The Zion First Black Baptist church picnic: Rev. Carleton Giles, basketball, food, horseshoes, and warm fellowship
Yesterday morning I helped Susie wash her hair in the kitchen sink and take a shower in our stand-up shower with the rubber hose attachment I got her at The Home Depot after her bicycle crash. Her home health aid helps her during the week do this, but on the weekend, it's me.
In the afternoon, I went to the annual church picnic of my new church, Zion First Baptist Church, which also bills itself in the Sunday program as "Middletown's First Black Baptist Church since 1943." The picnic was held at Pierson Park in Cromwell. The food was varied and delicious. Four or five of the men were working the large metal pig roaster, though what they were cooking wasn't pig this day but chicken, hot dogs, and hamburgers. That was over on the south end of the park, near where somebody had set up a horseshoe pit.
Further to the northeast is the large roof which covers the outdoor, unenclosed eating area, with 7 or 8 rows of two picnic tables each. This was filled to capacity with church members when I arrived at about 2:45 p.m. In the middle of the throng of church ministers, deacons, ushers, choir members, and congregants was The Rev. Carleton Giles and the church's First Lady (that's what she's referred to as in church on Sunday), the very elegant Mrs. Stefanie Giles. Stefanie is a tall, elegant woman, very well-matched with Rev. Giles. He is a man of biblical learning and charismatic preaching and, most appealingly, very good humor. And Rev. Giles has a great smile and, for a man of the cloth, a very appealing devilish sense of humor. And I use "devilish" here, in the most benign, but wonderful, sense of the term, to describe the self-deprecating comedic sense of this true Man of the Cloth.
I met many wonderful people whom I've seen in church the past three Sundays I've had the privilege of attending and, more interesting, saw for the first time, with "mine own eyes," Rev. Giles wearing something other than a summer suit and tie. He was attired in everyday picnic duds. He also introduced me to his sister, Helen, who grew up on the south shore of Long Island, out in the Hamptons, but now lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Lest you get the wrong impression that Rev. Giles and Helen, and their other siblings, were born with silver spoons in their mouths, their mother was the housekeeper for the Estee Lauder family. That's right, the Lauders weren't just any other rich white family on The Island (Long Island, to be exact), the Lauders were The Estee Lauders, of the French perfume dynasty. One of the Lauders helped one of Rev. Giles's brothers pay for his college tuition. According to Stefanie, who told me this last Sunday, just before church started, and I was hearing about Rev. Giles's family and upbringing, Rev. Giles worked during college as bank teller to pay for his college education at the John Jay Criminal Justice College. He eventually became a police officer in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he now works with the Youth Division and plans to retire next year, at just over 50, to move with Stefanie from Milford to their recently-purchased home in Middletown. This will enable Rev. Giles to devote his full time to his ministry at Middletown's first black Baptist church, and also will cut down on the commuting time he now spends in traveling from Milford to Norwalk for work, and then back and forth between Milford and Middletown for church services, church meetings, and visiting sick and elderly members of the congregation. As one can imagine, his sense of humor, and fun, is essential to maintaining his equanimity and the big smile which covers his face, frequently, in the way that "the spirit of God covered the face of the deep," or words to that effect, somewhere in the bible.
I played basketball for a half-hour or so with Brother Bob Bailey, Brother McCoy Watson, and 5 or 6 young people, Yvone (boy; age 6); D'Andre (don-dray) (boy; age 8); Romany (boy; age 12); Asa (unsure of name; boy; age 14); Asia (Asa's cousin; a girl; age 15; she had a tee-shirt which said "Don't Give Me Any of Your Attitude, because I've Got One of My Own"); and Kinisha (age 15; with a baby blue tee-shirt and one large word I can't remember, emblazoned on it). We started shoot-arounds with D'Andre and the other kids joined the group as the shooting went on. When Romany came, I asked him if he wanted me to give him some defense, which he eagerly accepted. I moved my body close to his, as he was trying to drive towards the basket or get closer for an outside shot. Romany is a big kid, who takes karate lessons, and showed me how he's disarm me if I came at him with a knife. He was very pleased to have this opportunity to show the other kids the karate-stuff he's got.
There were lots of smiles, among the kids, as well as Brother Bob and Brother McCoy, and lots of great fun.
After basketball, I ate some food and talked politics to Brother Elijah and Brother Willie, who were sitting at a picnic table next to the horseshoe pit. It's fun for a liberal Democrat like me to talk politics with two older black men. They have an existential love for President Obama, given the fact that one of them, namely a man born of at least one African-American parents, was finally elected president of the United States of America. I am sure that Elijah and Willie at one time in their early lives experienced a heaping portion of discrimination from the white community, merely because of the color of their skin, which is actually not black but different shades of tan, the kind of tan which white people for generations have wintered in Florida, Arizona, and The Islands, at great expense, to achieve. Then some of those same white folk would return home and feel and act in prejudiced, bigoted, ways towards men like Elijah and Willie, who simply have what I told them I called "a permanent tan." They both smiled at this thought.
Rev. Toler, on of the ministers under Pastor Giles, and I beat Brothers Bob and McCoy in a re-match in the horsehoe pit. The sister who organized all the food for the picnic had been on the losing team just before I played. Throughout our match, which Rev. Toler and I won by a score of 11 to 9, that sister kept yelling out towards us, from the roof area where the food was located, "Come ON, Brother Bob [meaning me], you gotta beat that Brother Bob [Bob Bailey]." I guessed she had more of a grudge against the other Brother Bob than merely the fact his team had beaten hers in the first game.
After the game ended, that woman who'd egged us on to victory congratulated me as I was leaving the picnic area to go back to my car, for winning the game. I said to her that it wasn't our doing, but God's doing. For whatever reason, I suggested, God wanted my team to win and Rev. Toler and I were merely instruments of carrying out God's will.