Friday, May 30, 2014

The Dr. Pepper - Part 3

by Linda Goodman

(c)Linda Goodman 2000

The next Saturday morning, Glenn Allen and his friend Roy Allen were sitting on the steps in front of my building with me and my baby sister Evelyn.  It had rained the night before and we were surrounded by a gigantic mud puddle. 

“Williams Court is sure one ugly place!” I exclaimed.  “There’s not a blade of grass to be seen.”

“And look at that baby puke green building yonder, the one with the missing shingles.  That black tar paper looks like evil eyes staring at us,” Roy Allen added.

:”Well, we might have to live here, but that don’t mean we can’t go somewhere else and admire some beauty,” I suggested.  “Why don’t we take a hike over to Afton Parkway and look at something pretty?”

Normally, Glenn Allen and Roy Allen would not have been interested in accompanying me and my baby sister on such an excursion, but both of them had missed the early morning bus that took the rest of the boys in the neighborhood to the track and field meet across town that day.  So they agreed my idea was a good one.

We took off down Shiloh Place, hung a left on Garrett Street, and continued on about a mile until we reached George Washington Highway.  Once we crossed the highway, we were on Afton Parkway, in the heart of the Cradock community.  Down the street we walked, admiring the well-manicured lawns and the artistically maintained and colorful flower beds.  The houses were huge and painted lovely colors:  rose, pale yellow, slate blue, oyster shell.  We could not even imagine what it would be like to live in one of them. 

At the end of Afton Parkway, we came to a house that had an arched trellis covered with yellow roses at the entrance to the walkway.  We were gathered around it oohing and aahing, when a man opened the front door and came outside to smoke a cigarette.  When he saw us he hollered, “What are you young'uns doing out here walking around on a hot day like this?  Don’t you know it’s one hundred and five degrees out here today?”

Until he said that, we had not realized how hot it was.  Once he brought it to our attention, we started to feel the sweat flowing down our necks.  We could feel the stifling heat envelop us in its stranglehold.  Not long after that, we started to get thirsty.

I am pretty sure that if we had knocked on a door and asked someone for water, we would have gotten it.  Back in those days, not many people would have refused such a simple request from a child. But we were too shy to ask.  Instead, we decided to start for home.

We hung a right on Prospect Parkway and crossed the James Hurst Elementary School playground to Gillis Road.  After a few minutes, I remarked, “I’m so thirsty, my throat feels like sand paper.”

“I’m so thirsty, I can’t even work up any spit to swallow,” said Roy Allen.

“If we don’t get some water soon,” moaned Glenn Allen, “we’re gonna end up being buzzard food here on Gillis Road.”

All of a sudden, my frightened baby sister started crying.  That was more that I could handle.  I stopped in my tracks and announced, “That’s it!  Everybody stop! I’m gonna get us some water.”

“How are you going to do that?” asked Roy Allen.

“I’m gonna pray for it,” I answered.

“Well," groused Glenn Allen, “If you’re gonna go to all the trouble of praying, don’t ask for water.  Ask for something good, like Dr. Pepper.”

I paid no attention to him.  I got down on my knobby knees on Gillis Road and prayed, “Heavenly Father, You are a wonderful God and we thank you for all the blessings that you have bestowed upon us.  But our parents would never get over it if we ended up buzzard food here on Gillis Road.  So if it’s not too much to ask, would you please quench our thirst?  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.”

I stood up and said, “Come on,” and we continued our walk home. 

“What do you think is going to happen, Linda?” asked Roy Allen.  “Do you think that God is going to send a cloud over our heads and rain water right into our mouths?”

“Oh, no!” teased Glenn Allen, “Linda’s gonna to strike a rock like Moses, and water is going to pour out of it.  Like as not, it’ll flood the whole city of Portsmouth.” (This remark made me realize that Glenn knew more about The Bible than he let on.)

I ignored them and just kept walking. There was no doubt in my mind that God would answer my prayer. When we came to George Washington Highway, we turned left, and there, standing in front of a mom and pop grocery store called the Turn Table, stood a pretty dark-haired woman in a crisp white apron.  In front of her was a card table covered with three ounce Dixie Cups filled with a brown liquid. 

