Sweet Tea & Jesus Shoesby Deborah Smith, Sandra Chastain, Sandra Dixon, Donna Ball
Six award winning authors have created a poignant, humorous collection of nostalgic tales. Here life's lessons are handed down--liberally sprinkled with hilarity--from eccentric relatives, outrageous pets and unrepentant neighbors, and served up with a generous dollop of that most valued of all Southern commodities: good old fashioned storytelling. From Mississippi to… See more details below
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Six award winning authors have created a poignant, humorous collection of nostalgic tales. Here life's lessons are handed down--liberally sprinkled with hilarity--from eccentric relatives, outrageous pets and unrepentant neighbors, and served up with a generous dollop of that most valued of all Southern commodities: good old fashioned storytelling. From Mississippi to Georgia, from Florida to Tennessee, these daughters of the South will take you on a lush tour of the times and the places they know best, each voice as refreshing and inviting as a glass of cold sweet tea on a hot afternoon.
Read an Excerpt
THE JESUS SHOES
The rituals of the summer of 1945 were observed even in the midst of a war about which I knew little. I was too young to understand the supper table talk about war, yet old enough to cherish the rhythm of summer: wading in the creek that ran through the big ditch, picking blackberries, churning ice cream and Vacation Bible School.
For me, at age eight,Vacation Bible School started with a pair of new white patent-leather sandals with little silver buckles. Shoes were rationed and I, in my sublime ignorance, had no idea of the sacrifices my grandparents made to provide those sandals. No matter that my body was adorned with sun dresses made from chicken feed sacks, my patent-leather clad feet were on the Glory Road.
On the second Monday morning in June, I headed for the Wadley Methodist Church. Walking alone was safe then, even for a child. Tires and gasoline were rationed so there was little traffic, and only one stop light in town. To save energy, that traffic light had been turned off, which didn't matter because everyone knew to stop at the intersection, and we did. Everyone, that is, except for the convoys of army trucks that came through, carrying soldiers who waved at all of us. My grandmother always walked toward the highway and waved back. "Somebody, somewhere is doing that for one of our boys," she'd say.
But that morning, there were no convoys and no traffic and I was glad because I didn't want to take to the side of the road where beggar lice might stick to my dress, orworse yet, dust might mar my shiny new shoes. The sun had already turned the blue-black asphalt into soft, bubbly patches and heat rose in waves that seemed to breathe. I concentrated on keeping my eyes on my shoes. I was used to the heat and an expert at curving my lower lip to blow the ever present swarm of gnats out of my line of vision. And nothing was going to stop my annual attendance at Vacation Bible School. Neither gnats nor tar bubbles were going to prevent me from reaching the church in my pristine white sandals.
My best friend, Rachel, was waiting for me on the graveled parking area by the side of the church. After she spent some time admiring my shoes, we joined hands and skipped up the steps.
Miss Bessie Newton met us at the door, wearing her usual starched print dress sprinkled around the collar with pink face powder that smelled of roses. Miss Bessie had what my grandmother called the biggest dinner table in town. Years later that I found out she was referring to the twin peaks of her anatomy and not the size of her furniture.
If the top of Miss Bessie was oversized, the bottom of her didn't match. Looking at her shoes that morning, I whispered to Rachel that her feet were no bigger than my size four. Behind her hand, Rachel confided solemnly that Miss Bessie hadn't seen her feet since she was thirteen. I giggled on the way in and got frowned at by Miss Bessie.
Once inside, Rachel and I were herded to the proper room where eight other children had already gathered. I knew six of them. We'd gone to school and church together all our lives.
The other two were strangers, both boys.
They'd just moved to Wadley, and they came to the church barefoot. Now there was nothing unusual about children going barefoot in the South; we all did. But never to church. That was considered disrespectful.
Still, Miss Bessie welcomed them and assigned them to my class, which was called the Soldiers of the Cross. We learned the boys were Hansel and Willie Mosely who had come to stay with their great Aunt Louella.
Rachel and I stared at the boys in amazement. Not only did they not wear shoes to church, a sure sign of their lack of breeding, but their feet were dirty. The younger one, in fact, hadn't even been as careful with his feet as I had been with my shoes. He had tar between his toes and dirt caked on his bare heels. Both boys' hair stuck up every which-a-way and it looked like Miss Louella, who was poor and couldn't see very well, had given them a haircut with her rusty old push mower.
We'd been taught to be kind to the poor, but to my certain knowledge, nobody had ever sanctioned dirty feet and choppy hair.
Feeling the stern training of my grandmother and a nudge from Miss Bessie, I stepped forward and held out my hand. "I'm Sandra Anglin and I'm pleased to meet you."
They didn't shake my hand. But I'd done my Christian duty.
I had to remember that Christian duty again when we started to the auditorium for the opening session and one of the boys stepped square on my new white sandal with his dirty foot and left a long smear of black tar streaking one toe. I bent down and rubbed the underside of my sundress hem across the tar, only making it worse. Like a martyr, I stood looking at my pitiful, scarred shoe, my anger growing with every minute.
I determined that he should be punished for his transgressions. An eye for an eye. But since he didn't have any shoes to scar in return, I had to think of something else.
