Sandra Hamer Smith

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Excerpt from GLORY...THE HAIR



        Troy gets into his Jeep and gives her a wave and waves at David. The ride from their house is about a 30 minute drive to his place. Troy flips to a gospel station. The pastor of the New Friend in Christ Baptist Church is starting a sermon entitled "Do As I  Say And Not As I Do."

       "Preachers sometimes get a bad rap," yells the minister. "Can I get an Amen?  People expect us to be like angels. But, little do they know that when you start stepping out for Christ that's when all the trouble starts."

        "Amen, Amen," goes the crowd.

       "The devil is not going to bother you when you're out there in the world acting a fool.  You are not a threat. But if he sees that you are trying to do something productive with your life, that's when he comes after you. If he sees you're trying to build up the kingdom of God, be prepared because he will throw whatever gets your goat at you. You all may have heard the story about the news anchor Shelly Cunningham and how she gets wrapped up with a minister name Rex Billingsley. 

      I don't know if they married or what in the end, but their relationship is rocky at the start.  A friend of hers told me the story. Shelly is an up and coming television news anchor living in Memphis. She owns a house, drives a nice car and pulls down a hefty salary. The men in her life are plentiful, but the loves in her life are few. She is very happy being single and living in Memphis. Then, she meets a certain preacher. A friend of hers introduces her to a man by the name of Rex Billingsley. He is a very dapper tall man who is a Baptist minister.  When Rex comes into her life, things change drastically. 

       Shelly is a 5 and 10 anchor. She has a rigorous shift. She is very modest for a TV personality. Shelly Cunningham has won numerous awards. If you saw her, you'd think, "She looks like a model." Her hair is brown and shoulder length. She sports a convertible Mercedes Benz. Shelly lives in Collierville which is not far from Memphis. She has never been married and doesn't have any kids. She is 35 years old and not worried about marriage. 

       She is a TV news anchor at the number one station in the city. Her eyes are a deep almond. Her nails are very well shaped and kempt. She is a perfect size 8 in dress, pants and shoes. She doesn't smoke, eat read meat or drink alcohol. Her motto, "Call me plastic, call me unrealistic, but call me with your news tips and jokes of the day." 

       A good friend of hers who Shelly still admires to this day tells her that she has someone who she wants her to meet. Gretchen Jones says, "Shelly, I've got the perfect man for you.  He's tall, about 6'2", dark and very handsome. If I were younger and single, I'd date him myself. She wishes she were and wishes she had. But Rex is the king of mind games. He is a good guy, but some of this stuff Shelly just doesn't need.

      Rex and Shelly meet one Sunday at an upscale restaurant on Union Avenue. From the time she sees him, she knows that she has to have this man. Where on earth has he been all of her life? But who cares.  He's here now," she thinks. 

       Rex comes to the door and looks around as if to see who his date might be. 

       Shelly says, "Might you be Rex Billingsley?"

       And he says, "Yes, who are you?"  She tells him that she is the vivacious and attentive Shelly Cunningham. He sort of smirks, grabs her hand and plants a kiss on it. She is flattered and entranced from that moment on. He takes her by the elbow and says, "Let's find a table."

Normally, a waitress will seat you. But, he finds a table near the back in a booth. He waits for her to sit down, and then motions a waitress to come over.

        "We'll have two iced teas to start. I'll look over the menu and tell you what we'll have for dinner later, " he says.  Shelly just looks on.  He is truly a gentleman.

        "Saw you on the tube the other day. How long have you been doing that?" he asks. He has this stern look. He isn't even smiling.

       "About 14 years," Shelly says. "I've worked in markets all over the country, but Memphis is home. I'm glad to be back," she tells him.

       "Where are you from?," Shelly inquires.

      "Chicago! I'm from Chicago." Why did that sound so rehearsed?," she thinks.

     "Well, what brings you to the river city?" she continues.

     "I took a pastoral job here at a small church.There are many people who need to be ministered to. I'm here to serve the people. Not many leaders have that mentality. They think the people are to serve them."

     Shelly thinks to herself, here is a man who men love to hate, but there's something about him. She just can't put her finger on it.

     "So, Shelly are you dating anyone, seriously?"

      "No," she replies. "Are you?"