“Well, hello, children,“ she called to us.  “Y’all look so hot!  Why don’t you come on over here and sample some of my Dr. Pepper?”

That evening, Glenn Allen came over and sat on my front steps with me.  “How did you know that God was gonna answer your prayer like that?” he asked.

“It’s like I told you, Glenn Allen, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead,” I said. “If he can do that, I reckon he can do anything.”

When I walked into my Sunday School class the next morning, I was surprised to see Glenn Allen among the children sitting there.  He came to Sunday School every week after that.  He also attended both the Sunday morning and Sunday evening worship services, the Wednesday prayer meetings, and the Thursday Junior Choir rehearsals.  On the first Sunday evening of each month, he and I would fight over who would get to be the first in line at the covered dish supper. 

When we were in high school, Glenn Allen was elected president of Asbury’s Methodist Youth Fellowship.  After receiving his college degree in Accounting, he became the church treasurer.  And, just as I helped bring Glenn Allen into the family of believers when we were children, he helped bring me back when I had my own crisis of faith in my mid twenties. 

In 1983, I decided to get married and move to Michigan with my new husband. The Saturday before my wedding, Glenn Allen and I met for lunch.  Inevitably, our conversation came back to that hot August Saturday in 1960 when I had prayed the Dr. Pepper Prayer. 

“You know,” Glenn Allen told me, “there I was, just one little fish swimming around in this big sea of humanity, and I had no intention of God ever catching me.  Then again, I didn’t know he was going to be using Dr. Pepper for bait.  I guess I’m the only Christian I know who owes his salvation to a soft drink.”

“I like I always said, Glenn Allen,” I responded, “If Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, He can do anything.”

“Raising people from the dead is no big thing,” he said seriously.  “Why, I saw three people raised from the dead in church last week.”

“What are you talking about?” I questioned.  “I was at that church service. I don’t recall anyone being raised from the dead...”

He shook his head.  “Don’t you remember, Linda, that when the alter call was given at the end of the service, three people went forward to give their lives to the Lord?  And don’t you know that whenever that happens, a dead person has been given life?”

Then he laughed, and I laughed with him.  It was laughter filled with joy, wonder, and awe that we had been embraced by a church whose members considered themselves to be ambassadors for Christ; Christian disciples who had the patience, faith, and love to nurture throw-away children into becoming witnesses for Jesus.  That, my friends, is the best investment any church can make.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Dr. Pepper - Part 2

By Linda Goodman
© 2000

Being a part of Asbury Methodist Church was like having dozens of parents and hundreds of brothers and sisters.  I was a straight A student in school, but my parents never made a big deal out of that, probably because they did not want my C-student siblings to feel inferior.  When I showed my report card to Mrs. Hilton, however, she was so excited that she told everyone she saw, “Guess what!  Linda got straight A’s on her report card!”  She even put an announcement about it on the church bulletin board. 

            I was by no means the only child so honored.  The bulletin board was filled with announcements by proud Sunday School teachers:  Joe Sam hit a homerun at Saturday’s ball game!  Ann Marie is playing an angel in the school Christmas Play!  Gillian has a baby brother!  Good news, Mr. Wade explained to me, was meant to be shared. 

            The Wades, in fact, treated me as though I belonged to their own family. I was included in picnics and movie outings.  I was given an open invitation to breakfast, lunch, and dinner at their home. Lori Ann was a best friend who was more like a sister.

            I must admit, though, that I was upset when I passed to the second grade at school.  That meant that I would be promoted out of Mrs. Hilton’s Sunday School class.  My disappointment disappeared, however, once I found out that Mrs. Sawyer was the best second grade Sunday School teacher in the whole wide world.

            My favorite Sunday school teacher ever, though, was my third grade Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Gilliam.  I liked Mrs. Gilliam best because she was from the mountains, like me, and talked just like I did.  Also, Mrs. Gilliam was a storyteller.  She didn’t just teach a lesson, she told the lesson as a story, like she was right there watching the whole thing as it took place. I can still recall the day that she told us the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. 

