Minnie at Church
Deciding to rush from work to join Minnie tonight and not wanting to make her late, I had actually arrived early. I knew how much it meant to her to attend the meetings just as she had attended church regularly for her eighty-one years of life. Too late I learn she is disappointed, because when I am not here the Preacher stops by and brings her to the service. She feels special, I supposed, arriving with the Preacher. As I look around for familiar faces arriving in all manner of garb, I made a mental note to be late next time so she could be escorted the way she preferred.
There is Dr. Lee, as reticent as ever. It is my opinion she is not stuck up, but rather, she has difficulty in social situations. Her athletic shoes look strangely out of place, not for the venue, but for her. Charles enters looking troubled and carrying the dogeared spiral notebook in which he writes throughout each service. I used to think he was a serious Bible scholar critiquing the message, but today I overheard him saying something about bills as he flipped madly through the pages. Strangely, he seemed concerned about NOT receiving bills as he queried others about the status of their bills. Mr. and Mrs. Harvey arrive together and she looks more frail than in the past. Minnie had told me “Mrs. Harvey is on the verge of dialysis, but she is resisting.” I didn’t know dialysis was an optional treatment.
There’s Lena walking straight to a seat which will accommodate her should she care to lie down during the service. Some people are extremely bothered by her habit of reclining at any time and in any setting, but others hardly seem to notice. There’s a lady coming this way who I do not know. Carefully groomed, she has small delicate hands with perfectly polished nails. She doesn’t look left or right as she gets settled in the seat next to Minnie who pointedly doesn’t look at her either. Instead, she is looking enviously at the woman being escorted into the service by the Preacher.
The room is almost full now. Some faces are less familiar, but just as interesting. The piano player is getting out song books for the worshipers to share. Finally, when all are quiet and poised for the singing to begin, my favorite makes her entrance. Esther truly is an aristocratic sight as she makes her way first to greet the musician. She is wearing a navy blue blazer, oxford shirt, neatly creased trousers and low heeled pumps. Her navy purse is perfectly balanced hanging from one stately squared shoulder. She stops by each person, graciously offering her hand as she bends down ever so slightly, so she can look them directly in the eyes. As she comes closer I can hear each greeting, “So glad you came,” “Thank you for coming,” “It is so good to see you!” As she completes the circle, addressing the last person, she regally exits the room to be seen no more this evening.
Hymn books are passed, the song leader takes her place and the piano begins a cadence not unlike a funeral dirge. The hymns are old and familiar Protestant fare, including Rock of Ages, On Jordan’s Stormy Banks and The Old Rugged Cross. Charles scribbles in his book, Lena starts to ease toward a recumbent position, Dr. Lee’s face is immobile as she holds her head and song book erect. Minnie and the two Harveys are each on a different note and none are the same as the one the song leader is singing. The Preacher grins goofily at his congregation while singing loudly in the note the leader was determined to maintain.
Prayer request and praise time is next in the order of service and the Preacher begins this portion by sharing how thankful he is that he is “healthy and able to do the Lord’s work,” while looking around the room at blank faces and ailing bodies. Next, he invites the congregation to share prayer needs and praises. A small black lady in the front row said she would like prayer that she could “walk good again.” The Preacher responds, “Yes, Mrs. Long.” Another woman tearfully asks prayer for her great nephew who was paralyzed in a recent football accident. The Preacher was visibly moved and replied, “We will certainly pray for him. How hard it must be on the whole family. You know, it is so tragic for this to happen to a young man. Girls can just take this sort of thing better, but a boy knows he needs to get out into the world and work, provide for a family.” The worshippers nod in agreement. The prayer requests continue ranging from paltry to profound amid sounds of hymnals hitting the floor and people coughing and muttering. Finally, the Preacher closes prayer time with a long prayer imploring God to hear, to have mercy and “If it was in His will” to grant the requests just made. He didn’t mention the gentleman who had just shared that his “ass hurt.”
The Preacher resumed his goofy grin and began the meat of the service. He started by telling some personal anecdotes, his eyes sweeping the room for reaction. The lady with the nephew didn’t disappoint. She kept her smiling eyes glued to his face and her hearing aid tuned to his every word. Charles kept reviewing his notebook. Lena was quietly supine. Dr. Lee stared straight ahead. Just as the Preacher began to read from his text for his main event, Minnie turned to the woman beside her with the nice manicure and suddenly shook her roughly by the shoulder shouting, “Wake up! Don’t you know you are not supposed to sleep in church!” The pretty woman’s head bobbed back and forth with the shaking making me wonder whether she was asleep or deceased. Either way, I was embarrassed. The Preacher didn’t miss a beat. Dr. Lee’s expression didn’t change. Charles didn’t take his eyes off the notebook. Mr. Harvey smiled broadly. As the Preacher’s words piled higher and deeper, I let my mind wonder like many in the room had done from the beginning.
Finally the service was over and I took Minnie by the hand, leading my Mother back to her room as the attendants, one by one, escorted the other nursing home residents to their rooms.
Written 7/1/98 Revised December 2016