The Wailing Sound
© Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch
Winner--2018 Biographical Nonfiction
The Old Lady lived in a not-so-nice-anymore trailer on the backside of her daughter's property. It was a lonely existence. She had little to occupy her time and now she had few friends because most of them had died.
She had been told by the doctor to walk some every day, an undertaking she dreaded, but faithfully executed, because she wanted to experience a few more good years.
After two months, she was finally able to walk more than a block where a small market was located. The clerk was a friendly character who let her rest on a chair before returning home.
Today she asked him about the wailing sound she heard every time she approached the store. “It's the Pentecostal Church”, he replied. Curiosity consumed the Old Lady. That day, after her rest, instead of heading home, she turned in the direction of the Church.
As she approached the old wooden building, the structure appeared to strain and groan almost to bursting from the sheer volume of the sound. Religious fervor combined with African melody penetrated the walls, filling the air outside with undeniably beautiful music. The Old Lady sat down on the steps of a nearby home to listen.
About 30 minutes later the singing stopped and one by one the members of the choir emerged. The women were dressed as if in a fashion show, many with pendulous breasts resting atop protruding abdomens, and topped with huge hats which appeared to give them the balance of tightrope walkers. The men, wearing suits, seemed uncomfortable as they walked stiffly by their sides, dog-eared choir books tucked under arms and held in place by heavily ringed hands.
All were engaged in the friendly banter of those who are comfortable with each other because of common purpose and long standing relationships. As they passed by, the Old Lady felt shabbily dressed, alone, and a bit envious.
Nearly every day after that, she made her way to the steps by the Church. She heard the same hymns more than once but she was unfamiliar with all of them. Sometimes she could make out all of the words. Sometimes she just got the drift.
Late one afternoon, after the singers had passed by, she slipped into the the back of the Church and appropriated a choir book. The Old Lady had always loved to sing. She had a strong clear soprano voice that carried a tune, but she had never sung music which required this kind of gusto and commitment.
Now she took her place on the steps, singing along with the chorus, imagining herself standing in the back row of the choir belting out the hymn. Realistically, she did not believe that she would ever be welcomed inside without the proper clothes, and because of her skin color.
One day a lone man left the church during the singing and walked over to the steps. His approach was nonthreatening. White hair shining in the sun, he wore a fashionable suit with a purple vestment around his neck. His voice was deep and compelling. “Do you want to come inside the Church?”, he asked. The Old Lady was embarrassed by her walking clothes but she thanked him for the invitation. She assured him that some day she would do just that.
At home she dug deeply into storage containers to locate a couple of outfits that she had used in the past when she had to argue cases in court. Finding her jewelry box, she carefully chose a matching set of large earrings and a necklace. The second hand store provided her with an elegant felt hat.
Taking the choir book with her, she slipped into the last row of pews in the Church... The interior was well lighted. A large organ located to the left of the choir belted out a hymn. The organist, an ancient, shriveled woman with thick glasses, was sweating profusely, her eyes closed. The Pastor, who turned out to be the white haired man, appeared to be lost in another dimension with his efforts to communicate with God.
She had not anticipated the physical movements of the singers. They rocked from side to side in perfect unison. Hands waving in the air, exhorting the Almighty to listen. People in the pews rocked as well in the opposite sideways direction. These waves of motion gave the illusion of a huge crowd when in reality only about 50 people were in the Church. From time to time someone in the pews cried out, “Yes, Lord!”. The overwhelming emotion in the Church was joy.
The Old Lady sang along with the congregants. On the one hand, she felt that she had melded into the crowd. On the other hand, she knew that everyone had seen the old white lady in the back pew and they were as curious about her as she was about them. She had absolutely no idea what she would do or say when the singing stopped.
When the hymns had run their course, she glanced up from her book. A hundred dark eyes stared directly at her, studying her silently. The Old Lady stood, all six feet of her, and called out to the crowd: “Thank you for letting me come to your Church to sing your beautiful music!” The “Amens” came flying at her from every direction.
So it was, that the Old Lady dug out the rest of the clothes she had in storage. She bought two more hats and became an active member of the Bible Rock Pentecostal Church, the tallest member of the choir in the middle of the back row.
She was never lonely again.
Epilogue: The Old Lady lived another ten years.
When she died, the white haired Pastor planned and executed a celebration worthy of a dignitary. Her place in the choir's back row remained empty, as a kind of “Missing Woman—Gone to Heaven” formation.
The music was never better. All who listened declared that she would have loved these hymns sung in her honor. The church ladies cried for the “Sister” they had lost.
Local children planted flowers next to the steps where she had first heard the music she loved. They reminded everyone about how an old white lady had become a member of their Church.
The wailing sound continues to dominate the neighborhood—as it always did.