            “Now, boys and girls, Jesus loved his friend Lazarus more than a chicken loves a June bug, so you know he was mighty upset when he got a message that Lazarus was ‘like unto death.’  Yet Jesus didn’t go see Lazarus right away. His disciples didn’t want him to go at all.  It was dangerous for Jesus to go to Jerusalem at that time, with all those Pharisees and Sadducees after him.

            But Jesus told them he was going anyway, because God, his father, was going to use Lazarus to show His power.  But Jesus waited a while.  And by the time he got to Lazarus’ house, Lazarus was already dead!

            Lazarus’ sister Mary was just a crying.  ‘Lord,’ she said, ‘if you’da come sooner, Lazarus would still be alive.  You coulda saved him.’

            And Jesus was so moved by the grief he witnessed in Mary and her sister Martha, and all their friends and loved ones, that he just cried!  It says so right in the Bible, boys and girls.  Jesus wept!

            Then Jesus told Mary to take him to Lazarus’ tomb, which was really just a cave, and when they got there, he told her to have her friends move the stone away from the entrance. 

            Now I can just see Mary shaking her head and saying, ‘Are you sure you want me to do that, Lord?  I mean, he’s been dead for four days.  He’s liable to stink to high heaven!’

            But Jesus commanded that it be done and it was done.  And I suspect, boys and girls, that once that stone was rolled away a powerful, powerful stink came out of that tomb, because you know that people who have been dead for four days don’t smell pretty. And I can see Mary and the rest of them holding their noses and hanging back.  But not Jesus!

Jesus walked right up to the entrance to that tomb and called, ‘Lazarus, you come out of there!’

All those people thought Jesus was crazy….until Lazarus did come out of that cave, STILL DRESSED IN HIS BURIAL CLOTHES!!!  He’d come back from the land of the dead!

And do you think that for one minute that the folks who saw that could keep quiet about it?  Of course they couldn’t!  They shouted it from the roof tops.  They became witnesses for Jesus!

And that’s what you need to do, boys and girls. Become witnesses for Jesus!  Tell about all the good things he has done in your life.  Tell your families, your neighbors, your classmates! Tell everybody you see!”

That story amazed me.  Just a few weeks earlier, I had gone to the funeral of my uncle Dennis.  While we were waiting for that funeral to begin, I walked up to the casket and I reached out and touched Uncle Dennis’ face.  But I pulled my hand back real quick because his skin felt hard and cold.  That’s when I realized that my Uncle Dennis was gone.  What lay in that casket was just a cold, empty shell.

And yet Jesus and taken a cold, empty shell just like the one I had witnessed, and brought it back to life – made it a living, breathing human being once more!

“Is it true?” I asked Mrs. Gilliam after class.  “Did Jesus really bring a dead man back to life?”

“Well, of course it’s true, Linda,” she replied, “cause it’s in the Bible.  And if the Good Book says it’s so, then, it’s so.”

“But if Jesus could do that,” I responded, “he could do anything!”

“That right,” Mrs. Gilliam agreed.  “But don’t tell me.  I already know.  Go tell people who don’t know.  Be a witness for Jesus!”

I did exactly what she told me to do.  I told my parents, who claimed that they already knew that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (they had learned about it at the Stone Mountain Primitive Baptist Church).  I told all my neighbors, most of whom thought that they had already heard something about it.  On Monday, I told everybody I saw at school, students and teachers alike.  By Friday, kids weren’t making fun of the way that I talked anymore.  Instead, when they saw me they ran as fast as they could in the other direction.

After hearing more than he cared to listen to, my friend Glenn Allen snarled, “Why don’t you just shut up about all this God stuff?  Don’t nobody want to hear that!”

“But Glenn Allen,” I protested, “What I’m telling you is true.  Maybe I just ain’t telling it right.  You should come to Sunday School with me and hear Mrs. Gilliam tell about it.”

“I ain’t going to no church!” he shouted.  “My daddy says churches ain’t interested in nothing but your money anyways.”

“That’s not true,” I corrected him.  “Why, I don’t have hardly any money, but the folks at Asbury Methodist Church love me.”

“Oh, sure,” he taunted.  “they act like they like you to your face.  But behind your back they’re probably calling you names like tightwad and cheapskate.”

