The long rows of mostly dying chairs were lined up neatly.  Later, when the singing would get the loudest and the tent the hottest, the chairs would be knocked over and forgotten, covering purses and white linen jackets — casualties in the Great War.  The Bibles were all lined up, just as neatly, on the bench flanking the thin metal podium the preacher would bend with his bare hands in the thick of the sermon.

I sat up front in the corner, where the whole congregation and all the visitors could see the preacher’s family.  Shoes, shined bright and tight-fitting, dangled blackly at the end of my legs.  Pants invaded by a neatly tucked shirt made a beige sea across the chair.  I had yet to speak a word long past my mother’s comfort, naught but crying had escaped me since birth and it was beginning to be a subject of conversation in the microscopic town of the Texas prairie.  A hand with a tissue came flying out from the right side of view and wiped away the sweat from my neck.  4 years old and preened like a porcelain doll.

But this was revival in summer.  Wives dressed their men in chino pants and cotton shirts, all the easier to wring out the sweat over the washer.  Women clad themselves in the brightest dresses, not too short but not full length, decorum having swung wide of comfort in the oppressive and ever-present heat.  The tent poles, long used but never loved, bent slowly as the heat rose and the sun dropped.  The fans blew at typhoon speed making a wispy wind below the brown-green canvas heaven, drowning most conversation between friends, brethren, future conversions.  All the children trying to figure out when they could slip the cloying musty breathing of adults and gasp a clear gulp of air or two by the lemonade and cake table.  I sweltered and fidgeted, longing for the window by my bed.

From beyond the bonds of earth came the first voice, singing out clearly, a single high note for pitch to the rest of the gathered.  I turned my head to smile.  The singing comes!  What A Friend We Have In Jesus, heads bobbing, shoulders rising and falling, the sway of a single body outlined in neighbors, cousins, strangers.  My hair came unglued from its perfect resting point as my head moved back and forth to the gentle rhythm.  What a shame we do not carry/everything to God in prayer!   ‘In prayer,’ came the preacher’s baritone alongside the choir like a dragonfly meeting dragonfly at the creekbed.  Oh, I can feel it in my toes, Jesus is such a friend!  The songs blend one into another and rather than my father wiping his brow with a kerchief and gently waving his hands for the gathered to sit, he piped up with his own choice.  Amen, the negro spiritual, came spilling from his throat like a golden river.  The women smiled wider, the men clapped louder.  I jumped up and danced.  Aaaaameen, amen, amen.  See the Baby Jesus.  Aaaaamen.

In that moment before everything would fall away, before betrayals and manipulation, before lies and promises, I was close to my father and to God.  God’s face had the same smile, God’s face had the same hint of barber soap and talcum powder, God’s voice had the same melodic tones as my father.  The ladies singing their part got louder, the men singing their part got lower.  The steady hum of those in the back of the tent streaming the melody while my father spoke.  ‘Gobbedly-gook and frizzynots,’ he’d say.  ‘Hallelujah!’  They yelled it above the humming.  ‘Hallelujah, Heaven Above.’  The women would smile to the back of their necks, the men would clap each other while they clapped themselves.  ‘Huzzahbevvy not fubagee!’ he’d yell.  ‘Amen, brother!  Hallelujah! Hosanna on High!’

The day and the temperature fell, the sweat of worship making clothes stick to backs and white-gloved hands pat at noses and upper lips.  Mother wrapped me up to ward off chill surely laden with pneumonia.  Carried me across the dirt street, up the three useless steps, into my room and laid me gentle in my bed.  I slept deeply.  I don’t remember if I dreamt.  But I woke up under a clear blue sky, the visions of smiles and clapping still in my mind, swimming in front of me like a movie screen I had seen in the narthex.  I smelled grease biscuits and leftover pie.  I heard my father humming Sing and Be Happy, the last day of revival.  I swung my legs out over the floor, slowly let my knees bend, my bare feet hovering over the floor, just inches.  And the moment they touched, out from my throat came ‘Hallejuah!’ at the top of my lungs.

Somewhere a razor clattered to the sink basin and my mother came running.

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