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Jesus, Babies, and Fishing
"Can you take me to Waynesville for a dollar and twenty-five cents?"
The woman was no taller than my shoulder, slightly hunched over, had shiny silver hair, and deep wrinkles in her skin. She spoke with a thick southern drawl, testifying her long life in North Carolina.
"To Waynesville from here?... that's two-fifty, ma'am." I said, "Sorry." I looked forward again, not wanting to look at her disappointed face.
"Oh." She said. She didn't leave though. She looked down towards the bottom corner of her eye, staring at something. Her face was creased with worry. She stood there for a second thinking, then her face brightened.
"Is there anything I can do for you to get two-fifty?"
I sighed. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, there's nothing you can do for me, and there's nothing I can do for you. Now if you'll please step back onto the sidewalk, I need to look available for other people."
"I understand." She sighed. But she hesitated. "It's just that my granddaughter, she's seven? It's her birthday today see. She's seven today. She's such a sweet girl, and pretty too. She looks just like her mother she does, bright green eyes and blonde hair, has her daddy wrapped around her finger. She wants to be a princess when she grows up. But don't all little girls want to be a princess? I wanted to be a princess. I married a farmer. But he was as good a prince as any. Gave me nine babies that man did, and I ate a meal every day of my life. Granted some days we only ate once, but we ate every day. Only six of my babies lived though. Now my oldest daughter, now she is the sweetest thing, nothing at all like her twin brother…"
She went on for another two minutes. Finally I realized she wasn't going to stop, so I might as well drive her and get my dollar and twenty-five cents. I opened the passenger door and helped her in, the whole time she told me about her two oldest twins and how the boy had died at the age of twelve from pneumonia. "Cried and cried I did, until I realized my baby boy was in heaven with Jesus. Do you believe in Jesus?"
"Yes ma'am." I answered, speaking my first words since she'd started her babble. They weren't true words, but I'd gotten two seconds to speak and I had no regrets.
"He is the way and the truth and the life, He is." She said zealously, nodding at her own conviction.
Then she switched from her children to her congregation. She started talking about the pastor and how wonderful he was, and his sweet wife who was so beautiful even in her old age because she used some special Russian beauty treatment, and the women in her bible study, and the gossip, and the scandal. "see about twenty years ago the church split over a silly argument. We were all so broken and upset, and I asked Jesus, "Jesus? Why'd you let this happen to me? Why did you let this happen to our church"?" she spoke as if she was really asking it, looking up at the ceiling of the cab like she was looking straight up into heaven. She had that creased face of hers pulled up into a pout with her bottom lip sticking out.
"And you know what Jesus said to me?" she looked over at me, waiting for a reply.
"No I don't."
"He said, 'Same reason I took your baby boy.' That's what He said. See, Pastor said that churches are like atoms. They split and that's how they multiply. And I didn't see what that had to do with my baby boy. But I thought about it, and my mind was quite a quick thing back then, and I realized what he meant was, Jesus wanted more babies."
I tried to think of how a church split would give Jesus more babies, but I was coming up blank.
"See my granddaughter, she just got her first Bible in church last week. She had to borrow a Bible from the church and they told her that if she read the whole thing from start to finish, they'd give her her very own. So she did. She sat down every day in church and read as much as she could, and sometimes she'd sneak it into her bag and bring that bible home—yeah that little thing would steal a bible even though she knew stealing was wrong, she'd do it because she wanted her own—and she read through that thing so fast that before I could turn around twice through and climb on a chair, she'd finished reading the whole thing. And I can't beat that with a stick. I didn't read a whole Bible through until after I'd been married for twenty-five years!" she exclaimed.
She told me about Susan, her granddaughter, and how beautiful she was, and how eager she was to learn, and it reminded me of Sammy, my boy at home. He would be handsome like his momma. I thought about how much he looked like me, and how he looked up to me and thought I was the best man in the world. He had my dark skin and dark eyes and thick New York accent and wide smile when he wanted to show it off. I tried to remember the last time I'd sat with him, or taken him out fishing, or gone to the movies with him. He was the kind of boy who would like the girl this lady was describing.
Suddenly I really wanted to do exactly what she had done to me; I wanted to tell her everything about my little boy. But more than that I wanted to go home to him. Her telling me all about her family made me run through my memories and miss my boy and my wife and even my mother.
But I kept my mouth shut because I knew whatever I told her she'd probably tell someone else.
She talked more about her granddaughter, and finally we arrived at the address she'd told me. I helped her out and gave her the bag she'd brought. I walked her to the door and she knocked. A little girl answered the door and her eyes grew wide and twinkled when she saw her grandma. She squealed and ran into her arms. The old woman laughed and hugged the little girl and they walked into the little house.
I left without the dollar and twenty-five cents, the whole way home thinking about everything ma'am had taught me in the thirty minute drive about family, and Jesus, and babies, and taking my boy fishing.