He made me so mad that I did some very unchristian things.  First, I called Glenn Allen a name:  “Glenn Allen, you’re a dirty, rotten Liar!”

Then I insulted his sister: “And your sister has boogers in her nose!”

Later that evening, though, I realized that Glenn Allen had gotten to me.  I started thinking about the money that others put into the plate on Sunday.  Mr. Wade usually put in a whole $5.00 bill.  Lori Ann put in at least a quarter.  My allowance was only a nickel a week.  That wasn’t enough to pay for anything that the church needed. 

By the following Sunday, I was so distraught that I asked Mr. Wade if I could talk to him after church.  He took me into the preacher’s study and closed the door.  “What’s on your mind, Linda?” he asked.

“Well….” I stammered, “I just want to know if folks here at Asbury are calling me a cheapskate and a tightwad.”

“Linda!” he was shocked.  “Why would you even ask that?”

“Well, because my friend Glenn Allen told me that churches ain’t interested in nothing but money, and I don’t got hardly any of that,” I explained.

He shook his head.  “Linda, I can’t speak for other churches, but here at Asbury, we are more interested in you than we are in your money.  Why, we believe that you, and children like you, are the most important investment we have.”

“What’s an investment?” I wanted to know.

“An investment, Linda, is something that grows,” he told me.

“Well, I did grow a whole dress size last year,” I replied.

“Not that kind of growth,” he chuckled.  “Children have an innocent faith that shines through them so clearly that others can’t help but notice it.  When they see what you have, they can’t help but want it, too.  Some of them might even give their hearts to Jesus, even join a church.  Maybe some of them will even join Asbury.  Our church will grow because of your lovely, innocent faith.

And as far as money goes, just remember the story of the widow’s mite.  Do you remember that from last week’s sermon?”

I remembered it all right.  That widow gave hardly anything at all, just like me, but Jesus blessed her anyway.  He even put her story right in the Bible, so that everyone would know that what was in your heart was more important than what was in your pocketbook.

I felt a lot better after talking to Mr. Wade.  But I was confused, too.  I lived in the ugliest apartment building in the ugliest block of the ugliest project in Portsmouth.  My family had no car and no telephone.  I could not see how anyone would want what I had.
To be continued…….

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Dr. Pepper Prayer - Part 1

Asbury United Methodist Church 5/18/14

     Today, May 18, 2014, Asbury United Methodist Church on Deep Creek Boulevard in Portsmouth, VA is holding its last church service and closing its doors. I attended this church from 1957 to 1983. In fact, Asbury is responsible for my being a Christian today. To honor its memory, I am posting The Dr. Pepper Prayer, which is the story of how I found the church and how it changed my life. It is long, so I will post the story in three parts.

Dr. Pepper Prayer - Part 1

By Linda Goodman
© 2000

            I was born in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, but in 1958, when I got to be school age, my daddy got tired of being constantly unemployed and accepted a job at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia.  This necessitated our family’s moving from the Mountains, which we loved, to the city. 
            In Portsmouth, we settled into an apartment project called Williams Court.  Williams Court had housed military families during World War II, but after the war the housing was converted to low-cost residential rentals.  It consisted of acre upon acre of rectangular buildings shingled in garish colors.  The rental office called the colors aquamarine, buff, and olive green.  We children called them neon blue, baby poop yellow and baby puke green. 
            Mine was not the only family of transplanted mountaineers living in Williams Court.  In fact, the majority of mountain people who migrated to the Tidewater area of Virginia for jobs settled there, because Portsmouth folks (“city slickers” we called them) did not care much for “hillbillies” in their midst.  We were outcasts, and, as such, we found it wise to stick together.

            The grown-ups did not seem to mind being outcasts.  In fact, I am fairly certain that my parents preferred it that way.  We children, however, wanted nothing more than to fit into our new environment. 

            I figured that once school started, fitting in would be no problem.  After all, the city schools were supposed to have many more children than the little mountain school that we had come from.  With all those children, surely I would not be able to help but make friends.

