First Date

I was transferred from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth by Stanolind Oil and Gas Company in January 1966.  I had worked for Stanolind since finishing college in 1950.  Soon the company name was changed to Pan American and later to Amoco.

There were eight men and three women working in our natural gas sales office.  As a forty-year – old bachelor, I was the only single man in the group.

About two years later one of the stenographers was replaced by Jean Sargent, a lovely lady with three boys who had just separated from her husband in Odessa, Texas.  She was then living with her dad and step – mother in Fort Worth.  It was a shock to her to find that Pan American was the same company for whom she had once worked, then known as Stanolind.

About a year after meeting her I received a telephone call from Mrs. Sargent.  She hesitantly asked a favor of me.  She asked if I would accompany her the next Sunday afternoon to the Elm Grove Missionary Baptist Church.  The church is located in a part of the city occupied largely by Afro-Americans.  The parishioners pronounce “Elm” as “El-Um”

She exclaimed that Marybelle Carter was to be crowned queen of the church and would be disappointed and embarrassed if her employer was not in attendance.  Jean’s two older sons and dad had refused to go with her.  Jean’s stepmother, Peyton, was recovering from dental surgery but had given Marybelle a corsage for the occasion.  I was elected.  I accepted.

While Jean was at work, Marybelle stayed with Jean’s youngest son, Jeff and was there for the other two when they returned from school.

Early Sunday afternoon I picked up Jean and her four-year old son, Jeff, and off we went to the El-Um Grove Missionary Baptist Church.  I wore a sports coat and tie since I was going to church and all buildings would be air conditioned in Fort Worth in July.

En route, Jean told me the story about Marybelle and her husband, Roscoe.  Trying to imitate her speech, Jean quoted her.  “Oh Miss Jean, I’ve been the queen of our church the last three years and I absolutely know I will raise the most money and be queen again this year.  You have to come watch me”.  Also she had been told that Marybelle’s husband, Roscoe was the church organist and she was looking forward to hearing him play.

When we arrived at the large, one story, white, frame church, Marybelle was waiting for us at the entrance.  She led us down the center aisle to the second row where we were seated.  We were the only whites in the building.  I had the honor to sit by, Marybelle’s mother, Mabel.

Mabel was a more than plump, nice looking lady dressed to the nines.  She constantly fanned herself and me with a funeral home fan found in churches.  I noticed only one window air conditioner, which was no help at all.  Jesus fed the five thousand but he did not intervene to cool the three hundred in that sanctuary.  Mabel’s deodorant failed a short time later and I had more problems than the heat.  I didn’t feel that I could remove my coat since I was a guest and all of the other men did not remove theirs.

In spite of these problems, it was good to sit by Mabel because she kept me apprised of what was going on and what was going to happen.  She first extended an invitation to us to visit her church.  She said that it was much nicer than this church since it was a brick church.

Poor little Jeff, he was frightened most of the time.  He sometimes sat on his mother’s lap and even a short while on mine.  His eyes were wide open and he was very quiet the whole time.

After a song or two, the four candidates for queen walked down the aisle, dressed in all of their finery.  They all had huge smiles on their faces and nodded to their special friends.  When it was Marybelle’s time to speak, she introduced her employer and son and friend, Jim.  She added that Jean’s step – mother would have come but she was having problems with a tooth.

There was a collection plate for each of the candidate on tables in front of the pulpit.   People could vote for their favorite by placing money in the appropriate plate.  Mabel marched over to Marybelle’s plate with a couple of dollars I contributed.

After a short while, the votes were counted and Marybelle had won for the fourth year in a row.  The queen elect began to totter and someone held on to her so she would not fall if she fainted.

Her acceptance speech was very gracious and self – effasive even though it was insincere according to what she had told Jean previously.  It went something like “I am overcome.  I had no idea that I would even come close to winning – especially for the fourth year in a row.  Some people say that I wanted this for my own glory and pride.  That is not true, I ran for queen for the glory of the Lord.  I’ll be right back for the coronation”.

The choir was located in the front of the church facing the congregation.  The singing was very good.  The choir was accompanied by a young lady on the piano and Roscoe on the organ, playing together.  The pianist provided very pleasing music even though I didn’t recognize much of it.

To me, Roscoe’s playing was somewhat questionable.  He seemed to run his fingers back and forth lightly across the keyboard without any tune or melody.  I asked Mabel if Roscoe took lessons or did it just come to him.  She replied that it just came to him.  How lucky we were that he didn’t have a heavy touch.

From the front row of the choir, a young lady soloist was standing and singing.  Mabel told me the lady was Iris Mae and that she would give her all for the Lord and would continue to sing until she passed out.  She passed out as prophesied and was carried outside by two fellow choir members. Since the event was expected, no one got excited.

On another occasion, Mabel told me to watch Ole Bill standing against the wall to the left of us.  She said soon he would become full of the spirit of the Lord and then run up into the choir.  Soon after her proclamation, Ole Bill did as she predicted and two huge men constrained him and took him outside.  Again, what was expected did not excite the crowd.

Soon after a short sermon and an exchange of hallelujahs between the pastor and the congregation, the pageant of the crowning began.  The pianist and the proud Roscoe began playing a rousing march.

We all turned toward the back of the sanctuary and watched Queen Marybelle marching down the aisle followed by the three princesses beaming graciously.  The queen was adorned in a beautiful long white satin dress and long white gloves.  Nestled in her carefully arranged black hair was a large rhinestone tiara.  The attendants were wearing lovely pastel long dresses but no tiaras.

I don’t remember much about the crowning ceremony.  It must have been completely overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance of the march and other exciting events of the afternoon.

Soon after the coronation, another church group began coming into the sanctuary for a later service.  We bade farewell to Marybelle and Mabel and rushed through the searing heat to our car.

Before we reached the car, I removed my damp coat and wet tie.  Perspiration also had completely soaked my shirt collar.  Jeff mentioned that he would like an Icey from 7 – Eleven.  We soon found a 7 – Eleven and I devoured my first Icey.  It was the best and coldest drink I ever had.

Jean soon left Amoco to return to college for her masters degree, then moved to Tennessee to teach at East Tennessee University for two years.  We were married June 8, 1970.

It all started with the coronation of Queen Marybelle.


Jim Pershall

January 2011