Tuesday, October 25, 2016
(c) copyright October 2016
The next morning, Monday, after my father had left for work, I told Mama that I was sick and needed to stay home. She put her hand on my forehead and pronounced that I was cool as a cucumber and should leave for school immediately. “You better not get no tardy notice,” she warned.
“But what if I throw up in school? That would be embarrassing!” I countered.
“If you throw up in school, it won’t be the first time somebody has done that. Just ask to go to the school nurse,” Mama said.
I walked to school as slowly as I could. I walked the back roads so that nobody would see me. That worked fine, until I got to the school yard.
The school yard was filled with students milling around on the grounds, waiting for the school’s door to open. As I approached, Cecil Boudreaux hollered, “There she is!”
My fellow students parted like the Red Sea. I walked the path of shame that they had created, my eyes stinging because I was trying so hard not to cry. The school yard was as quiet as a graveyard. When finally I reached the school door, a boy called out, “Hey, did three men really get shot right in front of where you live?”
“Yes!” I shouted defiantly. “What of it?” I was trying to sound like I did not care what they thought of me.
Just then, another boy yelled, “Wow! Nobody ever gets shot in my neighborhood. I wish I could see something exciting like that.”
Suddenly they were all crowding around me, asking questions: Were you scared? Did the police arrest anybody? What were you doing when it happened? Did you have to talk to the police? Do you think anybody else will get shot in your neighborhood?
What a shock! I had resigned myself to being the school pariah, but somehow I had become a celebrity. People were hanging on my every word. People wanted to talk to me.
In the classroom, my teacher, Mrs. Harrison, asked me if I was okay. She had been worried about me ever since she had seen my picture in the paper. She was glad to see me in school so soon after such a scary incident in my own home. She thought I was brave and was proud to have me in her class.
At recess I was mobbed. I liked being one of the cool people. I started making up stories to keep up the momentum. “Oh, it’s nothing to get shot in my neighborhood. It happens at least three times a week. I’m not afraid, though, because my daddy is a sharp-shooter and shoots three or four people every month or so. He is so scary that nobody’s brave enough to bother me.”
By the end of the week, I had been elected class president, and I was not even running for the office. A majority of students had written my name on the ballot, rather than vote for the other candidates.
By Saturday, I was so full of myself that my brothers and my sister got fed up with my bragging and would not have anything to do with me. After all, they were there, too, and they were not getting any special attention. I told them that was because they did not get their pictures in the paper.
That afternoon, Reverend Kelly came to visit with me. My mother greeted him and then retreated to another room. She was afraid that if she stayed in the room with the preacher and me, he might try to talk her into going to church. Neither she nor my father cared for city churches.
Reverend Kelly sat down beside me on the sofa and patted my hand. He had just come from visiting with Miss Agnes, and he had seen where a bullet had made a hole in the ceiling of her apartment. “I knew you lived right above her, and I wanted to make sure that the bullet didn’t hurt anyone in your family.”
I told him that everyone was fine; that my daddy, the sharp-shooter, protected us just like Marshall Matt Dillon protected Dodge City. Reverend Kelly tilted his head and looked at me as though he were seeing me for the first time. The he stood up and prayed, “Lord, please bless Linda and her family and keep them safe. Help Linda to realize how blessed she is to be under your holy protection. In Jesus name, Amen.”
“Are you going to be at church tomorrow morning?” he asked.
“Sure!” I told him, “Unless somebody else gets shot.
Asbury United Methodist Church had two Sunday worship services, one in the morning and one in the evening. I went to both of them. That Sunday morning’s service followed the usual order of worship, but at the end of that service, Reverend Kelly announced that the evening service was going to be a call to the mission field. I had no idea what a mission field was, but I was excited anyway. It sounded like an adventure, and I loved adventures.
The evening church service started at 6:30 pm and I arrived promptly at 6:00. If you got there early, you got a piece of cake and a cup of Kool-Aid ®. I was always early, because it was about the only time I ever got cake. The Kool-Aid ® I could take or leave.
As I was eating my cake, Reverend Kelly asked me if I would please sit on the front row on the right hand side of the church during the service. I agreed and sat there as soon as I finished my cake.