      "No, I've only been in Memphis for about a year. "I've been very busy and haven't had time to meet anyone. I'm not going to date anyone at my church. That would only cause trouble. I don't like mixing work with business. You're very pretty Shelly. You must have a ton of suitors?"

      "Yes, but they're never the right ones," she says looking over his shoulder for the waitress.  He looks behind himself. She can tell that he likes to be the center of attention.

     "What are you looking for?," preacher man asks. That's how Shelly is referring to him in her mind as “preacher man.”

     "I am just checking to see if the waitress is on her way."

     "She'll be here in a few minutes with our iced teas."  He is looking down at her breasts.  She happens to be a perfect 38B.

     She feels sort of uncomfortable for a moment. She is use to it. But with Rex it is almost like he is pulling virtue from her body. She knows it sounds crazy, but that's how it feels.

     "Your skin is very beautiful," he says....rubbing her breast with his index finger. Why she didn't slap him then, she doesn't know.

     "Excuse me, I hope I didn't offend you," Rex says. "You just look so soft and I...well I  wanted to touch you."

      "That's okay," says Shelly...looking away.

      Here is a much more subdued Shelly Cunningham. Her friends won't believe it. She's been called everything from cocky to conceited. Now, she's being brought down to size minute by minute, second by second, finger by finger. The waitress makes her way back to the table. She sets their iced teas down.

      "Did you sweeten both with sugar and lemon?," he asks.

     "Why, yes sir, I did," replies the waitress. She looks like a college student.

      "Thank you," Rex replies. "We'll have the shrimp almondaine and Caesar salad. We both want fresh string beans and then cheesecake for dessert. That's okay with you isn't it Shelly?"

       "That's fine," Shelly replies. At least he doesn't order beef, she thinks.

       "You don't look like a pork or beef type of woman Shelly. Are you?"

       "No, I don't eat pork or beef. So, you're okay for now. Just, don't do it again."

        He gives her a small smile. But she is waiting somehow on his approval. She doesn't quite understand why.

       He is definitely a man. She loves the way he's dressed. It's fall. He has on a deep olive suit, with a crisp white shirt. His necktie is dark green with a few specks of red. There's something quite alluring about this man, but she just doesn't seem to know what it is.

       "Penny for your thoughts," smiles Rex.

       "I'm not thinking about much, just work and things that I've got to do."

       "Tell me Shelly, how did you get your start in broadcasting?"

       "Well, it's a long story. I graduated from J-School in Missouri. Then, I worked at a station in Jackson, Mississippi for four years. I also did a fellowship abroad in Italy. I own a Master's in Journalism from the University of Memphis. It's really all about networking and who you know. Of course, you need skill as well. If you have great potential, they'll work with you."

       "Do you plan to ever marry and have children?" he pries.

       What is so charming about getting to know this man? Shelly can't quite figure that out. She doesn't go to church that much. She occasionally goes to church functions and when friends invite her and on holidays. Shelly usually lounges on Sundays, plays tennis or watches sports. Go to church every Sunday, she just can't imagine. And now, here she is out on a date with a preacher. Wait until she tells her friends.

          "Yes, one day I'd love to marry and have children. Whenever the right man comes along," she replies. Shelly is long passed the phase of getting pumped up when men inquire about marriage. Some are serious and others are just full of manure. She isn't taking the minister that seriously. Perhaps that is her big mistake. She immediately changes the subject.

        "So, Rex, What part of Chicago are you from?" she inquires.

        "I hail from the Southside.  I went to school there and seminary as well. But, I felt a calling to come to Memphis. I don't know why. I suppose because of all the rich history here, the beautiful women and the food. It seems strange that I would come to Memphis. But this is where I've been assigned. During the great migration, blacks were fleeing to the North to Chicago. I know there must be important work for me here. Time will tell. I might even meet my wife in Memphis."

        Shelly just gives him a half smile as if to say, that's nice.  Later, she thinks that should have been her clue to stay the hell away from Rex Billingsley.  It isn’t that she doesn't want to get married. But, what would transpire over the next few months could have taken her soul and career. She is grateful to God for the understanding of her bosses, colleagues and members of a church she finally joins.

         There are some Christian colleagues on the job who recognized the signs and encouraged her back into the fold. Everything could have turned out differently she thinks, if she and Rex had just taken it slowly. That's why she's so grateful to her station, a secular operation. Sure, the church serves a purpose as well.