            I was dispelled of that notion during my first day of first grade, when I uttered the word “termite” as part of the answer to a question asked by my teacher.  As soon as those two syllables escaped my mouth, the entire classroom erupted into fits of laughter.  For the rest of that year, my classmates made a game out of trying to trick me into saying words with the long “i” sound in them, so that they could make fun of the way that I talked.  This ordeal launched me on a years’ long journey of teaching myself to talk so that I sounded like everyone else.  By the time I was in middle school, I had accomplished this goal.  It did not matter, though.  I was still an outcast.

            There was one place, however, that I fit in perfectly. 

            On the morning of the first Sunday after we moved into Williams Court, I noticed a group of children gathered together in front of my apartment building.  At first I thought they were getting ready to choose sides for a game a dodge ball, but then I realized that they were dressed too nicely for that.

            “What’s up?”  I asked one of the older girls among them.

            “ We’re fixin’ to go to that church across the street yonder,” she replied.  With that, she pointed across Deep Creek Boulevard to a pretty little red brick church.  The sign in front of the church read Asbury Methodist Church (This was before we Methodists put “United” in our name.).  “You can go with us if you want to,” she added.

            “I’ll have to ask my momma and daddy,” I told her.

            “Well, hurry,” she urged. “We don’t want to be late.”
            My mother and father had decided not to attend church once we moved to the City.  Daddy had worked in Portsmouth for a few months before he could afford to bring the family over, and he had scouted out churches in the area before we arrived.  The word he sent back to my mother was that the preachers in the city churches did not preach.  They just talked.  What he meant by that was that they did not holler.  In the mountains we had attended a Primitive Baptist church that had been pastored by a long line of hollering preachers.  For some reason that I did not understand, my parents enjoyed sitting in church and getting yelled at. 

            They did not, however, object when I told them that I wanted to attend Asbury.  Daddy remarked that it “couldn’t hurt.”  Momma helped me get into my best dress, and she put a ribbon in my hair.  She tried to shine my scuffed up brown shoes, but soon realized that was a lost cause.  “Now, Linda,” she warned me, “like as not, some of them city girls are gonna have dresses way fancier than yours.  If they say anything about your dress, you just tell them ‘Well, it’s clean.’”

            I ran to join the other children, and we all held hands as we crossed the street.  As we walked through the double doors at the front of the church, several men in suits greeted us. 

            “ Why, Sally Ann, you look so pretty in that dress.  It’s so good to see you this morning,” said one,

            “Tommy, good to see you back, son!  Don’t stay away so long next time.  We’ve missed you,” said another.

            I noticed a tall man in a blue suit with a red necktie looking at me.  He had dark curly black hair and horn rimmed glasses. “I don’t believe I know you,” he said. “I’m Mr. Wade.  I’m the Lay Leader here at Asbury Methodist Church.  What’s your name?”
            I told him my name was Linda, and then he asked me what grade I was in.  When I replied that I was in the first grade, his face lit up with a big grin.  “Well, you are in for a treat!  You’re in Mrs. Hilton’s class!  She’s the best first grade Sunday School teacher in the whole wide world!”

            He took my hand and led me around the corner to a classroom.  I looked inside and saw about a dozen children sitting in little wooden chairs. One little girl looked just like Shirley Temple.  Her golden hair had been arranged in the banana curls made popular by Karen on the Mickey Mouse Club.  Her dress was the color of snow and looked like she had about twenty crinolines under it.  Her black patent leather shoes were so shiny, I was sure that I could see my face in them if I got close enough.  She was waving happily at Mr. Wade, and he waved back before turning to the woman who was standing at the front of the class. 

            “Mrs. Hilton,” he addressed her, “this is Linda.  She’s going to be visiting your classroom today.”

            Mrs. Hilton clasped her hand together and declared, “Well, aren’t we blessed!  I have been praying that we would get another little girl in this classroom.”  She turned to the class. “Class, say hello to Linda,” she instructed them.

            “Hello, Linda,” they said in unison.

            Mrs. Hilton directed me to an empty chair and I took a seat.  I do not remember what the lesson was about that day, but I do remember that she asked the class questions from time to time, and when I answered one of them, no one laughed. 

