Lil’ Webb Category

One of the big double doors slammed shut. I knew who it was. Most people try to sneak in quietly when they are late for church – but not Lil-Webb. Everybody called her Lil-Webb, not Ms. Webb or Lil or Lillian, but always Lil-Webb.
I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my left eye as she made her way down the aisle. I dared not turn my head to look at Lil-Webb. I knew Mama was watching me. And Mama could say, “don’t stare at her!” with her mouth and her eyes. I watched Lil-Webb with one eye and Mama with the other.
She sat down on the front row – always on the right side of the church. No matter where we were in the service – singing, praying or preaching, Lil-Webb always did the same thing. She laid down her black umbrella – the one she carried rain or shine, placed her brown paper bag on the pew and straightened up her black netted hat and brushed off her long black dress. Though she was an elderly lady, she had the air of being a proper young lady. She studied her dress and smooth out the hem. Eventually she licked her hands and slicked up her high top black shoes – shoes that belonged to a past century. Lil-Webb looked as though she had lost her way and belonged to a different place and time.
Once she settled down on her pew, she opened her brown paper bag – which always made a lot of noise – and helped herself to a picnic all by herself. It usually consisted of cookies and a glass jug of orange drink. She spun the top off the jar and poured the orange drink into a glass.
When Lil-Webb finished her snack, she washed her face and hands with a lace napkin. She really worked at cleaning up for a good long while. As always I knew when her visit was over, because I could hear the paper bag getting rolled down tight.
Lil-Webb did not talk to anyone though I know she was a friendly person. She always shook hands with the preacher before she left – whether he was finished with the sermon or not. Preacher Johnson always took a moment to shake hands with her and sent her on her way with a “May God bless your heart, Lil-Webb.” She then exited the side door to the right next to the choir and made her way to the cemetery.
I was a small child in the fifties and made myself ready to spy on her by slipping hymnals under my bottom to peer out the clear window panes. And there she was – always looking at the tombstones – one after the other – and looking about the ground as though searching for a lost item. I watched her and frantically counted the tombstones and studied her course. I retraced her steps but never found anything – not even a clue.
This was a solid routine for Lil-Webb. She was a mystery to us all.
My cousin Roy said, “I bet she lost a hundred dollar bill.”
My cousin Linda said, “It must be a diamond ring she lost – a purple diamond!”
My cousin David wished she would share her cookies with him. While my cousin Steve said, “I heard she’s rich – but the money turned out to be Confederate money.”
Roy said, “She’s old, but nobody is that old. Can’t be.”
My older sister, Pat, said, “Stop looking at her!”
I could not.
And no matter what the weather, Lil-Webb walked everywhere she went – alone. Quite often well meaning church members would offer her a ride home or to church – she always refused.
We would pass by Lil-Webb’s house on the way to visit Aunt Grace or Uncle Robert. Daddy always slowed down when approaching her house, because she might dart out across the street at any time. Her house was an old wooden clapboard type home with an over-run yard. I never saw anyone there. It seemed abandoned. But a strange thing happened one summer. The house was overtaken by red roses – lovely red roses. Next to the weathered brown boards, the roses appeared evermore regal. They seemed to caress the house like a red velvet blanket. I used to think maybe it was a gift from God to Lil-Webb or maybe it was her gift to us. Or could it be a reminder to everyone – including Lil-Webb – of the days when she planted those roses?
Back to a time when she was young and productive.
Everything about Lil-Webb was a mystery. But one thing was not a mystery – if she was ever seen walking toward Tucker with Gwinnett County to her back – her destination was known by all – the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church.