At first, the service followed the normal order of worship: greetings, prayers, hymns; but when it came time for the sermon, Reverend Kelly came out from behind the pulpit and stood among the congregation, up close and personal. I had never seen him do that before.
“My dear church family,” he began, “we in this church have been so blessed that we have often taken our blessings for granted. Most of you do not worry about how you will get food, water, safe housing, or any of life’s other necessities for your families, because you have those things in abundance. Our lives are so comfortable that we don’t think about the trials and tribulations that must be endured by the less fortunate. We rarely ever leave our comfort zones.
“If you picked up your copy of last Sunday’s newspaper, you saw a front page headline that read, ‘Triple Homicide in Local Housing Project.’ If you read that article, you may have realized that the housing project alluded to is Williams Court, which is right across the street from this church’s front door. Dozens of children from Williams Court attend this church every Sunday. Very few of their parents come with them.
“These children have witnessed things that most of us cannot even imagine. Most of them have been abandoned by a parent. These children eat spaghetti and rice all throughout the week because their families live on welfare and cannot afford a healthy diet. Many of them witness violence on a daily basis. Some of them get taken away from their families and put into foster homes.
“If you read the article, you may have noticed the face of little girl staring out of a second floor window, watching as the dead bodies were carried away on stretchers.”
He looked toward me and motioned for me to join him. I cautiously walked up to him and stood there with my head down. He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face the congregation. “You all know Linda,” he continued. “She lives in Williams Court and comes to this church every time our doors are open. Linda is the little girl who was looking out of that second floor window. We all love her as if she were our own child.”
Amens could be heard throughout the congregation.
Reverend Kelly said, “Today I visited the woman whose family lives in the apartment where this shooting took place. I held her as she sobbed in misery; not knowing what will be the fate of her husband; not knowing how she is going to support her children.
“I happened to look up and saw that there was a bullet in her apartment’s ceiling. I knew that Linda lived above her, and I rushed to see that Linda and her family were okay. Our very own Linda, a little girl that we love, could have lost a parent or a sibling or even her own life to that stray bullet.
“We have a mission field right across the street from this very church. When will we leave our comfort zones and follow Christ’s command to feed the hungry and care for the sick and the poor? When will we, the body of Jesus, become His arms, legs, and mouth? When will we overcome our fear and reach out to those who, though they may have a different standard of living, are also God’s beloved children? We, the people of this church, must make the world feel safe for the little children in our closest mission field. This church must become their refuge.”
Reverend Kelly stood in silence long enough for me to think the sermon was finally over. He told me that I could sit down. Then he walked back to the podium and pounded it hard over and over with his fist, all the while hollering at the top of his lungs, “THIS CHURCH MUST SPEAK.”
At the end of the service, Reverend Kelly asked me to walk with him to the back of the church and stand at his side as the congregation left the building. There was a basket on a table in front of me, and I noticed that folks were dropping money into the basket. I was being swarmed by members of my church family who hugged me and prayed blessings over me.
I was horrified. The people of this church had treated me like family since the day I first walked through their front door. Now I felt like an object of pity. Being cool was the last thing on my mind.
Tears spilled out of my eyes, as I crumpled against the wall behind me. Reverend Kelly put his arm around me. A woman picked the basket up from the table and handed it to me. I looked into the basket, filled to overflowing with bills and change. Then I handed the basket to Reverend Kelly, wiped my eyes, and said, “Wrights do not accept charity.”
When I got home, my parents could tell that I had been crying. They wanted to know why. I told them that Reverend Kelly preached a sad sermon. They seemed satisfied with that answer.
When I got to school the next morning, I was immediately surrounded by my daily entourage, who wanted to know how many people got shot in my neighborhood over the weekend. I told them that nobody had gotten shot.
Several kids remarked that they were sorry that I had a boring weekend. I objected to that. “Two weeks ago, I could have lost my parents or my siblings or even my own life because someone traded a new shirt for an old one. Boring is a good thing.”
I never wanted to hear gunshots again in my neighborhood, my mission field.
Note: Mr. Guy stood trial, claiming that he had acted in self-defense. The jury found him not guilty.