Big Mama Low Down
by Simone Boone
Every Sunday morning, Sister Mabel packed her wriggling flesh into the tight polyester wrap that transformed her body from a loose arrangement of flesh into one that was voluptuous and curvy. She would never admit to any of the women on the Mother Board she wore a girdle. Instead she insisted that the Lord had blessed her with good genes. So, when a Tuesday night board meeting opened with the other Mothers gushing over Mabel's ability to look half her age, she felt justified in her Sunday morning constraints.
For the past few weeks, Mabel and the Mothers had sat aside the regular business in order to ready the church for the Pastor's Anniversary service. Mabel had organized programs, contacted visiting churches and directed the other Mothers to prepare food and purchase gifts. She and Sister Patty had even been planning to perform a special duet rendition of "Sin Doesn't Live Here Anymore," so it was even more important for her to look her best. Mabel had efficiently delegated various details to the other Mothers so she would have plenty of time to spend on herself.
On the morning of the anniversary service, Mabel rose from bed and immediately went to work. After pressing her hair, she put in fat pink rollers, then polished her nails "crimson glaze" while waiting for her hair to set. When she fluffed out the heavy curls, and her hair took the shape of a perfect helmet, Mabel was overjoyed. "Perfect," she said. She had tried on several outfits before settling on the fitted pastel dress that she had purchased some time ago. It took her a while to get into it, but when she looked into the mirror, she knew she had made the right decision. To complete her ensemble, Mable crowned herself with her favorite ivory hat. "Yes, sir, you still got it," she said, smiling at her reflection.
Thirty minutes before the service began, Mabel swung open the wooden double doors of the church and marched to her designated pew. From the entrance of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Mabel and the rest of the Mother Board could be seen perched on the wooden benches to the left of Reverend Williams, amening his every declaration of Christian duty. The Reverend's podium was at the center of the entire pulpit area, which was elevated on five-foot risers and encased by a shiny brass railing that seemed to draw more attention to the church authorities. Mabel had sat on the board for eleven years and had been head Mother for the past five. It was she who insisted the Mothers be in their seats fifteen minutes before service began. They had to set an example of proper behavior for the others. So, while the Mothers took their positions and various members filed in, Mabel held her head high and scanned the crowd below.
"Patty, would you look at the way Judy's brought her little girl to church," she whispered. "Runnin' around with hair nappy as a goat's behind, and legs just as ashy as they wonna be."
"Well," Patty responded. "You have to forgive 'em. These young babies is havin' babies and don't know no better." Patty Jenkins had sat quietly on the Mother Board for as long a Mabel. As always, she nodded in agreement to Mabel's observations, never challenging Mabel but not quite accepting her statements either.
"Well, if you ask me, she ought to know how to put some lotion on them legs, some grease in that child's head, and tell that little idget to sit still." Mabel shook her head with distaste. "Shoot, this is the Lord's house, not the projects. You'd think folks would know how to act."
Since Mabel was busy inspecting the membership, she didn't notice that Reverend Williams was approaching her. He was the youngest pastor Mount Pleasant had ever taken on and was known for his fiery sermons. At only thirty-two, he often preached about the life of sin he left behind when he got the call. "Who needs drugs when you can get high on Jesus," he would preach. Since his arrival five years ago, the congregation had seen a steady increase in membership, especially young people. On a Saturday nights he could often be found outside the local bars recruiting new members. "The sinner is the one who needs the grace of the Lord most," he would tell them.
Reverend Williams was also the nephew of Sister Patty Jenkins, and it was she who had brought his name to the table for discussion at one of the Tuesday meetings when it was discovered that Reverend Lloyd, the former pastor, had "borrowed" two hundred dollars from the building fund. "He's changed," Patty urged. "He sure could use a break."
"Well," Mabel said. "I don't know about these young pastors. They like to turn the church into a jook joint. But I guess if we steer him in the right direction, he'll do." Nobody, not the members or the Mothers, had expected Reverend Williams to do such a fine job of taking charge.
"Good morning, Mothers," he said. "And Sister Mabel, don't you look nice today."
"Thank you, Reverend Williams," she replied. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Well, the Mt. Zion choir is going to be performing today, and..."
"Oh, I hear they can really croon," Mabel interrupted.
"Yes, they are," he replied. "And, well, they have given me their selections, and it looks like they are planning to sing the same song you and Sister Patty wanted to sing. And since they are visitors, I feel they should be given priority. Perhaps you could perform your version next Sunday at regular services."
"Reverend," Mabel said tightly. "Patty and I have worked mighty hard on this song. We won't be put off."
"Oh, I'm not putting you off indefinitely," he replied. "But these people have come all this way, and we should make them feel welcome." The reverend's flowing black robe brushed across Mabel's leg as he turned and headed toward the pulpit.
