Published January 26, 2020


Sunday school was another occasion for me to be surrounded by
strangers. We were still clean from our Saturday night baths as we scur-
ried around, half awake, getting dressed. I always felt awkward and
uncomfortable as we got ready and waited for the bus to pick us up.
Only the three of us attended Sunday school at that time: Dorcas, Jasper
Jr., and me. We were scrubbed and shiny, sporting our Sunday best.

My blotchy complexion stood out. The ointment ma used on my
pale blotches did not help, and I felt more self-conscious because of it.
Only Jasper Jr. seemed comfortable in his suit and bow tie. He was
handsome and cute with his dark brown baby face and engaging smile.

The Sunday-school bus arrived at Charter Oak Terrace from Shiloh
Baptist Church in the north end of Hartford. It was quite a distance and
a world away from where we were growing up. My mother became
associated with this church soon after moving to Hartford. She had
been raised in the Shiloh Baptist Church in New Rochelle.

Reverend Moody, the church’s pastor, was a force in the black
community. As his Negro flock dispersed throughout traditional
white sections and suburbs, he reached out to all in his congregation
via buses. Reverend Moody ensured parents that their children would
remain members of the Sunday school. Classes were taught across
the street from the church on Albany Avenue. During sessions, we
colored pictures of David and Goliath, heard stories of Daniel in the
lion’s den or Jacob’s coat of many colors, and of course, viewed
images of Jesus surrounded by little children like us.

After Sunday school we stayed for church services, because our
mother often had to accompany the choir on the piano or organ. Her
playing paid the little extra money she needed to keep us from being
penniless. I was proud to see her sitting at the piano and playing dur-
ing services.

Church was the haven where ma felt comfortable. We would go
there whenever we visited nana. My mother was highly thought of
there. Now that she had a family, she was determined that her chil-
dren reflected well on her. This admiration gave her a sense of worth
that she wasn’t getting from anywhere else in her life.

“I’m not sorry I had you kids,” she’d confess to me, “but when
you’re older I’m going back to my piano lessons, so I can perform
recitals.” I was her confidant, the only one she revealed her desires to
without criticism.

“My father, your grandfather, wrote plays. Nana’s got them in a
box under the bed. I want to publish them—get them performed,” she
stated emphatically, as she looked off into the distance. “I’m writing
poems again,” she would continue, “and I’m gonna publish them. I
can give a recital and read some of my poetry.” She’d smile as she
wrapped herself in the image.

For those few moments, every so often, she would be happy. We
would be happy. I wanted her to be happy so that I could be happy.
Her relationship with her mother was strained, the girlfriends she had
were in New Rochelle, and her husband was from another world. It
fell to me (and eventually, my siblings) to comfort this lonely woman
who had lost her dreams.

Hear The Author Show interview with William L. Ingram about writing FINDING HEAVEN IN THE DARK: