restricted access Chapter Twenty-Three. Carolyn and Sarah, Somerville, March 1987
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Chapter Twenty-Three Carolyn and Sarah Somerville, March 1987 After my failed flirtation with Jim Jakes, the campus cop from Mississippi, I called my mother for a dose of much-needed moral support.“You should start going to church,” she told me.“That’s where I met your father, you know.” I did know. On a trip to New York City, my father’s parents had visited Mom’s church in Harlem, bringing Dad with them. And the rest was history. “But Mom,” I began. “And where did your Grandmother Alberta meet my father?” When my mother gets on a rhetorical roll like this, there is no stopping her.“In church, of course. That’s where all the decent men are.” “Do you remember what happened the last time I tried going to church? That ridiculous preacher screaming about the Fires of Hell and the Eternally Damned? I just hate people telling me what to do.” “I’ve noticed,“Mom said dryly.“Keep it in mind, that’s all I’m saying.” Although I told Mom I would think about it, the truth was I had no interest in setting foot in another church any time soon. This remained my position until I got a call from a singer I’d met at Wally’s two days earlier. Her church was looking for a new choir director, and she thought maybe I could use the money. Use the money? The brake pads on my car were shot, Sarah needed new shoes, and I was behind on my rent for the third month in a row. Of course I needed the money. I sincerely hoped my friend’s preacher was not the Fire and Brimstone type, but the truth was, I could not afford to be picky. To postpone the inevitable “I told you so’s,” I decided not to tell Mom about my new church gig until the following week. I could almost hear Grandmother Alberta up in Heaven, laughing her behind off. Shiloh Baptist Church was located in Medford, a suburban town about six miles from the Boston city line. Its congregation consisted largely of West Indian immigrants who had lived in the same neighborhood for years. Reverend Phillips’s Jamaican-accented sermons emphasized love and forgiveness, and the congregation went out of their way to make me feel at home. The ladies, dressed to the nines in hats, heels, and little white gloves, took turns holding 117 118 Chapter Twenty-Three Sarah on their laps and plying her with forbidden treats from the depths of their voluminous handbags—peppermint candy, grape lollipops, malted milk balls, and packs of chewing gum. When I tried telling my choir members that sugar was not really good for Sarah, I was overruled. “My kids grew up on these sourballs, and they turned out just fine,” my soprano soloist informed me.“A little something sweet won’t hurt the child. She’s being such a good girl. Sweets are for the sweet. Isn’t that right, child?” My daughter, her eyes bright from the attention, the praise, and the sugar, would nod cheerfully and pop the candy into her mouth before I had a chance to object any further. As I rehearsed the choir, Sarah spread her coloring books next to the piano, singing along softly under her breath: Ride on King Jesus ride on No man can hinder me. A few weeks later, I was invited to audition for a job playing in a local blues band. After a frantic week practicing every blues tune I could think of, I drove down to the New England Conservatory and found my way to the tiny basement practice room where the auditions were being held. A white man in his mid-thirties sprang up to shake my hand. “Carolyn, my name is Ralph. That’s Dave Zox over there.” Dave pushed a forelock of brown hair out of his eyes and nodded. “And this,” he continued, “is Albert Mayle Jr. You can call him Jelly.” An enormous black man dressed in gray slacks, a white dress shirt, and a maroon beret stood in the corner next to a small upright piano. He had a knotted red silk scarf around his massive neck, and despite the fact that we were in a dark basement, he was wearing dark sunglasses. “We don’t play no hillbilly music, we don’t play no rap,”Jelly told me.“We’re strictly a jazz and blues group. Can you...


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