Mabel crossed her legs abruptly and then recrossed them. She drew in a deep breath but only released part of it back into the air. "Can you believe him Patty," she whispered. "We've worked on this for weeks."
"Well," Patty said. "I heard the Mt. Zion choir is really good. I'm sure they'd sound better than you and I would."
"That's not the point. I've, I mean, we have prepared for this day, and he completely ignored me. Oh, forget it, Patty." Mabel tried to keep her composure while the rest of the congregation unpacked their bibles and rifled through hymnals. But before she could gather herself, Reverend Williams began the service.
"Church, turn with me to Psalms thirty two-two," he directed. "If you found the scripture, give me an amen."
The reverend continued, "The Bible says 'Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.' It is from this passage that I've based my lesson today. You see, The Laaawd, he loves us sinners. Yes he does, ha! And he knows we're all sinners," the reverend proclaimed.
"Amen to that!" the congregation responded.
"Yeah, amen," Mabel added.
"But the difference, ha! between the Lawd and us, uh ha! is that he'll forgive you and me."
While the reverend walked among the congregation, making direct eye contact with each member, Mabel thumbed an Avon booklet she carried in her purse, circling which lipstick or nail polish she planned to order, occasionally throwing in an obligatory "Amen," or "Say that."
"But you know what?" he bellowed. "There's a catch. Yes, that's right. If you want the Lawd to forgive you, ha!, you have to make known your sins, uh ha! But not to me, I'm just a man delivering His word. Tell the Lawd, uh-ha!" The reverend calmly walked up the stairs into the pulpit, and took a sip of water. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he turned to the Mother Board. Mabel's head was buried in the booklet, but she momentarily looked up and her eyes met those of Reverend Williams who immediately belted out, "The bible says that the Lawd, ha! is your hiding place. Not a fancy car--cain't hide your sins in the back seat of no Oldsmobile. I couldn't hide mine in a bottle of wine or the beds of loose women, ha! And You cain't hide who you are from the Lawd either!"
"Amen, brother, Amen!" yelled the congregation.
Mabel looked away from the reverend and mumbled to herself, "oh, you done showed your true self," before turning her attention back to the order form.
However, the Reverend's focus was fixed. Still facing the Mother Board, Reverend Williams stretched out his arms and added, "Psalms thirty two-eleven says 'Be glad in the Lord, uh ha!, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart'." Mabel shifted in her chair and looked out to see the congregation in full frenzy. Deacons were clapping their hands and stomping their feet, and new members were speaking in tongues. "Look at these fools," Mabel thought to herself. She turned to direct Patty's attention to the ridiculous display, but even she was rocking back and forth, silently entranced by the Holy Spirit.
Before Reverend Williams could continue to fill the hearts of the righteous, Sister Mabel shot out of her chair and began to yell "Thank ya, Jesus! Thank ya, Jesus!" She stabled herself by grabbing the brass railing in front of her and began jumping up and down so fiercely the entire pulpit shook. The rest of the Mothers touched each other's arms in disbelief as they felt the boom of Mabel's testimony shake their pew. She increased the velocity of her shoutings but did not realize that the cream hat atop her head had been shaken askew, or that her demurely cut skirt was creeping higher with each leap, until it was almost even with the waist-high railing that steadied her.
The reverend continued preaching the Word, but because the Mother Board was so close to the podium, his words were drowned by Mabel's guttural yells.
"Thank ya, Jesus!"
The congregation's attention shifted to Mabel's display of the Holy Ghost. With each "Thank Ya, Jesus!" more shouts erupted from the membership. Because the wooden floor thundered beneath Mabel's heavy stomps, she could not hear the sound of metal separating from metal. The congregation became quickly silent as Sister Mabel fell from the pulpit to the floor beneath her, crashing through the railing like a runner breaking the tape at a finish line. As she was falling, Mabel felt the seams of her girdle, stitch by stitch, separate between her legs, and witnessed part of her periwinkle dress torn from her body. She let out a hefty "Oh my God!" at the exact moment she hit the floor. Seconds later, the Avon order form fluttered to the ground beside her like a dove.
The rejoicing stopped, and members gawked while Mabel attempted in vain to press the folds of flesh into what was left of her undergarment. She quickly considered grabbing the protective white cloth covering the communion trays, but not before she heard Patty Jenkins whisper, "I knew she wasn't no size ten."
Mabel stiffened her face and shooed off anyone who attempted to assist her. She was determined to exit gracefully, but before she could get to her feet, the lead singer from the Mt. Zion choir began to sing. "Jesus, Je-e-e-e-sus. Sin, no si-i-i-in doesn't live here, anymore."