I awoke the other day with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the friends in my life. Maybe the Christmas season has something to do with it, I don’t know. But many of my friends came to me in the most surprising way, and it still amazes me that we found each other.
One of my earliest friends was my first cousin Bernice, who died two years ago. Bernice was the sister that I never had and we bonded the very first time we met, when I was 5 and she was 4. It was Bernice’s parents who cared for my brother Adam and me in their home in rural Palatka, Florida, until our mom found a job and housing here in Miami.
Our mom had just fled an abusive marriage and the warmth and security of that little wood frame house where Aunt Thelma and Uncle Morgan’s (Bernice’s parents) lived with their family of seven was a welcome haven. My aunt and uncle spread the love around and although poor, we never felt deprived. I can still remember the taste the homemade of apple butter spooned generously on warm biscuits.
So, it was in this warm, loving setting that I first learned the value of true friendship, taught to me by a woman who saw her baby sister as also a friend, and her sister’s children as her own.
We stayed with Aunt Thelma for about six months. But in that short time, she taught me that good friends will go the limit to help each other, that friends can disagree, and yet, still love each other; that friends were loyal to each other, not matter what.
Soon it was February and my sixth birthday. Aunt Thelma gave me two cents, kissed me and told me to “go buy yourself something at the store.” It was all she had to give. And it was another lesson of how friends should be willing to make sacrifices for each other.
I hugged Aunt Thelma, and Bernice and I skipped hand-in-hand all the way to the little country store to buy my favorite treat - a box of Chocolate Snaps. There was maybe a little more than a dozen cookies in that box. But there were five boys waiting back home. So, Bernice and I walked very slowly back home as we ate most of my birthday cookies, leaving some (although not very many) for the boys. A lesson in sharing and togetherness.
In the spring, our mom came for us to move with her to Miami. Here, I learned that friendship can come in different nationalities and in different colors.
One of Mom’s dearest and earliest friends here, was Doris “Doll” Dorsett, who was from the Bahamas, and talked with a Bahamian accent. She and Mom, became like sisters and “Doll’s” children became our earliest friends here. Nellie was Doll’s only girl at the time. She was four years older and I wanted to be just like her.
Nellie still lives here. She and her brother Floyd “Jake,” who now lives in New York, are my oldest friends in Miami. When my son Rick, died four years ago, Jake flew in from New York, for the funeral. It lifted my spirit just to see him, although he had to fly out the very next day. It was one of the sacrifices that friends make for each other.
About this time, Mom went to work as a nanny and maid for Ethel Goldstein, who at the time was caring for her grandchildren that included sisters, Taffy Gould and Lauren Goldstein. It was Mrs. Goldstein, who along with my mom, taught me tolerance.
Through Mrs. Goldstein, I learned that true friendship was of no particular color. She showered my brother and I with the same love she gave her own grandchildren.
Today, through Mrs. Goldstein’s grandchildren, led by Taffy Gould, there is a scholarship fund set up for the children in my family and my church that is named for my mom and Mrs. Goldstein. It is the Ethel Goldstein and Ida Belle Johnson Memorial Scholarship. Since 2000, the fund, has given nearly a half million dollars to hundreds of black children in pursuit of a college education.
There are so many more friends I can tell you about, but today, I can only cover some of my childhood friends. I will end with my friend Willie Mae Stevens (Now Mae Whitman) who I credit with “leading me to Christ.” We were 11. Mae was Baptist back then (she is Catholic now). And our sixth-grade classes were at recess, when she invited me to her church the next Sunday. I asked Mom, she said yes.
We lived in Liberty City and the church we attended was in Overtown. Mae’s church, New Hope Missionary Baptist, was in Liberty City — walking distance. One of the first things I remember about that Sunday was the junior choir. I knew then, and there, I had to sing in that choir. But first, I had to join the church and be baptized. It was a tall order for a girl who was afraid of water. So, I chickened out. The idea of being baptized — fully dunked — in deep water, scared me silly.
So for two years, I put off being baptized. But Mae was still my friend (and still is today). And so was her grandmother, Mother Hewey, the mother of the church. Finally, one Sunday I rejoined the church and agreed to be baptized.
It was a cold, February morning when Rev. James Brown and Mother Hewey came in his black Buick to take me to a rock pit in Opa-locka for the ritual. I can still hear Mother Hewey’s strong contralto voice singing “Take me to the water ...” as I came up from the water, spitting and sputtering as she wrapped me in her arms and a warm blanket. She was my spiritual friend and surrogate grandmother until she died two years later.
The Seventh-day Adventit Chorale will present Handel’s “Messiah” at 5 p.m. Saturday at Maranatha SDA Church, 18900 NW 32nd Ave. in Miami Gardens.
The chorale is conducted by Dr. David C. McCalla. Program soloists are Christine Jobson, soprano; Hazel Graham, mezzo soprano; Josef Spencer, tenor; Nelson Parraway, baritone; and Ricky Cox, bass. Andrew Anderson will accompany on the piano. The community is invited.
Bishop Walter H. Richardson and the teachers of the Bible classes at The Church of God Tabernacle (True Holiness) at 1351 NW 67th St. in Liberty City are inviting the community to its annual Christmas Pageant at 10 a.m. Sunday, Christmas Eve.
At the pageant, the story of the birth of Jesus is told through the children who will present the sacred event through songs, poems and a dramatic skit. It’s free and open to the community.
‘The Lights of Christmas’
The Rev. Charles Taylor will preach from the lesson “The Lights of Christmas” at the 9:50 a.m. Sunday worship service at the Universal Truth Center for Better Living, 21310 NW 37th Ave. in Miami Gardens.
Also, Taylor will continue the lesson theme “Awakening and Living the Spirit of Christmas” at the 9:50 a.m. worship service on Sunday, Dec. 31.
Then, at 6 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, the church will have its annual “Burning Bowl” ceremony. According to a press release, the service is an “opportunity to gain the tools on how to live a life without limits and create a life not only worth living, but a life that you truly love in 2018.”
Tickets to the “Burning Bowl” event are available in the church’s Illuminations Bookstore, starting at $3 per person until the evening of the ceremony. Call 305-624-4991 for more information.
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