The Alabama poet Jeanie Thompson titled a book of her poems WHITE FOR HARVEST. That came to mind yesterday as I walked out the front doors of a small church on Gunwaleford Road. I had just attended a worship service. Frank Johnson--the man you have read about before in this blog, the man who grows a large field of peas every year and invites all his friends and neighbors to help themselves--Frank was there. Along with his nephew and a couple of sisters-in-law.
It had been that kind of September weekend you wait and hope for. After a cool night of sleeping hard with the windows open, I awoke to a slight chill that was shooed away with a cup of hot coffee. I smiled to think of yesterday's football games as lavender wisps of fog burned off the surface of the lake with the first warm rays of morning sun. The leaves on the trees were still green, but a few low branches on the waterfront sweet gums blushed with color. As the sun climbed, the sky became a deeper shade of blue. Not quite October blue on blue. But getting there. The last of the migrating hummingbirds buzzed the feeders that I would take up at the end of the day, wash, and put away until next year.
On and off for the last twenty years that my family has been coming out Gunwaleford Road, the people at the small church a half mile away have asked us to visit. Today I ate a leisurely breakfast on the screened porch, showered, and peered into the closet to pull out what might pass as church clothes. We timed our arrival so we could get there late and sit in the back. Our plans failed when the preacher, Brother Melvin, spotted us and shook our hands, pulling us right up front to sit on the second pew. A man who arrived at at the same time we did, a barrel-chested man wearing a football jersey,sat right behind us.
It would not be right for me to tell you everything that happened. That's something you need to go see and decide for yourself. There was no piano, no stained glass windows. No electric guitars or choir robes. The barrel-chested man turned out to have a baritone voice that needed no microphone, no amplifier. After the song leader led several standard songs from the hymnal, the barrel-chested man walked to the front and sang from his heart, the rest of us answering his call, line for line. You didn't have to have a hymnal to sing that song: if you had lived that song, you would know how to sing it, the barrel-chested man just supplied us with some words. Then Brother Melvin took his place at the podium and defined synecdoche better than my literature professors ever had. He gave it a French pronunciation; they had used the Latin.
On the way out the door after the service, tall Frank Johnson waited to shake my hand. I told him the truth, that I was going to eat his peas for lunch. He laughed out loud. I noticed he was wearing a big yellow Obama pin. I asked him why the only Obama sign I had seen was the one in front of his sister-in-law's house. "They steal the signs at night and throw them away" was all he said, with a smile.
And then I am walking out those two front church doors, out of the protected shade of the church building out into the bright hot sun. After my eyes adjust I see, just across Gunwaleford Road, mile upon mile of rolling rows of white cotton, all ready for the machines to come and pick it and take it down the road to the gin. All that cotton, its bolls burst open, was at its peak, just sitting there, waiting. By November the rains will have come and all that's left will be mud and stalks, the lay of the land exposed to winter. But today the fields were white for harvest, perfect and hopeful, under a warm blue sky.