         "Yes, time will tell," repeats Shelly.

           "After dinner, Shelly, say we head down to the river and take a walk. It shouldn't be too cold. I would love to see your face in the moonlight. I'm sure it would make for a lunar experience."

         Oh, this boy is smooth.  I will give him that much, she thinks. Now, he's rolling romantic phrases off his tongue. Next he'll be reciting poetry. And perhaps, then he'll want to waltz.

       "Rex, you are quite the charmer, aren't you." Shelly points out.

       "I try.  He turns his head to search for the waiter. "Check please." After paying, they head out of the Peabody. Shelly hops in her Benz and preacher man hops in his Jaguar. Not bad on a minister’s salary, she thinks. He leads the way zipping through the scenic part of downtown Memphis. 

        At that point, Shelly is convinced that he isn't from here. There are quicker ways to move around downtown. Anyway, preacher man parks on the cobblestones. Shelly parks right above him on solid ground. She's never much cared for those darn cobblestones.

        She hasn't taken a stroll along the river since her college days. But, she loves what they've done to downtown. There are a lot more restaurants down here. When Shelly was growing up, folks always talked about Memphis and if it would ever hit the big time. She guesses it finally has. The city now has a NBA team. Nashville has a football team that played a few years in Memphis. Memphis will get an NFL team yet. Downtown has a few more skyscrapers and a light rail system.

         She was getting worried there for a minute. It looked like East Memphis was becoming the new center of the city. Peabody Place really adds to the character of this city. And to top it off, Memphis even jumped a few TV markets. Now, the city is ahead of Nashville. There is still some poverty in the city, but literacy efforts have increased and a lot more people can read. Literacy is one of Shelly's volunteer efforts. The station requires that you give back to the community. She's chosen literacy. If a person can read, then they can get a job. At least they'll feel like they've got a chance.

        "Do you do any volunteer work, Shelly?," asks Rex. She thinks that for sure he must be a mind reader on weekends.

        "Yes, I volunteer with the Literacy Council, my sorority, Delta Sigma Theta and work with other non-profit groups.  I stay pretty busy."

        "Are you too busy to entertain the company of a man?"

        "At times, it gets hectic, but I always make room for that significant other in my life."

       "Good, so I stand a chance."

       "Yes, Rex, you stand a chance."  Shelly thinks, you stand more than a chance. You stand to win.

        Shelly and Rex date for more than two years. It is a great relationship. They are starting to get very close. Shelly even thinks about joining Rex's church. Yet for the first time in her life, she feels insecure about a relationship. There are dozens of good looking single women at the church. You should see them after service trying to get a hug. Rex assures Shelly that she is the only one, but somehow she just doesn't believe him. She begins to worry and that puts a strain on the relationship. They fly out of town together every month. They even go to Paris for a week. The two are planning to take a Mediterranean cruise next year. But still, Shelly is wondering where this relationship is going. Her co-anchor notices the change in her and wonders what is wrong.

        "The vivacious and energetic Shelly Cunningham isn't quite up to herself these days.  What's wrong?" asks Jerry Buchanan.

        "Oh everything's fine," denies Shelly.  "Things haven't been better."

        Jerry knows she is lying. Since Shelly started dating that preacher, she hasn't quite been herself. Sure, her hair still looks good, but occasionally she's had to add extra make-up under her eyes. That's quite unusual for Shelly Cunningham.

         "Shelly, look. We've been good friends for years. Don't start holding out on me now.  It's that preacher guy isn't it?"

         "I do have some concerns about where this relationship is going," she admits.

         "Is he going to marry you?" he asks.

        "I don't know," she whispers.

        "Have you slept with him?" 

        Heck, even Jerry knows that if she is sleeping with him that could prove traumatic. But if he leaves her and she hasn't sleep with him, it won't be as bad as it looks.

      "That's kind of personal. I'd rather not answer that," adds Shelly.

       "I see," says Jerry. "We'd better hurry up. It's almost time for the ten o'clock news. Get some sleep tonight. And stop worrying about him. Relationships are supposed to make you happy and perky.  If they don't then perhaps, he ain't the one."

        Shelly thinks about that.  Perhaps, Jerry is right. She is going to call a friend of hers tomorrow and get some counseling.  This is definitely madness and it's got to stop.