            At the end of the lesson, Mrs. Hilton had us stand in a circle and hold hands for a benedictory prayer. One by one we children prayed out loud.  I prayed a prayer of thanks that God had brought me to a church where the people were so nice.  When it was Mrs. Hilton’s turn, she gave thanks that I had come to her classroom and prayed that I would return and become a regular class member.

            As I was getting ready to leave the classroom, I saw the little girl in the snow-colored dress walking towards me.  I figured she was going to ask me why my dress was so plain, and I prepared to respond as my mother had told me, “Well, it’s clean!”

            She did not even mention my dress, however.  Instead she introduced herself.  “Hi, Linda.  My name is Lori Ann.  Do you have anyone to sit with in church today?”

            When I told her that I did not, she asked me to sit with her and her family, and I agreed.  The two of us walked hand in hand together into the sanctuary and up to a pew at
the front of the church, where she introduced me to her mother, Mrs. Wade, an attractive woman with pale blond hair, wearing a rose colored suit with a matching pill box hat. 

             “You’ve already met my daddy,” Lori Ann said, pointing to Mr. Wade, who was greeting people at the back of the church.  “He’s the Lay Leader here at Asbury Methodist Church.”

            There was that term Lay Leader again.  I had never heard that term before and had no idea what it meant.  Too embarrassed to expose my ignorance by asking, I used my reasoning skills to determine that a Lay Leader was someone who led people into “laying” down and taking naps.

            The service began as the organist started to play and the choir marched up to the choir loft in front of the church.  Mr. Wade joined us as the congregation began singing the opening hymn.  The collection plate was passed and I proudly placed the nickel my mother had given me into it.  After another hymn, the sermon began.

            Daddy was right about City Preachers.  This one just talked, like he was sitting a kitchen table discussing the newspaper.  That did not bother me, though.  I had never cared much for hollering preachers.

            I cannot remember what the sermon was about.  What I do remember is that every once in a while that preacher would look at me, and when he did, he smiled from ear to ear.  Every so often during the sermon, I would look around the church at the folks behind me, and whenever I made eye contact with someone, that person would smile and wave.  Of course, I smiled and waved back.

            At the end of the service, after the last hymn had been sung, Lori Ann asked me if I was going to come back for the Sunday evening worship service.

            “You mean y’all have church at night, too?” I asked.

            “That’s right, Linda,” said Mrs. Wade.  “We have worship every Sunday evening at 7:00.  We also have prayer meeting at 7:00 Wednesday evenings, and the junior choir rehearses at 6:30 on Thursdays.  And, Linda, I would love to have you join the junior choir.  I direct that choir, and I listened to you as you sang the hymns this morning. You have a lovely voice.  I would love to have you sing with us.”

            I left that service that morning knowing that I had taken part is a ritual held sacred by a family of hundreds, who would be more than happy to welcome me as a member.

            I did come back to the worship service that night.  I also attended the prayer meeting on Wednesday and joined the junior choir on Thursday. On the first Sunday of each month, the church had a covered dish supper before the evening service.  I always got to that service early so that I could be first in line for all that good food.
To be continued.......

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

     My mother passed on March 1, 1989, and I miss her more every day. She practiced tough love. In fact, I used to hate her for the restrictions she placed on me. Until the day I left home, I was not allowed outside after dark. I had to be in bed by 10:00 p.m. She made me do everything myself, often over and over, until the thing was done right. She would sometimes have public outbursts that embarrassed me (but made me more likely to behave when we were in the public eye. I would take a beating over being embarrassed in public any time). If I had an issue with a teacher, I had to handle the matter myself, as my mother refused to get involved. By the time I was a teen, my mother and I had screaming matches on a daily basis. What was the result of my being raised by this tyrant? My mother did not have to push me from the nest. At the age of 18, I fled from it, only to discover that my mother was right about so many things. The world is a tough place, and my mother made me tough enough to survive it on my own. My failed first marriage, my journey as a single mother, my years with an difficult employer - I never would have survived these difficult trials if I had not be toughened up by Mom's refusal to coddle me. Only after I recognized that fact was I able to remember and treasure all the hugs and kisses I had somehow forgotten.