Childhood Church Memories of the Church of Christ in Haleyville (Ninth Avenue)
Submitted by Joann Holdbrooks
Voices blended as the Ninth Avenue Church of Christ sang in harmony "I'll Meet You In the Morning." Mrs. Ethel McAfee could be heard over everyone. Her lovely soprano voice seemed to glide freely over the notes and the alto, tenor and bass were enmeshed perfectly. Tom Greenhaw stood in his usual place on the right side of the communion table. His right hand went up and down and across as he led the old song with his scraggly voice. He would rise to his tiptoes in a rhythmic manner as he sang. I sat by my grandfather, Anson Lee and listened to his perfect tenor voice as he sang his favorite song. He would pat his foot and keep time with the melody. He was worshipping God in his entirety. He seemed totally unaware of his surroundings. As I watched him I was aware of how safe I felt sitting close to him and my grandmother, Daisy Lee. She sang in a low but sweet voice and much more aware of what was going on around her. She was in constant attention to the squirming child that sat beside her.
Papa was dressed in what he called his "Sunday go to meeting clothes." He rarely ever wore a tie, but left the collar of the white dress shirt open. His hair was slick to his head in a manner that it was not accustomed to. His skin was like leather. His hands were strong and gnarled with cracks in the skin that held traces of black dirt that would never come off. Moma, as I called her was quite the opposite. She was neat as a pin with every hair in place as she pulled it to the back of her head and made a coiled bun and inserted long hair pins to hold it in place. She always wore a hat and below it her oval face with eyes as blue as the sky shone brightly. Those blue eyes were always kind. But even in kindness I knew the glint when she meant business. I knew it was time to stop what ever I was doing.
This scene was repeated many times throughout my childhood years of worship at the Ninth Avenue Church. It was the foundation of my religious belief. It was a belief that I could not turn away from although I was tempted many times. It was not until I was forty years old that I was baptized into the Church. After years of agonizing and indecision this belief still held firm in the back of my mind. It was the back ground of the teachings that I received at the Ninth Avenue Church.
Sunday mornings at home were always chaos. We were all scrubbed and tubbed in the old aluminum wash tub on Saturday night. Then on Sunday morning it was Mama's task of dressing four girls that sent her up the wall. Shoes were lost and socks were mismatched. Then there was the task of fixing hair. Each one wanted their hair a different way. Mine was usually in Shirley Temple curls since Mama rolled it on long aluminum rollers. This was much to my dismay because I hated having my hair rolled. Finally all were dressed and Mama and Daddy rushed us into the shiny blue 1940 Plymouth in a huff. The trip to church was unsettling, with Mama yelling and screaming at us and Daddy pouting every mile of the way, because of all the commotion. When we entered the church doors all was well. There were smiles from Mama and Daddy and each child behaved as a lady.
We usually sang a song or two and then each individual responded and went to their respective classes, when the roll was called. In class we were handed a small card with Bible verses and stories. The teacher, usually, Mrs. Verna Parson, would read the story and talk about the lesson. After 45 minutes we were dismissed into the auditorium to begin worship services.
These services were always too long for me. I just wanted to get out of there and go home to play. Many a time I was pinched or was taken outside behind the telephone office next door, to the hedge bush. I would scream and yell. Then Mama would dry my tears and take me right back in. I can remember how new shoes burned my feet. How much I wanted to talk to Jeanette and Benny Joe. As I waited painfully for the services to be dismissed I would count the decorative tiles on the ceiling. I would watch as the sun filtered through the stained glass windows and presented a rainbow of colors. I looked at the women's hats and couldn't wait until I was old enough to wear one. Finally the last amen was voiced and I hit the door. There was usually a crowd that would stand and talk after church, but not me. I was in the car with Daddy waiting on Mama and the rest.
The old church building is still a vivid image in my mind. It does not exist now, having been torn down for progress as it was called. There was a concrete area in from of the church that led to the steps. Then there was the porch and the double doors that led into the church. On top of the building was a steeple with a huge iron bell inside it. This was home to dozens of pigeons and town sparrows. Sometimes their singing, cooing and chirping was as loud as the singing inside. I never heard the old bell ring or chime. As you entered the double doors at the back of the church everything was in full view. There was no vestibule. The pews were dark mahogany. So was the pulpit and the communion table and the Jacobean chairs that sat on each side of the pulpit. There were six cathedral shaped windows (three on each side). Around the perimeter of these windows was stained glass squares of dark blue, amber, red, and green. There was a baptistery behind the pulpit with dark green curtains covering the opening. The pews were arranged in three equal rows in the church with two aisles. In front of these pews were three rows of smaller pews turned laterally. Six ornate light fixtures hung from the ceiling by chains and beside these fixtures were ceiling fans to cool the air during the summer months. The communion table stood in front of the pulpit. It was always covered by an immaculate white table cloth with lace insertion. The lid to wine tray had a silver cross that protruded, causing a tent effect. Many time I have seen this cloth removed and the Lord's Supper served to the congregation.
Baptisms occurred regularly. It always made me nervous because I was an afraid the person would drown. I would sit all tensed up and with widened eyes as the lights were turned out for the baptism. Every one would rejoice and sing When the person was raised up from the water. I couldn't imaging what they were rejoicing about because the person was always dripping wet and looked uncomfortable.
Sometimes I wish I could go back to those innocent days of childhood. I realize that these events integrated with other life experiences have made me the person I am today. I thank God for God fearing parents and Grandparents.