My chocolate Annie was a board-certified, card-carrying character.
New York squirrely and paranoid, Sadie Bowman – Aunt Sada – used to hide her money in safe deposit boxes and jet around town in raggedy thrift store hand-me-downs.
That, she’d say, was to keep those nasty little thugs in the street from “thinking I’m rich and bopping me over the head, trying to take all my dough.”
She was Aunt Sada or Aunt Sadie to such folks as my mom, her kid cousin.
To my four siblings and me, she was first, mother-dear, and then, at her insistence, my chocolate Annie.
Why those names?
Don’t ask me ‘cause I don’t know.
Maybe her dark skin had a lot to do with the chocolate Annie handle.
But whatever, she just always seemed to get a knee-slapping hoot out of hearing us call her any of her chosen monikers.
No matter what, though, the kids loved the woman.
She owned and lived in a building right next door to the Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem.
And whenever we’d come to visit, she’d treat us like royalty.
She wasn’t a good cook, but she could and would whip up sumptuous breakfasts.
My favorite was her eggs, bacon, grits and fruit.
My chocolate Annie was the first person to ever put cheese in my grits and I loved it.
To this day, breakfasts such as that with the grits prepared that way fondly remind me of that loveable old character.
So, some 60 or more years later, I’m launching into one of the best men’s workshops we’ve had at this congregation over the past 38 years.
And the feeling that I’m back in a visit at my chocolate Annie’s house starts at breakfast.
Those wonderful sisters, who are making meal time flow, treat me like a king.
They take care of me the same way that loveably squirrely old heart used to all those many years ago.
Hey, it’s impossible, I believe, to come to one of these workshops without a spirit already raised in anticipation of what’s to come.
So, rolling through the door, my spirit is high.
But all that Christian love and dedication these sisters are serving up – not just to me – takes my spirit over the top.
If this ain’t going to be a great day and a great session, I tell myself, I’m the wrong guy who stumbled into the wrong place.
But I’m no such guy, who did any such thing.
On the contrary, I’m a little kid again who’s having a ball at one of his favorite aunties’ house.
“Hey mother-dear, can I please have another plate of those great grits?”
Inside the building, no sooner do I roll up to the table than a sister serves me my breakfast with a smile.
It’s eggs, bacon, grits and fruit.
“Oh my goodness,” I tell myself, “this truly does take me back.”
Then I dig into my grits and there’s cheese in them.
Hey, some folks might think of all this as small, routine, insignificant stuff.
The amount of Christ these sisters have shown in what they’ve done is the stuff of what feeds all of our souls.
And in her own way, I’m sure, my chocolate Annie would have whole-heartedly agreed.
Jesus said: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).