Brandon Carter

Coffee on Sunday

Verna Mae was always the first one to shout in service, and hers was the catalyst for the frenzy that followed.Even at the height of the madness, her voice could be heard above the rest, shouting, “Yes Lord!” or “Bless him!” or “Amen!” With spotted hand outstretched toward some unseen spirit, she would often howl until she was hoarse and hissing, short of breath.

This was expected of her every Sunday, needed even.She assumed that they would simply bust if she were not there to initiate the worship.She often waited to fire off her shout to enjoy the rapid tension that ensued.She didn’t hold any official position in the church, but she was a leader nonetheless.She knew she had more authority than all the men put together, though she hardly used it, and even then, just to scold some unfortunate child.Her reproach, in these cases, was full of attitude and daring, as if wishing the child into rebuttal. In which case she would feel justified in both lifting them by the arm and whipping their behind, and telling them they were going to Hell for their bad behavior.Their parents didn’t seem to mind this at all.

Photograph by Brittany Gambrel

Verna’s life at home was not much different than that at church.She was not recognized as the head of her household, but both her husband and she knew who was really in charge.If he was asked to do something, he did not hesitate, almost jumping to the task, nervous and clumsy.At the hint of insubordination, she would stop altogether, cock her head to the side, and raise her eyebrows as to ask, “Really?” Staring from the top of her head, she resembled a bull about to charge.

time a member of church came to supper, she would surely bring out her snakes.She would offer them to those around the table, but they would always refuse, allowing Verna the satisfaction.She made it a point to do everything with them wriggling around her arms; pouring coffee was her favorite.She would reach across the table, rather than walk around, to pour a cup, careful to see her guests’ uneasy stares or squirms as the snakes slid down from her wrists. This never got dull for her, regardless of how many cups her husband would gulp down. As soon as her company would leave she would always scold her husband for not drinking more, though he had drank as much coffee as he could hold.Afterwards, she would recline in her old, worn rocking-chair and recall their dinner, asking, “Did’ya see the way Emma slid near under the table?” She would laugh at this and sigh.It would be another week before she had more company.-e-