Tuesday, November 12, 2013

5th Edition Carnival of African American Genealogy ~ REBIRTH: Raise Your Hands to Heaven

"Yes, Lord," "Amen" and "Thank you, Jesus" were the words being spoken by various members of the congregation during Sunday's sermon. Some shouted, others whispered, a few of them stood up raised their hands towards Heaven while praising God.  I even saw one lady get the Holy Spirit once; she cried out, danced around then fainted.  I remember the ladies sitting her down in the pew and fanning her.  I asked my grandmother was she okay and she said, "yes chile (pronounced like child without the D), she's got the Holy Spirit".  She may have said "ghost" instead of "spirit" but that part I don't remember.  That lady wasn't the only one dancing for joy in the aisle, a lot of people were praising the Lord in the aisles.  I didn't know what was going on but for a ten year old, I was  mesmerized.  I spent more time looking around than I did listening to the sermon.  Don't worry, my grandmother would lean down and whisper in my ear “turn around”.  I remember feeling so proud sitting next to her, I felt like such a big girl even though my feet never touched the floor.  

I called my grandmother Rebecca Montgomery “Nanny” (no one knows why).  My mom thinks her name came from one of the kids trying to say “Granny” and it came out “Nanny” but no one knows for certain.  It’s just one of those nicknames that stuck. To my mother, she was mom, to the little kids she was Nanny and to the older members of our family she was called Aunt (pronounced ain’t) Sis.

Nanny and her husband (who we called Uncle Clem) lived in Detroit.  I usually stayed at their house for a few weeks in the summer.  I loved going there because there were so many kids for me to play with.  My cousins lived across the street.  Every time I went to their house, their mother who was very religious would hold bible study classes for us (and give us homework).  She really encouraged my spiritual development.  I enjoyed learning with them just not the homework.  

Nanny and I always went to church on Sundays.  Our day started with me getting the paper off the front porch then us cooking and eating breakfast.  Nanny showed me how to cook sometimes I resisted, after all wasn't I a guest?  Why did I have to cook, clean and do dishes?  I was an only child and was well loved by my parents and grandparents (not spoiled).  Like most kids my age, all I just wanted to go outside and play.  She wasn't having any of that, with a gentle loving hand she continued to show me how to do all those things.  It wasn't until later that I understood what type of woman she was teaching me to be and for that I will forever be thankful.

Breakfast usually consisted of grits, bacon, eggs and toast. I still make toast in the oven the way she use too. She would have coffee with her breakfast. I use to beg her for a cup and she always turned me down saying “coffee makes you black" and "it will stunt your growth”. She only let me drink coffee once or twice and I didn't like it.  No matter how much sugar and cream I put into the cup, it tasted awful.  To this day, I don't drink coffee in any form. I wonder if that drinking coffee back then is why I’m only 5’2” now; after all she did warn me...lol.

We would get ready for church after I finished the dishes and we had planned dinner for the night. Nanny always sat at the table in the kitchen talking to me while I did the dishes. I miss those talks with her; she was a very smart woman.  Once we were dressed, we would get into her Buick and head to church. The one thing I remember is how hot those seats were in the summer. I burned my legs so many times in that car. I would sit on my hands or whatever else I could find until the seat was tolerable.  Nanny, well she always had a cushion that she sat on, now I know why.

She was a faithful member of Alpha and Omega Spiritual Church of Christ.   The church was loud and full of activity.  The choir sang beautifully and the minister was preaching the word.  During the summer, the church was so hot; it felt like I was sitting in an oven. Sometimes I fell asleep because it was so hot (don't judge, I was a kid).  Everyone had a fan to help with the heat.  I remember the one that my grandma gave me; it had a picture of Martin Luther King on one side.  I spent more time playing with it than I did fanning myself. All the women were dressed they wore hats, gloves and nice dresses. Everyone was in their Sunday best ready to receive the word of the Lord. 

The main thing that I remember about going to that church was how it felt so inviting like coming home to a big loving family.  For me, Church wasn't just about the religion; it was also about the fellowship, the community.   There was something powerful yet scared within those walls, it was a great place to learn and grow while receiving the word of the Lord.  We were united as one while our spiritual needs were being fulfilled.  As a child, I remember sitting close to Nanny just taking it all in.

Sundays were very sacred to Nanny. I wasn't allowed to play cards, jacks, listen to secular music or leave the front porch to play with the neighborhood kids.  I wasn't even allowed to cross the street in front of her house, she always made me go to the corner and cross.  Yes, I walked to the corner (only two houses down) every time to cross the street.  My cousins would just run across from any side but me, I went to the corner.  

Nanny was very adamant about keeping the Sabbath day holy.  The only music she allowed all day was her Mahalia Jackson albums and the gospel programs on the radio.  Sometimes we sit in her living room (something we rarely did) and listen Mahalia sing.  Nanny would sit in her favorite chair and I would sit on sofa (that was covered in plastic).  Unlike my parent’s house, Nanny's sofa was covered in plastic.  I didn't know why nor did I understand it then.  All I remember was getting up with the plastic stuck to my legs every time I stood up.  I remember only sitting in there when Nanny allowed it.  Other times we would sit on the porch while the records/program played.  I wouldn't change those moments with her for anything in the world.  I loved the times we spent together.

                      Nanny and Uncle Clem in front of their house in Detroit

Alpha and Omega Spiritual Church of Christ (Detroit, MI)
Photo courtesy of Google Maps


My cousin Lisa (Aleshia) and I on Easter Sunday April 1967 (both of us are 4 yrs old).  Notice how I am not sitting on the sofa (covered in plastic).  Nanny had very good taste, look at the gorgeous sofa and the beautiful curtains.  

Easter Sunday, April 1967
Standing l-r: Halima's sister, Uncle Clem, cousin Peter, Halima  (Lisa's mother), Nanny.  Second Row:  Aleshia (always called Lisa), her cousin, me.  Front row: Lisa's cousin.  The stoop that I always sat on is on the left next to Lisa.

                                       Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church (Standing Rock, AL) 
                                                     (final resting place for Gloria, Nona and Odessa)
                                              photo courtesy of Kathy Brown

 Know that you are VICTORIOUS in every situation, because..."Thanks be to God who always causes us to TRIUMPH in Christ"... 2 Cor 2:14