Coming October 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Church Lady Ways

I did something I almost never do. I wore pants on Easter, or as we call it at my church, Resurrection Sunday. In my family that is a cardinal sin right next to being bare-legged in the sanctuary. See, I am from that aristocratic hat-wearing mob of women I write about in my first novel, Soon and Very Soon that spent the majority of their Saturday either at the beauty salon or preparing Sunday dinner.

Her grandmother had a handbag to match ever pair of shoes. She always had a fresh handkerchief and several starlight mints in her bag. Grandma Cecily wore hats that made her look like a movie star. She had lots of hats from the wide brim styles to the stingy brimmed pill box styles. Even after spending hours in the salon, her grandmother would press the hat in place over the crown of her head and affix it with pins.

I couldn’t escape writing about that same brand of women in my anxiously awaited novel, The Manual, releasing this fall. God love ‘em, these women were my aunts that coveted seats in the first 10 rows of the sanctuary and shushes those around them in an attempt to maintain church decorum when the Pastor is speaking. If you were younger, in arms reach, or happen to be related to them you better comply or expect to be escorted to the bathroom (at the appropriate time) to be dealt with.

I come by it honestly. My dad was the youngest of thirteen and had nine sisters. He grew up and married him a city girl who had a job working on the weekend s in a D.C. Half Way house. My aunts were almost solely responsible for my churching traditions that they carried with them from the south. I grew up under the tutelage of these regal, no holds barred, kind of women. So every Sunday when I suit up for service I cannot help but to think of Minnie, Roxie, Naomi (Sweetie),Odessa, Beatrice, Mable, Clemmie, Claudia and Janette with fond memories.

I have had the privilege of being forced to sit still on a wooden pew for more than two hours. I have created a circulation system with a hand fan. I know about Camp Meeting revivals. I have been reprimanded with a purse strap for talking too much and soothed with a starlight mint afterward. Just like I am sure my generation couldn’t have survived slavery I am equally sure my daughter couldn’t survive going to church back then. No air condition, no toy purse filled with activities for her entertainment, no children’s church-yeah, she would die.

I’ve learned there is something majestic about a hair pin, a broach, a powder duster, and a perfume dispenser. There is something regal about a mink stool, a starched white usher uniform with nursing shoes, and a hat, bag and shoe combo. These are an integral part of a term I coined, Church Lady Ways. It speaks to an air or manner of doing things. I am not certain that they saw the church aisle as a runway. Beauty to them was not so much about vanity as it was about order. They were modest in their living but extravagant in their persona. They seem to reserve their best for Sunday.

So, do you see why I was in a quandary? Pants? With my upbringing, was I serious? The audacity of a thought crept up on me the day before Easter. I was squeamish thinking about the schedule of church and subsequent visits to my parents’ house followed by my in-law’s house. Jesus did say, come as you are, right? Plus, I figured the ‘new outfit for Easter Sunday and tennis shoes on Easter Monday’ was for the 16 and under crowd. Lord knows once we, as parents parade our kids around in leisure suits, and crenlin skirts with turned down socks we take over their appearance. We twist and pull and tug at them all day until they have taken a few hundred photos and are allowed to change clothes. I didn’t feel I could pull an outfit together under the stress of preparing for the day.

Alas, I entered my closet on Easter Sunday and couldn’t find a pair of slacks and a blouse that would satisfy my standard and comfort level- not for Easter. In the crunch of leaving so my daughter could get to the choir stand on time I managed to put together something Church Lady fly. I know, I had you thinking I wore pants, didn’t I? I figure in 39 years if I haven’t broken the trend why do it now. In the grand scheme of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection I knew, like my aunts may have known that it did not matter what I wore. Whether you are a 24/7 saint or an Easter, Mother’s Day and Christmas churchgoer, all are generally welcome on the most celebrated day on the church calendar, and that’s the way it should be. But, church ladies not only bring conservative back, they show us each and every Sunday that being traditionally pristine never goes out of style.

Sherryle Kiser Jackson is the author of Soon and Very Soon and the soon to be released novel, The Manual (October 2009), which is dedicated to her only living aunt, Janette. Her passion is to one day preserve the graceful elegance of her nine aunts and their churching traditions in a Black Memorabilia collection called Church Lady Ways.