Summer of 1960 When I Was 7...chapter 13.... “ it jus’ ain't done.”
The days were all much the same on that long, hot summer. Our mother would go to work during the day and Irene took care of us. She walked down the dirt road, came in the back door, took off her hat and gloves and placed them on a peg by the door and set down her purse. She came to take care of us every day except Sundays. “That’s the Lawd’s day,” she’d say.
I can’t remember Irene anywhere other than the kitchen, always washing, cooking, and ironing, while humming a church hymn. There was an old rocker between the living room and kitchen where she would sit and hold Patty or just read her Bible. She ate only out of one plate and drank out of her jelly jar. When I asked our mother why she didn’t eat with us, I was told that was just what Irene had always done. She said that Irene had watched a lot of children and we were lucky that she lived close so she could watch us. Irene knew the unspoken rules of the South. Black help never ate out of the family dishes. She had to always wear a nice, clean dress with her hair covered, and she always came in the back door never the front. And, even if our mother told her something was okay with us, Irene would gently let her know that, “No, ma’am, it jus’ ain't done.”
I felt lucky, because I loved Irene. She was big and was so nice to hug. And she would talk to me. She was never too busy for us kids. She’d be ironing and Patty would come in, stomp her foot and whine, “Take me, Irene. Take me now.” And Irene would unplug the iron and sit in the rocker and hold Patty every time.
“Irene, why does your church have so much singing?” I asked
“Oh, we like ta sing! That’s one of my mos’ favorite things to do!” she explained.
Sunday mornings and evenings I’d love to sit outside and listen to the music from the colored church on the other side of Carolyn’s house. Boy, could they sing. They’d sing and shout Amen. And I loved it. I’d watch the ladies all dressed up in their brightly colored dresses, wearing hats and gloves holding their Bibles and clutching their ever present fans, make shift paper ones and pleated fans with advertising from the stores in town. I watched as the people would enter the church with their shiny clean children held tightly in their hands, the boys in long pants and the girls in pastel dresses with braided hair filled with ribbons, bows and barrettes. Then the organ started up and the singing began! The music was the best part. The voices soared through the churches open doors sounding joyous and happy.
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!” I sang my song for Irene.
“Irene,” I stopped singing. “Do they talk about Jesus’s Momma in your church?”
“Sho’ do. Sing it for me agin, Melly. Yo sho sing a purty song.” Irene brushed Patty’s hair rocking her to sleep.
“Is she the lady in white? I asked Irene?”
“She sho is, and she love you very much. Jus’ like me.”
So with that, in my heart, Jesus’s mother was the lady in white who taught me my favorite song, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” And my heart was happy.
“Can I go to church with you sometime?” I asked.
“No, chile, you cain’t.”
I asked, “Why?”
And she just answered. “It jus' ain't done.” I’d heard that statement lots…..it’s just not done. Then, I remembered the sign at the church that said ‘Everybody welcome.”
So I’d just sit out back on Sunday mornings and listen to see if they sang, ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.’ And wonder why everyone wasn’t really welcome.
to be continued......