My cousin, Lynn, and I sat side-by-side every week in Sunday school, in the choir where less than a dozen people sang and on the second bench on the left side for sermons.
We even led a song together every Sunday. And sometimes, if the church was really hard up, one or both of us would play the piano. Neither of us were very good at it, but Daddy, willing to lead the suffering congregation through our sour notes, thought it was worth the learning we’d get from it.
I remember once, when I was about 14, I stopped midway through the first verse of “Trust and Obey,” and said to Royce, the song leader, “You’re singin’ too fast. Slow down.”
He chuckled and slowed it down, but I still had trouble keeping up. I think of that every time I hear the song.
Lynn and I have a deep history. We played Barbies together, trounced the woods looking for the perfect Christmas trees and even learned to parallel park in her grandmother’s yard by measuring the distance and setting out gallon jugs of water as the perimeters. In her daddy’s big Buick Electra, we practiced until we got good. It is a skill that has served me well over the years.
I remember the first time I saw the little strawberry-blonde, whose face was covered in freckles. I was 7 years old and in Sunday school, which, at that time, was the last pew in the church, next to the white rope that hung down near the front door. It was always a joy to pull that rope for the bell to ring and signal that church was starting.
The door opened, and a little girl walked in, all by herself. She was brave. She begged her mama and daddy to let her go to Sunday school. So, for several months, they brought her, dropped her off, then went back home. But the Bible says, “And a child shall lead them” — which is exactly what happened. Before too long, her mama started coming. Then, her daddy, and before you knew it, their family had grown into the solid backbone of the church.
When I first saw her, as she smoothed the tail of her red dress and sat down beside me, I didn’t know we were kin. But, I learned shortly after that, not only were we cousins, we were kin from two sides of our family. My daddy and her grandmother, Pauline, were double first cousins.
We grew into teenagers together, spending hours in record shops, watching Saturday matinees and double-dating.
All these years we have still remained close because we are bonded by something deeper than blood. We are bound by a shared past and a barn full of memories. Every year, she and her husband join us for Thanksgiving. The happiest moments of the day are when we are in the kitchen, cleaning up and laughing about stories that begin with, “Remember when…”
It should come as no surprise that we were saved on the same day at revival, as the Saints gathered ‘round us, rejoicing. We were also baptized together in a morning service outside.
Lynn called the other day to tell me about a horrendous wreck she had survived. She was pulling out of a store parking lot when a teenager driving erratically, and far over the speed limit, hit her and totaled both their cars.
A white couple and a Black man stopped and ran to her aid. They helped her climb from the wreckage. When they made sure she was OK, the three of them put their arms around each other, gathered Lynn into a circle and prayed over her, thanking God for sparing and keeping her safe.
Strangers. All four of them. Nothing mattered in that moment except for human kindness and decency — exactly what we learned in Sunday school all those years ago.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.