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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bittersweet Sunday

Peeking in on the sleeping girls, my breath caught in my throat. Only four-year-old Deni* lay in the double bed. Where could Jamie* have gone? My heart raced. I held my breath, trying to slow both my pulse and respiration rate.  Mental pictures of the two-year-old African American child lost and roaming the strange neighborhood fed my anxiety. I had to find her before she got hurt.

Suddenly, a picture of mornings at home popped into my mind. I tip-toe-ed over to the side of the bed, forcing myself not to lean on the mattress as I dropped to my knees. Deni had not yet awaken, and I wanted to keep it that way.

Unable to get a good look twisting and tipping my head, I stretched out on the carpeted floor. Boy was it dark under there!

I scanned the surface beneath the bed until my own deep, dark brown eyes locked with two shiny black spheres. “Mornin’, Princess,” I said as softly as possible. “Done sleeping?” The spheres bobbed up and down.

Reaching my right arm out, I felt a tiny hand clutch mine. Ever so gently I pulled back. The youngster left her hiding place and snuggled against me, safe inside the cradle my crossed legs had made.

I slowly rocked Jamie, praying silently. Please, Father God. Please help Jamie feel safe here.  When little girl hands pulled my head down, my silent prayers stopped. I let Jamie turn my head, so my ear touched her soft lips.

“Mama Da, Jamie hunggy.” Feeling my head nod, Jamie leapt from my lap and pulled me to my feet. She dropped my left but gripped my right hand.

Glancing over at the bed, I smiled back at the beautiful little red-headed Deni. “I hungry, too,” she whispered.

“Good morning, my precious,” I said, holding my free hand out to her. “Let’s go see what Grandma has in her kitchen for breakfast, shall we?”

After a delicious Sunday breakfast my parents prepared for us all, Mom surprised us with beautiful dresses she’d made for the three girls. The children tugged and pulled at their pajamas, trying to make way for the new dress as quickly as possible. Each one fit perfectly—a relief for grandma who thought she’d need to alter them before church.

We had time enough for my father’s favorite hobby, photography. He positioned the four of us in the backyard—me in a long navy-blue peasant dress, surrounded by the kids in their lovely new, colorful Sunday dresses. Naturally, Mom had also purchased lacey anklets and shiny patent leather Sunday shoes for Deni and Jamie and new baby booties for Susie.

Finally, we piled into Dad’s car and headed for church. So much laughter and joy. I had no idea that the festive mood was about to be trampled under a cloak of terror for Jamie.

The sanctuary in my parents’ church didn’t much resemble the little rural version the girls knew. Our country church held three or four wooden pews on each side of a narrow aisle. The elderly pastor’s wife accompanied the hymns with an upright piano.

The kids wondered what played the unfamiliar music they heard entering the large room. “It’s kind of like a piano because it has the same keyboard as the piano in our living room at home,” I tried to explain. “Can you see the lady over there?” The carefully combed little heads nodded as they stared in the direction I’d indicated. “She’s playing an organ. That’s what makes the music.”

Before the kids resumed their questions, Mom’s friends began to engulf us with hugs and greetings. I found it a bit overwhelming, but the girls did fine with all the attention.

“Can me ‘n’ Jamie go watch the play when the old man up there calls for the kids?”

Mom understood my upraised eyebrows and filled me in. “Cara told me that a drama group will present a skit at the beginning of the service. I guess Deni heard her.” Turning to Deni, Mom said, “The man in the front is the pastor.”

Tugging on my hand, the eldest of the three little ones waited for an answer. “You may go if you’d like. Jamie can go if she wants to, but it’s fine if she wants to just sit on Grandma’s lap.”

At last, the organ music stopped and the smiling, white-haired pastor stood. The sleeves of his long, black clerical robe swayed with each motion of his arms. Opening prayer, hymn and announcements dispensed with, the pastor called the children forward.

Deni took Jamie’s hand and pulled her out to the carpeted aisle. Since Jamie had a big smile, I didn’t interrupt the duo. I kept my eyes on them as they picked out a spot on the floor and sat with the other children.

Mom gave me the aisle seat in case I needed to leave the service to tend to a crying Susie. The crowd of smartly dressed adults fascinated the baby. She continued turning her tiny head all around the room, bouncing up and down on my thighs. I wondered how long the pink bow adorning the light-brown sausage-curl Grandma combed atop the swiveling head would remain in place.

I tensed as the volume and aggression of the actors at the front of the sanctuary increased. Leaning over the armrest, I spotted Deni. Since her attention appeared to be riveted on the scene being enacted, I tried to relax. Jamie’s body didn’t move; her head appeared to be looking at the floor.

The actor standing immediately in front of Jamie screamed at the young woman facing him. Her retort gained both volume and vitriol. Leaning to my right, I whispered, “Mom, I don’t think Jamie—“

A loud cry, followed by gut-wrenching sobs rang out from the seated throng of children. “Mom! That’s Jamie. Here, please hold onto Susie, will you?” Thrusting the baby into my mother’s arms, I slid out of the pew.

Choking back my own tears, I hurried to the front of the church. Jamie had already bolted from her position on the carpeted floor and ran as fast as her knock-kneed little legs would carry her. Meeting the crying child about halfway down the aisle, I swept her up in my arms.

Nestling her close, I turned and retreated to the back of the sanctuary. Once through the swinging doors, I held Jamie and rocked from side to side. “Shhh. It’s okay, Jamie. Shhh. I’m here. No one’s going to hurt you. It’s just a skit. The people aren’t really mad at each other.”

My explanation made no sense at all to the young child whose two years of life had been filled with violence and pain. In her world, the adults turned on her; she needed to escape before the angry people saw her.

I stood behind the swinging doors because I didn’t know what else to do. If I left with Jamie, Deni might try to find us, or maybe Mom would need to bring Susie out. I didn’t move; I just held Jamie. Soon her sobs ceased, and Jamie turned to look through the glass squares in the swinging doors.

“See Princess? No one is mad at anyone. All of the actors are smiling. The people on the seats are clapping for them. Can you see Deni?” The head pressed against my shoulder nodded. “She’s going back to sit on our bench. Would you like to go back now, or do you want us to stay out here?”

“Jamie go.”

I put the child down and took her hand. Truthfully, I didn’t know whether she wanted to go home or back in the sanctuary. I figured she’d head in the direction of her choice. She did, and we returned to our places on the pew. Crisis over—for now. I had no doubt at all that I’d find Jamie underneath the double bed tomorrow morning.

*Name changed.

The story line originated with: With Just One Phone Call

1 comment:

  1. Fear is hard to overcome; yet the perfect love of God casts out fear. I am wondering what kind of lives these three live now as adult women...