"HOW SWEET THE SOUND..."

May 11, 2003 - The Lake City Reporter

By H. Morris Williams

I remember the day my mother led the church singing. It was awful--and it was beautiful. Awful because she had a screechy singing voice, like Edith Bunker on TV's ‘All in the Family'. Beautiful because she had the compassion to lead the singing knowing she could not sing.

The scene was a little country church, possibly Prospect or Bethel of Bony Bluff. The occasion was a funeral attended by only a dozen or so mourners. I was the only child there.

In my memory, the service was short. Probably just a prayer, an obituary, a brief eulogy, and a short sermon.

The minister probably reminded us that human life is like grass--in time it withers; that human glory is like a flower - in time it fades. Then he probably expressed confidence, or hope, that the deceased was a child of God and would therefore endure forever.

The short sermon ended and the minister asked us to stand and sing a closing hymn. He announced that the deceased had made a deathbed request for ‘Amazing Grace' to be sung at his funeral.

The minister then asked that someone in our small congregation begin the song. He explained that he was not a song leader and had been unable to provide one.

"Will someone please lead us?" he asked. Nobody made a sound. "Anyone at all," he said. Nobody moved. "Someone just help us get started," he pleaded. Everybody remained still and quiet.

There was a kind of doom in the air. We were facing a small crisis. Nobody was going to start the singing. Outside, the birds may have been singing but, inside, the minister heard only the sound he dreaded most: silence.

Then it happened. Head down, my shy mother, with her high-pitched screech, started singing, all alone.

"Uh uh maay-zingg grace, How sweet thu-uh sound...". That did it. That got us started. One by one, others joined in until everyone was singing. No piano, no organ. Just human voices quietly echoing throughout the small church.

There we stood, 12 or so tuneless souls, struggling to sing the best we could, but by the last stanza we were all united in singing the most beautiful verse in all hymndom.

"When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun."

The song ended and we all remained standing. The minister paused, then looked silently out at us with love, tenderness, and gratitude. Maybe we were all thinking the same thing: "We did it. We sang the man's song for him. We did not let him go to his grave without his song."

And my shy, timid mother had led the singing to be sure we did it.

As we left the little church that day, the words of that powerful, magnificent hymn rang in my young soul. "Amazing grace!" The overwhelming wonder of God's loving mercy toward human kind. "How sweet the sound!" So true. But that day I had also discovered another might sweet sound: My mother's singing voice. The memory would forever more be sweet music to my ears.

My mother, Ida Belle English Williams. Born on a remote farm near Fargo, Georgia, and, equipped with just a third grade education, she endured an early life of incredible hardship but she always retained a sweetness of spirit and a love of people. Life span: 78 years, eight months, 26 days.

Of all those days we shared, the one I remember best is the day she led the church singing. In memoriam, Happy Mother's Day, Mama. square

H. Morris Williams is a local historian and long-time Columbia County resident.

www.hmorriswilliams.com