For the past 5 months or so many of you began a journey with me back to a time and place of which I had come to think of as my new normal. For a few short years, gratefully so, I was cocooned by an extraordinary love given by extraordinary people who had known very little love themselves. The circumstances of my life of which I’ve selectively shared thus far, had for a time, convinced me that I had been ill-prepared to face what was to befall me. Whereas, I had believed that it was simply normalcy to be nurtured by warmth and security, I learned that within my orbit, in that time and space, there were far fewer of those willing to give love freely than there were those who willingly and selfishly took from others merely because they could.
Those who give love and expect nothing except the pure pleasure there is in giving are outnumbered by those who have never given a thought to another being whereby they did not balance what they, themselves would receive from such an engagement first. (I despise the latter.) Before I get sidetracked, I want to reassure those of you who have followed this blog that though I’ve been burned by the unwarranted hatred of others, I have not been consumed by it and that fact has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with me or anything that I’ve done. It does have EVERYTHING to do with the belief, faith and hope that was pushed in me, prayed over me, taught to me and shown to me by those who were sent to prepare me and the God who delivered me and the Christ who saved me.
One of my proven mantras is, “God always sends the right person into your life at the right time”. I challenge each of you to look back at some of the most difficult moments of your life and remember the person or persons who were there to help you through the process. I sincerely declare they were there by divine Providence and not by ordinary coincidence. To this point and because I’m still recovering from last week’s post, I’d like to focus for a period of time on some of those people God placed in my path. Some were bandages for my sore spirit. Some were the laughter that I thought I’d forgotten. Some were a soft spot on a hard day. All were Heaven’s Emissaries.
My dear little friend Fernell and her further influences will be covered more in a later chapter. I’ve written rather precisely of the major affect Mrs. C had upon me but there were others, such wonderfully, undeniably selfless others. Others of whom I would utterly dishonor were I do have allowed the seeds of hate spread at my feet to overtake the love vines planted by the likes of Sammie, a young man 4 to 5 years my senior who took the time to soothe the aching heart of a little girl when adults couldn’t be bothered to do so. Sammie showed me the true size of a mustard seed and what a gigantic plant it could grow into when watered by faith. I am not surprised at all that 25 to 30 years later he followed his heart into the Ministry. Mrs. J. Hubbard, taught me that food shared in love will fill an empty heart to overflowing. Mrs. Arleeza M., sang with such beautiful, Heavenly regard that even sadness would dress itself in melancholy loveliness and tip an upturned heart upright. These names some of you will remember and perhaps they will invoke altogether different or maybe similar recollections and there lies the beauty in looking back. I cherish each of these names and others.
But the name of the person of my next shared memory was never given to me but she was without a doubt the most selfless, the most giving, the most laughter spreading, contagiously charitable soul ever placed in my path and for her, I will always be grateful. One chapter will do her no justice, so please allow me to use this time simply as an introduction to a most wonderful, sadly used, terrifically abused, rescuer of one such as herself, fully discarded by all except God and me. There was a time when I truly wished she had told me her name because had she bestowed that honor upon me, I would have honored her by giving my first child her name in some form. But since I believe that it was not meant for me to know her by name because by doing so I would have ultimately centered all of my thoughts singularly upon her and those memories would have been attached to a name; yet by not knowing her name I am thereby forced to recognize the spirit she shared unselfishly with me and I in turn, desire ever to be that Spirit others see in me. My Papa, in an effort to instruct me in being careful of the impression I left with other, told me that my name would go places that I never would. In this young lady’s case, her spirit will touch unlimited souls in lands her feet never touched. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to share her loving kindness with you.
After The Sunset Limited pulled away from Beaumont’s Laurel Street station and made its first stop some 90 miles Southwest in Houston, it once again gathered its full head of steam and pressed forward toward Los Angeles. There was nothing to see outside except the darkness surrounding the train. The occasional blinking of the overhead amber-colored lights inside created ghostly, elongated shadows of the seated passengers, all of which I preferred not to see. There was exactly nothing to break the gloom that rode in that car with me except the hauntingly beautiful sound of a song that appeared to be playing over and over again from some other place on the train. Every time the person I came to know as the Porter would enter and leave the car in which I rode, the sound of the music would be louder and clearer. I wanted to follow him and find the source of the music but fear and insecurities kept me seated.
I began trying to make sense of the few words I was able to string together. “Got to take my baby, wherever I’m bound…ease the pain…Mr. Conductor…”
After someone came into the car from somewhere behind me there was suddenly such a loud chorus of voices demanding in unison to: Back this train up, that it startled me and brought to mind train robberies on Westerns I’d watched with Papa! It was many hours later after I’d heard the same chorus of voices making the same demand when I finally understood that the voices were joining in on the refrain of a new song by new singing artist Al Green! It was October 1967 and Back Up Train was the latest hit song. There could have been no more appropriate song for my first lonely train ride! What’s more, this particular train was occupied by car after car of military troops being shipped West and then to parts unknown and all wanting the same as me, to back the train up!
