If you know anything about people of color, it’s this: Sunday is church day. No matter who you are, what job you do, and how much money you have or don’t have, in my neighborhood on Sunday people attend church. Anything outside of that is considered sacrilege.
The blocks that make up my community consist of brownstone houses. There are two grocery stores, one fish market owned by Mr. Martin & son, one liquor store and a laundromat. Also, there are Ms. Handy’s candy store and Ms. Shirley’s beauty parlor.
During the week, the streets are busy with the usual activities of the number runners going door to door taking bets for illegal numbers, mothers hustling their children off to school, and men waiting for rides to go to work.
The ice truck arrives every morning just before Mr. Martin receives the fish for his market. Everyone else is busy opening their shops getting ready for a day of business. The rule in the neighborhood is that the liquor store doesn’t open until noon, a strict code of conduct that is respected because folks around here don’t believe it is right for anyone to start drinking before lunch time.
Ms. Handy opens her candy shop just in time to greet the mothers coming back from school after picking up their children. On some days when the mothers have time, they hang around the counter drinking soda pop and running their mouths, while the children sit outside eating whatever treat they are allowed to have before supper.
The older men who don’t work linger around the liquor store passing around a bottle of Thunder Bird, each taking a sip, telling dirty jokes and repeating the same war stories. In this area nobody looks down on these men because most of them served this country by volunteering to go to war. This is a community where everybody knows everybody and people help those in need and don’t look kindly on strangers or, as the elders would say “Those who don’t fit in”. Mostly, they are talking about people outside the colored race.
Friday is payday: this means that the men come home early and women put on their best dresses, because payday means grocery shopping and a visit to the White Castle on the other side of town. For the families who don’t own a car, it is up to the men to do a head count and double everybody up. These weekly outings mean a break from cooking for the women, quality time for the men, and the children consider eating at White Castle fine dining.
Sometimes on a Friday Mr. Martin will host a fish fry at his house that also doubles as a card game. Each family takes turns going by the house buying fish dinners, and Mr. Martin gives free ice cream to the children. When it starts to get late, women take the children home and most of the men stay behind to play poker. Another special part of each Friday is that is one night that the older children are allowed to stay up an hour past their normal school night bedtime.
There is a different rhythm to the activities on Saturday. The men get up early to wash their cars, while children watch cartoons and eat bowls of sweet cereal, allowing time for mother’s to clean the house and prepare for Sunday. After the house chores are done, most of the mothers leave their children with the fathers or at grandma’s house so that they can keep their appointments at Ms. Shirley’s beauty parlor.
No matter how busy Saturday is the golden rule is Saturday is the day before the Lord’s day. People take this seriously. They believe that it is the Lord who blessed them to have jobs, a roof over their heads, and food to eat, so it is only right to give Him one day.
Preparing for Sunday means that the men shine their Sunday shoes the old-fashioned way, gather their male children to inspect their suits, and teach them how to tie a tie. Women young and old scrutinize their closet for their best dresses and hats. Mothers instruct the oldest daughter in the house to choose outfits for the younger children to be pressed, which has to be done on Saturday night because church going folk don’t Iron clothes on the Lord’s day.
Before the sunset on Saturday, the liquor store is the first to close early and the other stores follow. The last wash at the laundromat is 3pm, and no bets can be taken after closing time because numbers don’t come in on a Sunday. The noise in most homes starts to fade around eight o’clock PM. Children are put to bed no later than nine o’clock PM. Over the course of the night, both parents help with the food preparation for Sunday’s meal.
When the sun rises Sunday morning, the first thing that one notices is that the streets are quiet; there are no number runners and the grocery stores don’t sell beer on Sunday. The smell of Sunday dinner cooking and gospel music can be heard throughout the area. Right after breakfast the men will leave the house to go and put gas in their cars. The mothers bathe and dress the children and sit them down in the living room to wait.
Even if you don’t go to church, everyone respects the Lord’s day. No one considers himself to be what some people would refer to as a “holy roller,” because people believe that what they are doing is being obedient to the will of God. The majority of the people around here are members of the same church, Bring it on Baptist, and the Pastor is Reverend Getright. On Sunday full names turns into church title such as sister, brother, mother, deacon, and trustee.
The church day begins with Sunday school. Pastor Getright says “Sunday school sets the tone for Sunday Service”. Sunday school is taught by the elders, meaning the church mothers and deacons. Pastor says that “it’s good to keep the elders, involved in the church activity.” He says, “Its’ cause they have life experience.”
Most, if not all, of the children and young adults attend Sunday school. These classes are where most of the children learn The Bible Basic, and as you get older you move from junior class, to young adult, and finally to adult class, and someday become a Sunday school teacher. For me the best part of Sunday school is the snacks after classes are over.
One thing about church ladies it’s this, they can bake. I’m not taking about pouring the cake mix out of the box, adding water, and then baking. No, these sisters bake from scratch; they use real lard, lots of butter, and make their own icing. I heard some of the older sisters say that the recipes they use have been in their family for generations.
Well, I don’t know about generation of recipes, all I know is that the cakes are good!
While the Sunday school crowd is having their snacks, it is the duty of the ushers and deacons to prepare the sanctuary for morning worship. Beside the Sunday meal, the morning service is considered the highlight of the day.
During the preparations, we can hear the organist playing hymns, warming up the organ, the drummer resetting his drums, and the choir gathering in the back room, putting on their robes and praying, asking God to help them to sing for His glory. Although this is a Baptist church, it’s modern by today’s standards. As I was told the Baptist people from down south didn’t start out with musical instruments; they sung a capella clapping their hands to keep the beat.
Well, I’d better move this story along, because Sunday dinner is waiting and there is nothing better than Sunday supper, followed by homemade cake; and if we are lucky we get to go see some of our friends in the neighborhood, which means another piece of cake.
On Sundays people behave differently. There is a lot more laugher, the men sit at the dinner table longer, and the women aren’t in a hurry to clean after dinner. When the day starts to come to an end, families slowly make their way back to their homes. The scene is something out of a movie; the men put sleeping children in the cars, while the women say their goodbyes. The quietness of the evening is kept while each house is preparing for the start of another busy week.
In their rooms children whisper about how much fun they had, and wives and husbands talk over the things that need to be done during the week. One by one the lights go out; the activity of the day will remain in their minds until the next Lord’s Day.