Sunday mornings take me home

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, August 1, 2012

by James D. “Archie” Howell

I remove the bottle of Griffin’s Scuff Coat Brown shoe polish from its box stored alongside a bottle of Griffin’s Scuff Coat Black in a shoeshine box, which, in turn, is stored in a closet among other items that have no definable purpose sufficient to have their own storage space.

The shoeshine box contains a bottle of Griffin’s white shoe polish, also, along with discarded underwear or undershirts, used to clean shoes or buff shoes to a higher shine with a different polish, stored in flat tins. The waxy smell is familiar and comforting.

I remove the laces from my shoes and use a brush, also stored with the polishes and rags, to remove most of the accumulated dirt from my shoes. Both the brown and black polishes have a dauber attached to the screw-on lids of each bottle.

The white polish has a small square of brush-like material to distribute the liquid over whatever article is being renewed. The white polish is more challenging to use; it’s for grownups. My shoes are brown.

I shake the bottle as directed, open the lid and squeeze a little of the liquid from the dauber against the bottle neck. I’m told this will help with undesirable drips when moving from the bottle to the shoe. I believe.

In short order, my scuffed, worn shoes have a smooth, shiny surface to present to the world, and our church.

It’s Sunday morning.

I replace the laces in my shoes and find my best pants and shirt. I’m sometimes permitted to wear a tie, borrowed from an adult. Sometimes I’m instructed to wear a tie, borrowed from an adult. Either way, I get dressed up in my Sunday best.

I can hear music in the distance. It’s coming from our radio, tuned to that station that plays gospel music on Sunday mornings. I hear quartets mostly. I guess four part gospel music is the accepted model for getting in the right frame of mind for church.

I hear:

“Let us — have a little talk with Jesus,
Let us — tell him all about our troubles,
He will — hear our faintest cry,
He will — answer by and by.
You will — feel a little prayer wheel turning,
You will — know a little fire is burning
You will — find a little talk with Jesus
Makes it right.”

The bass lead and harmony is just right to move the spirit into a thankful mood. This is the only morning the radio is tuned in and turned up so most of us can hear it.

My mother dons her best Sunday frock, and has a purse ready to go. My father puts on his Sunday suit, with vest and tie, and removes his dress hat from its storage box in their wardrobe.

A call goes out to all within earshot, and we load up in our truck for the two-mile ride to our church, Joyner’s Church. We usually show up for worship services, after Sunday school. Sometimes we do both. God is flexible.

It’s left turn at the crossroads, across the railroad tracks at Isaacs (I see vehicles gathered at Pleasant Shade Baptist Church at Isaacs), round the bad curve and park among the pine trees at our church.

White painted posts line the sidewalk in front of the building, and a couple of steps lead to the front door. It’s a small building, just large enough for a small community.

Inside the front door are two classrooms, on either side, with windows that open up into the main sanctuary. For Sunday school, and for most services, the windows are closed.

At the far end, the pulpit is bounded on both sides by classrooms. A back door opens up from the left room to the side yard. Our choir uses this entrance for access to their place behind the pulpit. I’m sure other uses are made of the entrance for different occasions.

We take our places among people that we know from long association. They are our neighbors, our friends and business acquaintances.

There are the Cobbs, Joyners, Vaughans, Scotts, Edwardses, Carters, Vicks, Blythes (pronounced Bly), Storys and a sprinkling of other names. They are my playmates and vacation Bible school classmates. They will become familiar faces from the past when I visit in future years.

Close harmony remains a favorite kind of music today. I can hear the lilting notes of two-part “Whispering Hope” on windless nights. I can smell fresh polish on my shoes; I can see my father remove his dress hat from its box and hear the somewhat scratchy sound of a gospel quartet.

It’s Sunday morning. I am home.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at