After we'd been told the schedule and reminded that on Friday we would present a program in the church for the entire congregation, which would be followed by a picnic, we were sent to our first class.
The Soldiers of the Cross met in the largest adult classroom because we were tall enough to sit in the adult chairs at the tables used by the regular Sunday School Classes. As always, we would study Scriptures and hear Bible stories for the first hour. The second hour was reserved for crafts, and I looked forward this summer session to my first year of spatter painting. I'd even brought an old toothbrush of my own to use.
My older sister's spatter painting was a work of art still tacked to the wall over my grandmother's iron bed. She'd used white shoe polish, she said, carefully dipping her toothbrush into the polish and rubbing it over a piece of screen wire so that the spray of white spattered to outline the large leaf from an oak tree placed on a piece of red construction paper below. I was too young to even understand the complexities of her work, she'd assured me. For two years I'd considered how to outdo her and had finally chosen black polish sprinkled over two, five-pointed leaves from a sweet gum tree on pink paper. It would be a glorious creation, surpassing her puny effort totally.
But to add insult to the injury already done to my new shoes, I learned that our curriculum had been changed. Toothbrushes and shoe polish were hard to come by so a new project had been devised for the Soldiers of the Cross. This year, we'd make shoes like Jesus wore.
I objected, to no avail, and decided that this was another test of my Christian training. I'd waited two years for my turn to spatter paint and it was not to be.
The change in curriculum suited the two new boys just fine. They thought Jesus Shoes were perfect, another of their quickly mounting transgressions. It was clear to me they knew nothing of tradition. Due primarily to my urging, the other children sided with me in somehow blaming them for the fact that we would not be doing spatter prints for the first time since anyone could remember.
Hansel and Willie clung together for the next five days, and the rest of us tormented them at every opportunity. They wore the same shirts and shorts every day and their feet only got dirtier. Miss Bessie privately scolded us for our attitude toward two homeless children who were being cared for by an elderly woman who was poor and almost blind, but we were unheeding. As Soldiers of the Cross, we felt called to see that these boys be returned to wherever they'd come from. They clearly didn't belong here.
When simple shunning didn't work, we accidentally knocked over their glue, gave them the dullest scissors, refused to share our supplies. Still, in spite of the sabotage attempts launched by my little band of followers, the Jesus Shoes project went forward.
Each of us drew an outline of our feet on brown paper to be used as a pattern. Then from an assortment of fertilizer sacks and quilt scraps, we used our brown paper bag patterns to cut more soles. The cutting, with blunt-edged scissors, was a laborious process that took two days.
Once we had the soles, we met our next challenge: punching the holes through which our ties would be strung. Ice picks and large nails worked best--until one earnest Soldier pounded the nail through the layers of soles and into the floor.
The Mosley boys managed fine, but Miss Bessie finally had to find a male assistant to give us a hand until all the holes were punched. Then came the glue, made from flour, water and a bit of rosin collected from local pine trees. Matching our holes, we cemented the layers together to make thick soles.
By Thursday, the shoes were complete and ready for the threading of the rope that would criss-cross the bottom of the shoes and come across the wearer's foot, then up the leg. After trying them on, it was my opinion that the reason all the apostles had such sad expressions in their pictures was because their feet hurt.
Friday brought assembly and a presentation by the individual classes. Our class was to sing the song from which we acquired our name, Onward Christian Soldiers. It was when we were lining up to go into the church that Miss Louella shuffled up the sidewalk to where Miss Bessie was standing. We all turned to stare.
In a timid voice the boys' aunt thanked Miss Bessie for looking after her nephews. Their mother had been killed in the same house fire that had destroyed most of their clothing and toys. Their father was missing in action in the South Pacific. It was hard, she said, but taking them in was the Christian thing for her to do.
She said they'd come home every day talking about how kind the children had been and how much fun they'd had in Vacation Bible School. She particularly wanted to thank me.
Every Christian Soldier in line heard her and turned their eyes on me. My heart hurt and my face burned. I couldn't look at them. I ducked my head and saw the boys' feet and my own, which were still adorned in the nearly new white patent leather sandals. I knew I had to make amends, but I couldn't think how until Miss Bessie began lining us up to march into the sanctuary.
I pulled the boys forward and gave Willie the cross I'd been assigned to carry. Then I knelt, removed my white sandals and left them on the steps when I took my place behind the boys, barefoot. One by one, the others took off their shoes, including Miss Bessie, who'd never gone barefoot in her life before. We marched on naked feet to the altar where we sat down and put on our Jesus shoes, then stood and sang our song, "Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
What People are saying about this
Miss Julia would feel right at home on the front porches and in the living rooms and kitchens where these delightful stories originated. SWEET TEA AND JESUS SHOES stir her memories, as well as my own.
This book is rich in storytelling and makes me long for those southern days as a child listening to the stories of the past.
Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes is a feast for any reader.
Delightful. Brew tea or grab something stronger, sit down and enjoy.
Sweet Tea and Jesus Shoes is a joyful and endearing collection of nostalgic stories which are sure to win the hearts of readers everywhere.
Storytelling is back with all its southern habits and charms, thanks to six women who are making it easier to get it in print. The stories are so good you'll be hungry for more.
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