Birmingham is sunny. The weather is chilly, but not unpleasant. I am in a tiny church, sitting beside my cousin, his wife, and his three kids. His two girls wear white dresses.
Times have changed. Once upon a time, I remember when all girls wore Sunday dresses. Today, I don’t see more than four or five in the congregation.
Also, I don’t see any penny loafers on the little boys. As a boy, my mother never let me attend church without wearing a pair of god-awful loafers.
There are forty-two people in this room. Elderly couples, young families, a few high-schoolers, some children. It’s a trip back in time. A reminder of the days when Sunday school teachers taught us to say grace by rhyming:
“God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food…”
The congregation sings from hardback hymnals. Then, a sermon from a man with white hair, who pronounces “Lord” as “Lowered.”
The pastor tells us that he and his wife have been married for fifty-two years. The church applauds. Fifty-two years is a rarity.
He got married in 1967—when Andy Griffith was still on the air. That’s when he inherited his first church, in Tennessee, too.
When the pastor and his wife moved into their first parsonage, his wife placed a large cardboard box beneath her bed, she warned the pastor never to touch it.
“This box is private,” she explained. “Promise me you’ll never open it.”
He crossed his heart and hoped to die. For fifty-two years, the Baptist man honored his word.
Until a week ago. He opened the box and it surprised him. Inside, he found it full of cash and four eggs.
He confessed to his wife what he’d done, then asked her about the box.
“Well,” she explained, “when we married, my mama said, ‘Darling, a preacher’s wife has to listen to a lot of bad sermons. Every time you hear a really bad sermon, place a hen’s egg in the box.’”
The preacher thought about this. He felt very proud of himself.
“You mean, after fifty-two years, I only preached FOUR bad sermons?” he shouted. “That’s marvelous! But, what’s all the money for?”
“Well,” his wife went on, “Whenever I’d collect a dozen eggs, I’d sell them for cash and put the money in the box.”
Church lets out. It’s time for lunch. We have a few options. We could go to the city and fight hungry crowds—along with two hundred thousand Birminghamites.
Or, my cousin’s wife suggests, we could do Sunday dinner at her aunt’s house.
We choose the latter. We pile into an SUV and ride backroads, weaving northward through the hills of Jefferson County.
Finally, my cousin arrives at a yellow house, located on acres of green. The kids leap from the vehicle and run for parts unknown.
“Don’t get your clothes dirty!” their mother hollers.
They ignore their mother.
So my cousin’s wife tackles her children, smacks their hindparts with her bare hands, and warns them to never ignore her again. Then, she asks for forgiveness from the Lord because it’s Sunday.
Inside, the house is pure heaven. Women in the kitchen are dusting a counter with flour, stamping biscuits with a glass. Men gather in the den, swapping stories—telling blatant lies about fish, deer, and women they’ve known.
Children chase one another. Most have already gone outdoors and ruined their Sunday clothes.
A Labrador, named Big Al, is following anyone who smells like food. Today, it must be me. He sits beside my feet and gives me The Look.
Now it’s time to eat.
Twenty-three people gather in the kitchen. We all come from from different walks of life. There are eleven Baptists; six Methodists; five Episcopalians with more money than a show horse could jump over; and a handful of children with grass-stains on their clothes.
Everyone joins hands to pray. One elderly uncle suggests that his eight-year-old niece say grace. A girl steps forward. She is a towhead, wearing a dress. She clasps her hands.
“God is great,” she begins. “God is good, let us thank him for our food…”
We all know the words, and we say them in unison. We smile at each other, not just because we’ve been saying this rhyme since childhood, but because this is one of the few things in life that hasn’t changed.
Everything changes. Friends come and go. So does happiness. Careers die. Loved ones pass from this world. Life throws a wrench into every plan you ever had, then it bills you for the damage.
But on Sunday, for a few hours these things don’t exist. We see old friends, we eat meals around big tables. Preachers deliver goose-egg sermons. Women bless us with flour and cholesterol. And we say childish prayers.
It all reminds me that somehow, by some great miracle, we all are fed.
So thank you God, for daily bread.