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Michele Andrea Bowen is a native of St. Louis, MO. She was raised on the city’s north side or the traditional African American Community by everyday, hardworking black folk. And she was a member of Washington Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, where both her mother and father’s family have been members for over half a century.
She began writing stories as a child, and her experiences growing up gave her insight concerning all of the possibilities for telling great stories about regular folk who go to church and love the Lord.
Michele was educated in the St. Louis Public School system in segregated schools. She then went on to earn her Bachelor and two Master’s degrees from Washington University in St. Louis. And she also furthered her education by earning graduate degrees in United States History and Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked as a social worker in mental health and child abuse, a program coordinator in health care, and instructor at the undergraduate level. She also worked at Barnes and Noble Books, a job that offered considerable experience with the retail side of the book world.
Michele currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with her daughters. They are members of St. Joseph’s AME Church, where she is an active member in the bible study program, a soloist in the Inspirational Singers Choir, and works on the campaign committee to help her pastor, Rev. Phillip R. Cousin, Jr. get elected bishop at the AME Church’s 2008 General Conference in St. Louis, MO.
THERESA ELAINE HOPSON WAS FEELING LOW, though it was one of those perfect mid-November Durham afternoons-a sunny, fifty-degree, Carolina-blue-sky day. It was a pine-tree-smelling day, a shopping day-the kind of afternoon when no sister could resist dropping by Theresa’s store, Miss Thang’s Holy Ghost Corner and Church Woman’s Boutique. To Theresa’s ever-growing numbers of satisfied customers, Miss Thang’s, as it was affectionately called, was the most perfect today’s-black-woman-friendly store in the Triangle cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Sisters would wander by to spend a few minutes window-shopping, only to find themselves in the store hours later, captivated by all of that good-ole-black-girl stuff they hoped their designer and seriously ghetto-fabulous-faux-designer pocketbooks could handle.
The store’s cash register rested on an antique glass display case, which held an assortment of crosses with exquisite jeweled settings, complemented by an array of matching cross earrings and bracelets. A corner table was dedicated to Bibles: classy leather-bound ones in black, pewter, and ruby along with chic Bible covers in rich suede, metallic leathers, velvet, and raw silk. Another lace-covered table held blessed and sanctified bottles of anointing oil-large, medium, small, and purse size. Right next to it, nestled in a nook, was a glass-doored corner hutch full of fine paper goods-sermons by the area’s best preachers, Prayer and Praise Report Journals, pastel note cards, and legal pads with Bible verses printed on them, which were such a big hit with the local university students that Theresa couldn’t keep them in stock.
The purses and hats were also a big draw. Miss Thang’s purses were black-church-lady pocketbooks, pure and simple. Once, when asked by a friend, “Girl, what they look like?” a loyal customer held up her new black satin bag, with her church’s name embroidered in sequins, and replied, “Now, do you want one of these, or should Miss Thang order you and your sorority sisters some royal blue silk clutch bags with ‘Zeta Phi Beta’ printed on the front with pearly white bugle beads?”
Cutting their lunch date short, that friend went straight to Miss Thang’s to order twenty-five Zeta clutches for the Sorors and also treated herself to a ruby silk church bag with Jesus embroidered on it with silver silk thread.
And the hats-they were a visual feast, in every color and fabric. But everybody’s favorite section of the store was devoted to what Theresa jokingly called her “Saved Hoochie Mama” merchandise. Tucked away in an antique mahogany armoire were pajamas and lingerie in silk, satin, and sheer chiffon, embroidered with expressions like “Saved,” “Church Gurl,” “Miss First Lady,” and even “Bishop’s Boo.”
More than once, Theresa had been scolded and prayed over, with laying on of hands and anointing oil, when a conservative, super-saved customer went into the armoire looking for roomy, waist-high cotton drawers, support hose, and big longline bras, only to find filmy slips and camisoles, lace teddies, thongs, push-up demi-brassieres, and satin tap pants to match. In an effort to keep the “saved patrol” off her, Theresa tried to appease them by ordering their kind of underwear with “churchly” inscriptions. Now the big seller among the “saved patrol,” which had first been special-ordered by a Holiness Church evangelist, Mother Clydetta Overton, was big panties with embroidery across the front reading “Nobody But Jesus Can See.”
But the truth was that after a sister got lost in the sheer pleasure of looking at and touching the lingerie, she often came to her senses feeling embarrassed, especially when her eyes fell on the “Holy Ghost Corner” sign beside the armoire. Plenty of women got saved after rummaging through all that fancy, sexy, delicate bedroom wear and found themselves shamefaced, purchasing a new Bible, study guide, sermon, or Prayer and Praise Journal to strengthen their walk with the Lord.
Copyright © 2006 by Michele Bowen