Mattie Brown couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, according to her older brother Pete, but she loved to sing. Any time she was alone, she would belt out every song she knew at the top of her voice. At church, she would keep her voice down, tracing the undulating lines of notes on the page, trying to decipher them. It wasn’t like reading words; she was good at that, almost as good as Pete. They would play “Spelling Bee” on rainy days, trying to stump each other with the hardest words in the dictionary. Trouble was, she could never use the ten dollar words she learned. People already said she was “too smart for her own good” and “uppity as her mama.” Never mind that her daddy was born here and farmed and fished the Bay just like his daddy and granddaddy. Nobody could forget that her mother was a Come-here from Richmond.
Looking at the choir and listening to the organ music, Mattie thought, if only she could be up there wearing one of those long pretty robes. Then nobody would see that her church dress was getting too short and tight. During the chorus of “Make a joyful noise,” Mattie forgot herself and let her voice come out at full volume. When the hymn ended, Pete leaned across her with a big grin on his face and whispered loudly, “Uh oh, Mama, Mattie’s ululating again.”