This happened to be their sacrament day, very special for that church. Everyone was dressed up in their best white-folk hand-me-downs, some of which Moriah recognized as once her own--AND, she once again admired her own good taste and how nicely the garments fit upon all these weathered black frames belonging to a bevy of courtly matriarchs. The deacons brought forth all the required implements--this was the day of foot washing. They sang, prayed and blessed the water, and the oil, and everything else in creation that had a name that could be called.
The preacher and his wife knelt down together and reached over to take a frayed shoe off an elderly woman, an ex-slave sitting in the first row--a woman said to have been 100 years old, called Sadie. No one knew if she had a last name--she herself certainly didn't know. As a small girl she belonged to a Dr. Woodward up at Millegeville, and then was the wife of a Creek Indian over near Hitchiti. Moriah talked real good Creek and said she spoke with that woman sometime later and she sure did talk real good old-time Creek, too. They must have felt a kinda sisterhood. At the end of church Moriah lifted up her face, stood up tall and straight and firmly announced "Thank you Creator for teaching me." One of the ladies started to sing..."LET THIS LIGHT OF MINE SHINE, LET IT SHINE, SHINE, SHINE." They all began to sing and were dismissed by the preacher. Moriah went home and cooked supper her own self this day and every Sunday to ever follow.
Afterwards, There wasn't a whole lot said and done about it that you could make note of. There were no tales about it in the community until much later--white folks were too outraged or shocked to believe it, or even admit that she actually went to "N-church". We can suspect, though, that a few white preachers were grateful!
What did happen was that a lot of the members of the congregation took note of the fact that miss Moriah had always treated every member of that community exactly as a respected human being--like someone important. For the first since the union troops left back in the nineties, some blacks felt a sense of future hope. That day, some had at last tasted not superiority, which none really wanted, but suckled pure equality and the taste was eloquent; worth fighting for in years to come. It became obvious that the color of the woman's heart was the color of equal. Emma continued working over the next few years until she had to slow down; then, Moriah would send stuff for mending and things like that over to Emma's house instead--with good pay attached.
In the early thirties, Moriah's husband, broken of body from having serve in France, had died in an accident either up at Milner or down in Fernandina, Fl--don't remember which. Then there was a bad turn in the weather that lasted not a season, but for several years locally. A major depression was growing like kudzu. Moriah could no longer work by herself because of arthritic oldness; times were tough. She had lost a few children to influenza; etc..., but she had always held together somehow. Soon, the first of her grandchildren came to live with her. He was around 5 years old and there just wasn't a lot of food, especially with an extra mouth, however small it was. The most Moriah could manage was a little back door garden plot where she could lean on a fence to plant, hoe and weed. In fact, not just food, but there was plenty of stuff in short supply those bleak days.
How anyone found out wasn't told; but Moriah and the boy got to a morning in the 30's when there was just enough in the house to feed the youngun' breakfast, and that was it. Some of her land had already been lost because of taxes, and other parts sold off. That afternoon, a black man came by on a horse, stopped, walked up to the house, and set a couple of jars on the steps, got on his horse and left without so much as a howdy-do. An while later, an old beat up truck stopped and put out a little splinter basket full of greens. Over the next few hours, many black folks from all over the county came by and dropped off some food, eggs, fresh butter, a wrapper of lard or whatever they had to share. By the time the sun set, there was a porch full of food and a heart full of gratitude.
Another thing forgotten at the beginning: Moriah loved parables, even though she disdained religion--a parable, she would say, is the way Creator puts a right warm thought in a cold heart. A parable is gift to be given. Moriah also used to make a lot of things, and grow a lot of extra things each season. She made her own soap and fancy candles as well--she wasn't sparse about giving away and sharing--all the Indian folks seemed to do that better than most whites. Even when they got electricity, she still would like to have a candle or small oil lamp beaming out the front window. Most of her favorite songs were about light; she used to sing alot when she was working. Although it was relatively new song, the night all the members of the little Black church had come by the house, they stood out in the yard and one woman began singing this new little song, "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine, shine, shine." And they sang, and sang--Moriah caught right on, too.
Moriah had always burned a light every evening, and said even the worst dog walking down a dusty road deserved light at night--never mind they could see just fine in the dark. Moriah could be as stubborn about ignorance as she could be about facts--mostly truthful, she cherished two lies. She said God forgave a woman a lie if be of "Age" or "Income." Anyway, from there on out, till the day that Moriah died--112 years some say--only about 88 others say, someone of those families came by often and put a jar of food, etc on the porch. When the time came for her burial, a lot of the members of the black community were gone, but some of their grandchildren came--all the way from Milner down to Jacksonville. And they all agreed that their grandparents regarded this one woman as a living light, because wherever she went, the rooms lighted up and truth would be spoken. They just sang one song at the burial: "This little light of Mine, I'm gonna let it shine." Why you asked? Its a simple answer:
When Moriah went to that little St. Mary Church, without the "apostrophe 'S," and the preacher began the foot washing service and was taking off the frayed shoe of that ancient 100 year old ex-slave woman Sadie, Moriah got up and marched right down to the front of that church and took her own shoes off and just drop-knelt down on her knees right there in front of that black congregation, Creator and everyone! "Preacher," she said, "I know my duty and I need to do this." She took out her silver hair combs and placed them in Sadie's hair, unrolled her own long luxurious gray tresses which fell into the little granite ware pan and ever so gently began to wash a slave woman's feet and then dried them on her own white linen dress. Never rising from her knees, Moriah went to every willing member of that Black congregation, washed their feet and dried them on her own dress. If an old dog had come in, she would have washed his feet, too, no doubt. It was finished and Moriah return to the rustic pew in the back. That church wept mightily. Power came down and walked about and touched every heart and lighted every dark crevice in that place. Some hummed out prayer chants or moaned that "Little Light of Mine" song as others sat stunned in tear-soaked silence. But, each and everyone was moved that day--personally cradled by the hand of Creator--through a woman who dared to think for herself and follow her heart in all things. Moriah, I hold this lighted candle and remember you!
(End of Moriah)
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