Shared Stories: Fat Lady Sings

Sabreen Adeeba recounts her memories as a four-year old of her mother’s funeral at a Southern Baptist church in Los Angeles.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Sabreen Adeeba

It was a warm California summer in 1957. I was four years old when my mother Nell passed away. My mother was special to me and my father; we loved her very much.

Although the sun was shining through our windows, it was a gray day for us. Through his tears, I remember my father bathing, then dressing me for my mother’s memorial service at our Southern Baptist church on Avalon in the city of Los Angeles.

The church was so colorful as I and my father stepped through the doors. There was an arrangement of flowers of assorted varieties; lilies were the most abundant. 

On the far side of the church stood my mother’s coffin. It was beautifully carved of wood and a rich color of brown. The lining was gold-colored silk. I recall my mother’s stillness and the beautiful floral dress that she wore. Each strand of her hair was in place.

The next day my father would have my mother’s remains flown back to Arkansas where she was born and raised until her family moved to Texas. She would be buried in Arkansas. At the age of four, I could not understand the total meaning of loss or grief. However, I do recollect the sadness and gloom that spread, akin to a thick fog engulfing us, as we viewed my mother’s body.

Near the coffin stood a small table covered with white lace. On the laced table sat a framed portrait of my mother smiling, as if she was watching us.

Many members of the congregation walked up to my father to offer their condolences, starting with the pastor, Reverend Speaks, a stocky, brown-skinned man wearing a black suit. The organ player, a tall, thin man, began to play and everyone took their seats.

My father and I sat on the front side of the pew. Four ladies in black sat on the opposite side of us.  I learned later that they were mourners. They began to cry softly.

Suddenly the organ player stopped playing. The pastor, Reverend Speaks, had prepared a written eulogy that started with him praising my mother for being a devout Christian, and a caring and loving wife and mother. At that moment, my father’s eyes filled with tears.  I tried to comfort him by rubbing his hand. I felt so sad.

The pastor spoke of my mother’s generosity and the countless Sunday dinners and tasty desserts he had eaten at our home, and how she always made him feel welcome. The mourners grew louder.

After his eulogy was finished, he introduced a singer he called Miss Maybles. I turned to see a tall fat lady thudding down the church aisle. As she passed us, I could smell the strong scent of her perfume. It was so strong that I began to cough, hard. Once she reached to podium, the pastor coughed slightly, stepping back. 

The fat lady had a big bosom and a belly that shook like jelly every time she moved. I watched the woman with childhood wonder as she began to sing. She had a massive voice, loud and strong.

Every time she hit a high note, her bosom would raise to her chin and her belly would shake harder. I had never seen anything like it. She squatted and swayed from side to side as she sang. Excited, I pulled on my father’s arm to get his attention, but he put his finger to his lips to shush me.

My attention turned to the lady. Beads of sweat ran down her forehead to her neck. Again she squatted and swayed. 

At last the fat lady finished. The pastor said, “Amen, and thank you. Sister Maybles.” He looked relieved. She nodded; grabbing the pastor’s handkerchief, she wiped her face. My eyes followed as she thudded back to her seat.

Epilogue. I don’t remember everything that occurred on that sorrowful day, but there is one think that I will never forget. I will never forget that fat lady who squatted and swayed as she sang at my mother’s funeral.