A Haywood Street Story

By Linda M.

It was a very cold and windy March Wednesday morning when I made my way to Haywood Street to what had been known for many years as the Haywood United Methodist Church. The building was now owned by Central United Methodist Church and was being used as a mission of the greater United Methodist Church, one of two missions in the state of North Carolina. When I could not find a parking space, an oil company allowed me to park next to their building that was across the street.

I walked to the front doors, but they were locked, so I made my way around the building to the Fellowship Hall entrance. The old cobbled sidewalk was lined with people standing around visiting or seated next to the outside walls on the bricks. Many were curled up, sleeping with their backpacks as pillows. I didn’t meet their eyes. I had long been taught not to meet the eyes of strangers on the street and these were definitely strangers by anyone’s measure. Looking back, I think about how ignorant I was and how sad that last sentence is as a commentary on our upbringing in current society.

The people made space for me to pass down the sidewalk and I wandered into the Fellowship Hall. The warmth was welcome and at first I wondered why more people outside were not inside. However, it became apparent very quickly. The room was crowded with people, dogs, and baby carriages as well as large backpacks and bedrolls that had all manner of things tied to them. The round tables around which everyone who was eating were seated were covered in white tablecloths, and china and glasses or coffee mugs were neatly set around them. There were people in bright colored aprons bringing big bowls and platters to the tables and serving everyone family style.

In one corner of the room a fire blazed in a fireplace. Around it in rocking chairs and sitting on the raised hearth were more men and women. Some supported plates of food in their laps or just conversed with another diner. Dishes clinked as other people left tables and went to areas around the room to bus their dishes and make room for other people to take their places at table. There was constant movement in every corner and even on the stage at the front of the room where additional tables were set. I was overwhelmed and found myself backing up into a corner next to a buffet where stainless flatware was stored in bins. Clean flatware was added and a stack of white cloth napkins appeared. 

“Would you mind wrapping the flatware in the napkins?” a small woman dressed in a fleece hoodie and beaten up jeans asked. I looked behind me and realized she was talking to me. 

“Sure,” I replied. I picked up the silver for a place setting and rolled them in a white cloth napkin tucking them in as I saw others doing. I was not very adept at this wrapping and tucking, but mine held together long enough for one of the waiters to get them on the tables next to the plates. No one seemed concerned that I wasn’t doing it “right.” The servers, as they came to pick up more, simply thanked me. I was enjoying being useful. I felt apart of the hubbub. The noise had ceased to bother me as I realized it was noise with a purpose.

However, my being allowed to stand and serve was not to last. Before long, a large woman in a heavy jacket and a big man’s felt hat, much like the one my father had worn, took me by the arm and guided me to a table toward the center of the side aisle. 

“It’s time for you to eat. Come sit with me.” With that I found myself seated next to “Mama” and her dog who sat at attention between our two chairs. Mama introduced me to everyone at the table and the eating and conversation commenced. I was spellbound by the caring exchanges I was hearing. 

A mother with a new baby joined the table and we passed the baby from person to person so she could eat unhindered. The baby was clean and content. The mother not so much, but as soon as she was full of the delicious meal her demeanor relaxed and she laughed and talked with everyone else. I was pleased the baby was passed to me. He snuggled in his blanket and was so tiny. I found out later he was four months old and very small for his age, but his appetite had improved, Mama said, and he’d been growing. He was a strapping toddler the last time I saw him and both mother and son were housed and content.