“Be pretty (but it sounded like “purdy”),” she said that Sunday as she dragged me along by my seven-year-old hand. It was her way of saying for me to behave. We passed the cemetery beside the little white church. It seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. She was wearing her Sunday best, a light blue polyester pantsuit. It was one she had probably made herself, with those same bony hands that taught me to draw and tried her best to teach me to crochet. I had spent many afternoons in her tiny kitchen as she taught me arts and crafts, but this was the first time I had been to church with her.
Inside, the walls were bare and the floors dark wood, the wooden pews had no cushions. It was a lot different than the Methodist church my family usually attended, a city church with its green carpet and pillowed pews. The room was bare, just a small crowd of people who seemed so old to me. She kept introducing me as “her little great granddaughter.” They all knew “Mrs. Ruth.” She was “Momma Ruth” to me and all her other grandchildren and great grandchildren. She was all snow white hair and squishy hugs, the mother of a grandfather I never knew and all of my great “aints.”
There was no organ, no piano and no choir, yet the old hymns were comforting. “Bringing in the Sheaves” and “The Old Rugged Cross” were familiar; the Methodists sang them too. There was a certain sweet rhythm in the way all those white heads bobbed in time with the melodies. “A cappella” I learned later. Instruments were not part of the service at Camp Creek Primitive Baptist Church.
I don’t remember the preaching, but after the singing, some of the members began to pour water into basins on the floor. They placed a chair in front of each basin of water and began to line up. I was settled into a chair off to the side and told this was “grown up business.” I watched curiously as all the members of this little church, these old friends began to take turns washing each other’s feet.
Sunday best meant a little more than Mrs. Ruth putting on her best pantsuit.