She's my best friend.
She's Beverly Birdwell Blair.
We were best friends when we were two years old. We were best friends before I remember being best friends. I cannot remember a time in my life when I did not know her.
I don't know how many Beverlys there are in the world, but in Warren, Michigan in the 1950s, I think maybe we were the only ones.
We met regularly in the basement of the ugliest church building in Warren, Michigan.Our families attended the Van Dyke Church of Christ on Nine Mile Road. Most of the other church buildings were Catholic or Lutheran, which were quite beautiful. The Van Dyke Baptist Church was really only prettier because they had a neon cross that beamed "Jesus Saves". The Van Dyke Church of Christ building with its red brick,flat roof, and beige linoleum with little brown streaks, sat next to the Sportman's Alibi Bar. We played tag on the lawn between the church and the bar, and the side of the bar was "goul." For those of you who did not grow up on the east side of Detroit, "goul" is the equivalent of "base" for hide and seek and tag.
Oh yes, we sat next to each other in bible class and in worship services in theater seats. Theater seats. I am not sure why we had theater seats,instead of pews, but I think it had something to do with being neither "Catholic, Protestant, nor Jew." Without fail, Beverly and Beverly were there every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night of our young lives, unless we were properly "providentially hindered."
Miss Maude Hall taught our pre-school Sunday School Class in, well, it was the ladies' bathroom. There we were, in the depths of the building, part of the Motor City, singing "This little Christian Light of Mine." The teacher was trying to teach us the song. We got through the "hide it under a bushel, NO!" verse, then the "don't let Satan pouf it" part and then came the last verse. Maude sang, "All around the neighborhood, I'm gonna let it shine." I remember Beverly Birdwell said, "No, no, no teacher! It's 'all around Gaineboro Road' I'm gonna let it shine." Gaineboro, was Beverly Birdwell's parent's hometown, way down in Jackson County Tennessee.
That architecturally challenged building housed a spiritual and cultural experience born from the poorest and richest of the South. Many of the South's poorest people came to work in those shops in and around Detroit, but for what our families lacked in money, they possessed an abundance of love.
Beverly and I grew up in and around and through that strange structure, that Van Dyke Church of Christ. Most of our visits to each other's homes began at the church building. We played house, pioneers, school, and church. In pretend church we preached and lead singing, but not in real church. We memorized our Bible verses and filled out our "Gospel Treasures" Sunday school lessons, on January 5, 1964, we were both baptized into Christ.
The two Beverlys dated the same boys, but never at the same time. We traveled from Detroit to Tennessee to Paris together. We traveled from the 50s to through the 60s together. We sat in those theater seats while the men of the church prayed for our security during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We rode together home from chorus practice in Detroit the night Martin Luther King was assassinated, sad and frightened. We watched the smoke rising from Detroit during riots and waved at the National Guard in full battle regalia patrol our neighborhoods. We traveled together from childhood to womanhood sharing secrets in the stairwells of the church building.
Incidentally, in 1966 our Dads and the other deacons worked together to provide a new Van Dyke Church building with pews and stained glass.
On a chilly Michigan fall in November of 1970, our senior year, Bev sat by my side while we heard that my Dad died from a heart attack. We began our grown up journey of faith. The next fall we were at separate universities and began our adult lives apart. Since then we have both married, born sons, and buried Beverly's dad.
That Van Dyke Church of Christ experience, with of its theological, cultural, and architectural eccentricities, besides introducing us to Jesus gave us the experience of being best friends IN JESUS. Beverly let her little shine all around Gainesboro Road when she visited her cousins in the summers, all around Centerline High when she excelled in all academics and student leadership, and all around Abilene Christian University and Central Michigan University. Now she shines all around the schools where she teaches special education, all around her home where loves and nurtures four of the world's best looking men, and all around my life where, though time and space keep us at a distance, she remains my best friend.
Now, I hope I have made up for leaving her name out of my blog on a cappella music.