Hunger, thirst, fear, loneliness and an increasingly difficult to suppress urge to empty my bladder made sleep impossible. The Lady into whose care I had been submitted, had entered the car, exchanged seats with me, ate a piece of fried chicken from her possessively protected, twine-tied shoebox and promptly fell asleep with her head resting upon the window, never saying a word to me. I dared not to wake her to ask where I could relieve myself. I thought it not important enough. I did vow however, that I would ask the next person to passing how one would go about relieving oneself aboard a bunch of moving metal boxes! Trouble was, and I had no way of knowing, it was already well past midnight and no one would be passing by for several more hours.
Somehow, I had falling fitfully asleep and awoke to Bro. Al still pleading with the Conductor and my bladder still pleading with me. Sometime during the period after I’d fallen asleep, the Lady must have awakened and partook again of her precious boxed lunch because she now held a handkerchief which was wrapped around sucked cleaned bones. (I wonder if I would have noticed how totally devoid of flesh those bones were if I had not been so hungry.) I hadn’t eaten since 11:30 the previous day and I couldn’t remember my last restroom visit! I considered briefly asking for a piece of the Lady’s chicken or barring that a piece of her bread but Mother’s admonition of never letting anyone know you were hungry to avoid being taken advantage of, chased that thought away. But I was not above waking her this time to ask about a restroom! Just as I was about to shake her shoulder, a lovely, slender young woman stopped next to me and bid me good morning. Startled, I tried but failed to give voice to a greeting in return.
The previous day’s crying and the lack of water had left me quite hoarse! Gratefully, she didn’t let my croaking dissuade her from talking further. Looking at the Lady still sleeping next to me, she asked, “Is she your mother?” I shook my head vigorously. “Your grandmother?” Again I shook my head. She covered several other feminine relationship possibilities before she finally blurted out, “Well, what the hell you doing sitting here with her?” I didn’t know whether to giggle or cry; giggle was my first choice, but I was too vicariously close to wetting myself to lose myself in a fit of giggles! She told me that she’d seen me sleeping the night before and wanted to talk to me because she had seen me crying on the platform and wanted to know if I was alright. She had come looking for me! I croaked out “restroom” and she said, “lawd gawd, you ain’t peed all night?” Again, I shook my head. “Com’on, let’s go” she said, I followed.
She took me forward to the front of the car and then out. There was about a four-foot, windowed, enclosed area between the cars with a moving left to right floor, it terrified me. She told me that we would have to jump over the moving floor to the next car since neither of our legs were long enough to simply step over. She saw the uncertainty in my face and asked if I’d ever played hopscotch, nodding this time, she said “same thing, we just moving is all”. Nothing except the humiliation of wetting myself made me take that jump and the very next car held a restroom! It had been a very long time since I had been so grateful for anything so basic! After relieving the pressure of my bladder, my stomach was now free to voice its opposition to being neglected. Loud, angry grumbling refused to pay attention to Mother’s admonitions, and she giggled as she asked me which I had been holding longer, my hunger or my water? That time I did giggle, she had such an old manner of speaking, but I didn’t want her to think I was laughing at her. I needn’t have worried, she laughed with me. She told me to follow her and we car hopped to the next car and miracles upon miracles there were people, tables and Food! She asked if I had any money, still unable to speak, I pulled the handkerchief from my pocket with the quarter, nickel and 2 pennies tied into the corner. She looked at me sadly and asked if I was going all the way to California with .32 cents? I knew my meager clothing was nothing of which to brag but I hadn’t realized until then just how poor a picture I presented. My stomach chose that second and growled all the louder. She told me to sit down and order whatever I wanted. I shook my head and she told me that she would tell me to shut up if I had actually said something but, since I couldn’t talk to just sit down and get ready to eat! I did and had what seemed the most wonderful meal of my short life! Sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits, jelly, potatoes and my first taste of real, fresh-squeezed orange juice, not Tang, and I didn’t like it, but I drank every drop. I didn’t know how far away California was or if I’d have another meal before we arrived. She paid for our food and I hugged her and thanked her profusely. The warm food, water and juice having softened my vocal cords somewhat, I thanked her. I wanted to talk to her, ask questions and find out things about her but the heavy meal and lack of restful sleep was making it difficult to follow my own thoughts. She took me back to my car and the still sleeping Lady, whose cold chicken now just smelled greasy instead of delicious and promise to come back and check on me. I hugged her again, curled up in my seat and joined the Lady in deep, train rocking, satisfying sleep.
True to her promise, she came back and told me to hold out my hand. I did and she pressed a twenty- dollar bill into it. It took me a moment to grasp that this was something she was giving to me. The last time anyone had pressed folded money into my hands was the night Mother died (what had happened to that money). She reached down and closed my fingers around the bill and told me she’d see me later at supper time. She had work to do. I nodded and watched her leave. I fell asleep again in the early afternoon light thinking of her, how old she was, how pretty she was and if she might be a waitress in the dining car. I couldn’t wait to share another meal with her, not for the sake of eating but for the pure pleasure of listening to her.