Our story takes place on a bright Sunday morning. It was a story told to me, by the 48-year-old granddaughter of an anonymous Alabama woman.
It happened long, long ago, during an era which, to you and me, seems ancient. It was an age when homes were lit with gas lanterns. The Civil War had been over for several decades. The automobile was becoming a thing.
And on this particular Sunday morning, a poor blond girl in a rural Alabama town found something lying near a church sidewalk.
The orphan girl was outside playing. She wore a rag dress. Her shoes had dollar-sized holes in them.
She came from unfortunate circumstances. Her parents died, she was being raised in a loveless, poverty-stricken home by a drunk uncle. It was a house full of violent people. Her uncle made her sleep in a chicken shed whenever he wasn’t smacking her around.
Beside that church sidewalk she saw something glittery, lying in the grass. A golden pendant. She lifted it into her baby hands.
It was the prettiest thing she had ever seen. It must have belonged to someone in the church house.
It was an African-American church, and the place was busy that morning. Crowded to capacity. Because, like I said, it was Sunday morning.
The girl, with her torn dress and unwashed hair was not dressed for church, but she figured someone inside was missing a necklace. So she marched up the steps and into the clapboard meeting house.
The first thing she realized was that the chapel was HOT. People were fanning themselves. Women wore hats, men wore sweat-stained suits. And everyone seemed so happy.
She searched for an adult to return the necklace to, an usher maybe? Perhaps a minister?
But service was already underway. People were snug in their pews. The music began. Everyone stood. People sang loudly and clapped in rhythm.
The girl was immediately captivated…