My grandmother, Annie Mae Jones, and I would sing around the house. I remember this in technicolor even while so many other memories of her fade now to washed-out grays and blues. I remember watching the soap opera, Another World together. I remember us watching the games shows, Concentration and Jeopardy with Art Fleming. And I remember the two of us singing. I credit those song-filled afternoons with tuning my ear and shaping my harmonizing skills.
Whether we used a hymnal or not evades my report, although a hymnal most definitely would’ve been available if needed. The frayed, red, Baptist Hymnal was a fixture in the apartment she shared with my aunts, along with a trusty King James and some albums—James Cleveland and Mahalia Jackson no doubt.
As I think more on it, I can’t imagine that Sweetie and I — that’s what we called my grandmother— would have needed a hymnal when the songs of the faithful were planted, watered and fertilized Sunday after Sunday in God’s House.
Sweetie would arrive Sunday mornings at Brooklyn’s Bethany Baptist Church and slowly ascend the building’s stone steps. I’d escort her into the sanctuary, down the far right aisle and over to her spot midway down that row of pews — a distance from the pulpit, an arm’s length or two from the stained glass’ radiant glow. Right now, I see her clear as daylight hobbling down the aisle, her cane leading the way.
On non-Children’s Choir or Youth Choir Sundays, I’d sit beside my grandmother in “her” spot on “her” pew, belting out the congregational hymns’ harmonies, working my darnedest to compete with the gargantuan pipe organ.
Hymns are restorative, reassuring and reaffirming. Raised in unison in the congregation of believers, they provide a glimpse of a Heaven that would be. Lifted in solitude, they bind you to the community of saints now and long departed; they update your contract with the unseen HE:
I am Thine, O Lord I have heard Thy voice And it told Thy love to me.
At the piano this afternoon, I played that while Sweetie and I sang.
(C)Copyright 2020, Jonathan Clarke, All rights reserved