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Hardy Jackson’s Alabama

Illustration by Dennis Auth

In praise of church ladies

STORY BY HARDY JACKSON

My mama was a “church lady.”

So was my Grandma Jessie, whose father came back from the Civil War, wounded, and became a Methodist minister. She lived across the street from the church and every time its doors opened, she was there.

Church ladies taught the children, organized the events, fed the bereaved families after funerals, and did the church doings that wouldn’t get done if it were left to the men.

Men may preach and pontificate, but the women did the heavy lifting.

But I don’t think I fully understood the influence that these ladies had until a member of our congregation passed away and left the church a pile of money, a lot of land, an impressive stock portfolio, and a house full of family antiques.

The dearly departed was one of the town eccentrics. Despite her affluence, she dressed like a bag lady, and where she lived seemed to be falling down around her. She was a spinster, and her family consisted of a handful of cousins whose efforts toward her improvement were pointedly rejected.

Her only known association with the church was regular attendance at the free Wednesday night supper.

The men of the church were overjoyed at the bequest and immediately formed a committee to inventory the estate. (Ever notice that when money is involved men become less willing to leave the ladies in charge?)  The committee (with its male majority) hired an appraiser to put a price on the house and its contents.

Church ladies were not happy.

“The place is full of family things,” they protested, “and they should stay in the family.”

“She wanted it all to go to the church and we should respect her wishes,” was the reply.

Church ladies were not happy.

Family members bought what they could afford.

Church ladies were still not happy.

Then it was discovered that packed up in a box, overlooked and uninventoried, was a complete set of antique Haviland china that had been in the family since forever.

And with the appraiser gone, it was up to the committee to price and sell it.

That was when the church ladies took their stand.

They trooped into the meeting, led by a blue-haired matron, a retired school teacher, whose prodigious memory and record of personal piety made her both feared and respected. They took seats on one side of the table. The men settled uneasily along the other.

“A cousin wants to buy the Haviland for her granddaughter,” their leader announced.

“And what is a fair price for these fine antiques?” asked the committee chairman, who didn’t know Haviland from Valvoline, but figured anything that old was worth a lot.

“One dollar.”

“One dollar for each piece?” the chairman asked, seeing where this was going and trying to at least soften the blow.

“One dollar,” came the reply, with it a look, mirrored on every female face at the table, which dared the men to oppose her.

And they didn’t.

The surrender was complete. The cousin paid the dollar. The china stayed in the family.

To no one’s surprise, the church ladies had their way.

 

Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.