe, Jesus willing, a little miracle. Tonight it was double our pleasure with the missionaries and the evangelists all on the same night. It was like a comet from heaven coming through with both ends lit.
Normally, evangelists came once a month. That’s why they were called visiting evangelists. And it was always on a Sunday and never on a Wednesday ’cause Wednesday was waaay too quiet for them. Unless, of course, the church was really really dead and then they came down for a solid week of revival. (Monday through Sunday) Tent revivals. Brush arbors. Evangelizing on the back end of a truck bed. It didn’t matter. Getting sinners to the altar was the trick. So a truck drove around town with speakers mounted on the hood and announced that a mighty outpouring of the Holy Ghost was coming to the Church of Jesus Loves You. Monday thru Sunday night. Come one, come all and get yourself saved at the altar.
During revivals, the evangelists’ impatience, which was normally short anyhow, revved up about ten notches. They were really impatient now. Sitting on a chair would make them twitch. Sitting on a chair would make them feel like slapping something. We called it the Holy Ghost jitters and it made preachers hop up and down the aisle, jump on the altar, whoop it up around the church like an Indian, slap the Bible against their skinny leg or—the best money for the buck—slap the pulpit with the Bible. That sounded like a shrimp boat hitting the wharf and taking off half the docks. It was electrifying! The air filled with shouts and strange lights waffled in and out of the church rafters. It was just like on Pentecost when a mighty wind blew and twelve beacons of fire danced above the heads of the twelve apostles.
The black-headed evangelist got up and walked to the pulpit. He said he was gonna say a little prayer first and after that a deacon (Brother Tom, who was perched on the edge of a chair and waiting) would pass around a plate for a love offering for the missionaries.
He prayed, “Help us, Lord. God bless the poor sinner in here today. The backslider, the unregenerate, the drunkard, the derelict, these church members, these emissaries from the Congo. They’re here, Lord, because they know that Jesus saves. But so does Satan. The devil believes and trembles before Jesus’s precious name. When Satan attacks, the Comforter says Jesus Jesus Jesus. Demons recoil when they hear his (Not capital? His?)single name. So, God, be merciful with us today. We’re just your humble servants. In Jesus’s name we ask it, Amen.”
Next he wanted to welcome the Lord’s heavenly born soldiers who had been fighting their way through the battlefield of good and evil in the Congo. “Brothers and sisters,” he said, “looky here at this fiiine missionary couple. These here little baby angel missionary kids. Saints, ain’t no baby too small for Jesus. He says if you got knees you can pray. These here folks are the flaming torches in darkest Aferker. Just recently they were a hair’s breath—with hatchets whooping over their heads—and saints, that’s French for “being killed”! Killed by the Mau Mau tribes in that heathen nation. Oh, Precious Jesus looking down on us here tonight, open our eyes. Because what does it tell us in the Bible? Greater love hath no man than this that he laid down his life for his friend. Yeeesss, Lord . . . these folks here. Sacrifice! That’s just what we’re talking about! Sacrifice sacrifice sacrifice. They’ve been laying their lives under a sharp hatchet so those heathen folks over there can get a chance to be washed in the precious blood of the lamb just like me and you here tonight. Sacrifice, brothers and sisters. And that sacrifice is for y’all too. It’s not just for them over in that heathen continent—no! Y’all too. ’Cause remember, folks, the Lord cannot return. He will be delayed until these distant dark places hear the true message. Until the Pentecostal flame is in Canada and an outpouring is felt in Central America and a mighty shock of power hits Egypt. Kapowee! Get me a machine gun for Jesus! In America too, brothers and sisters. Kapowee! Kapowee! Get me two machine guns for Jesus! We need the old-time religion back! The camp meetings, the revivals, the mission work, the street and prison work. Getting folks to accept Christ and speak in tongues, getting glories untold. If they do that, then legally they will go to Heaven. They will get glories untold. Same as every man, woman, and child who rejects Jesus, declaring his suffering pointless, must legally go to hell. Regardless of God’s feelings about you. You must go to hell.
“Saints, this True Message—and I’m not talking that mumbo jumbo mess you hear from the Baptist or the Methodist across the street. The ONLY gospel that will establish the Lord’s Kingdom worldwide is the full gospel message known and preached ONLY by the Pentecostals. What is preached here tonight, brothers and sisters. Praise Jesus and bring on the Rapture!”
The evangelist said he figured three hundred million (three Raptures at a hundred million apiece) of the Pentecostal believers that were ready and still on the warpath for Jesus would go straight up. Soon as that event took place, the Great Tribulation (which might last seven years or several thousand years because it was God’s ultimate instrument for convincing sinners to mend their ways and who knows how long that would take) would commence. None of the “ordinary Christians” such as Baptist, Methodist, and such—bogged down, no doubt, by worldly concerns (money, houses, cars, boats, stock, and such)—would make it out. And forget that Cult of Mary! They used confession as a way to sin even more. That ungodly horde of priests, nuns, brothers, bishops, cardinals—AND POPE (don’t forget the pope, chief devil)—would perish in the fires of the Great Deceiver.
Doomsday was certainly entertaining and mainly because I was safe beside Momma. We were caught like rocks in Jesus’ sandal so wherever he trod, we trod too. I could hang by my toes as long as I wanted. The grave wasn’t for me.
Momma was fidgeting beside me. Oh, I knew my momma well. She didn’t want a near date. No sudden Rapture. She had a million chores to do. She wished she were home. She wished those preachers would just shorten those sermons. But Momma’s wishing wasn’t in charge tonight. Nope, she was sitting there just like the rest of us, tarrying on the Holy Ghost who wandered wherever he wanted to go. As the evangelist said, “If you’re sitting in a church and you know every step the Holy Ghost is fixing to make, then you’re sitting in a backslidden church!”
Well, the Holy Ghost was riding tall in his saddle tonight and nobody was bringing him down or telling him what to do. The evangelist started running around the altar with the Bible up to his chest, then he stopped and slammed the Bible on the altar like he just whacked an escaping roach. Somebody hollered, “Jeesssus’s blood blood blood blood.” Two sisters sitting on an end row were obviously under the heat of the Holy Ghost fire and they stood up, scooted past some brothers and sisters, then walked up front and stood with the band. They had identical long hair and long skirts and their faces were white as bed sheets with eyeholes cut out. Overhead the fan rocked a little and sent flickering waves of heat from the rafters and a light on the ceiling slid down the arms of the missionary couple. We were blessed! The Holy Ghost fire was hovering.
The sisters were regular singers and had enough singing talent that they could’ve easily been on the Louisiana Hay Ride and on TV if they wanted to. But they didn’t want to. They’d turned their lives over to Jesus and they believed they would sing a little song if the Holy Ghost would allow it and if the brothers there would play a little guitar for them. So under heaven’s hole and under the hot lights, the sisters lifted their faces and sang: “Greeateeer luuuv hath nooo man than thisss, that heee laid dooowwwn hiiis life for hiiis frieeend.”
Then the first sister slumped over and down came the second sister, WHAM WHAM. They were slain in the spirit. Collapsing in the abiding arms of the Lord. But to me they just died. Dead as a hammer.
Oh, help me, Lord. Save me, Jesus!