Things are starting to get fun around here. I moved from Gautier to Pearlington Tuesday. It was the perfect time to move; most of the camps are empty the week before Christmas while volunteers stay home to finish their holiday shopping and attend all those office parties where everyone gets to see their boss drunk. We’ll get a new batch of volunteers the day after Christmas when everyone sobers up. I leave for home myself on Thursday so Tuesday was really about the only day I could make the move. I found out that I have already “fluffed out” a bit with material goods. It took both a pickup and my car to moved all my stuff. I’m already wondering how I’ll ever get it all home when I leave for good in April. But I have time enough to worry about that later. Today was a day to enjoy being back in my favorite PDA camp.
My first surprise was to find that there’s no TV in this trailer. The other one came equipped with a TV and I had gotten used to it. It might be an interesting experiment to live without one. The way the other managers talk, I may not even have time to watch it, anyway. There will also be a couple of other adjustments-- this trailer has a working shower which I didn’t have in the last one but it does not—yes, not, have a working toilet. I could give you a three paragraph explanation of this but it would be boring so I’ll skip it except to say that there is a chance I could have an indoor toilet sometime in the next three months. The good news is that I’m only about ten feet from the porta- potties. And they are the cleanest and best smelling potties in all of Mississippi. Really. That’s not a joke, it’s a fact. I’ve become something of a porta-potty connoisseur.
After I got settled in, I went looking for something to do. I realized that there are about three or four houses in this town that I could visit unannounced and be received with an outpouring of love, not so much for what a great gal I am or anything I’ve done but because the folks here in this town are just so darned welcoming.
My first stop was to check on Dallas. I knew she had taken on a project to get Christmas toys for the kids staying in foster homes. I’m a little dim on the details but I did remember somebody gave her a bunch of money to shop for over a hundred kids. So I wasn’t at all surprised to see her office in the back of her house absolutely packed with toys. She had it all down on an excel spreadsheet with the kid’s information and toys and all that stuff. Then she had what amounted to a miniature store right there in her house. All the footballs were in one section, dolls in another, CDs in another corner. I had come because I knew she would probably be at this stage about now and there had been word of a “wrapping party.” But I saw clearly that this was beyond wrapping, it was sorting and bagging. We visited for a while and I noticed wheels going around in her head as she described her system. When I suggested I might be more use to her by just getting out of her hair to let her concentrate, for once, Dallas didn’t argue with me. Santa didn’t need any distractions tonight.
So I decided to go into Waveland to shop a little. This is the town with the closest Wal-Mart. “Close” meaning about a 40 minute drive down roads with no lights and nothing much but trees. Wal-Mart always causes me to zone out after about 15 minutes and I think I was in the store a good 45. So I emerged slightly zombie-like. But, as I came out the store in a trance and walked past the Salvation Army bell-ringer something made me stop dead in my tracks.
Now you need to know something about me: I have a remarkable deficiency in remembering faces. Words and names I’m OK with but remembering faces is one of my greatest failings. I also have trouble with directions. But I can say with some pride that there is a perfectly good reason for this. I have “poor design memory.” I think I told you this already a couple of months ago. Some people have bad hearing. I have poor “design memory.”
I tell you this so you will be properly impressed when I say that I stopped in my tracks right there as I was leaving Wal-Mart in Waveland, Mississippi and realized I knew this lady. Tossing manners aside, I bluntly asked the bell-ringer what her name was. I knew that I knew her but needed the confirmation. It was Miss Dorothy, the only bleached blonde black lady I’ve ever met. And here’s what makes my spotting her so magnificent: she had on a Santa hat and I couldn’t even see her hair. It was Miss Dorothy’s face I remembered. Her butter-soft, weathered and gentle face. I was so glad to see her I probably startled her. Obviously, she didn’t remember me. I was only one of hundreds of people to go through her kitchen at the Missionary Baptist Church for lunch while we worked on the houses in Pearlington. But she was the lady who fed me. She was high on my list of memories, eating being pretty far at the top for me. In fact, it is Miss Dorothy who is responsible for one of the best lines in any recipe I’ve ever heard. When I asked her how she made her cornbread she started out, “Well, first you take a pound of butter……..” Does that explain why I love her cooking?
We talked a bit and I had to apologize for missing her gumbo when I was here in April. I left early to go home that Friday. Usually Friday was catfish day but that week she made gumbo. And, man, oh man, how I hated to miss it. She started cooking it at 4am. She caught me up with why she wasn’t in the kitchen a couple of months ago when we were there. She was in a car accident and messed up the ligaments in her right hand. She showed me the bandage from the surgery she recently had. She gets the stitches out next week. All the while we had this conversation she interspersed her news with a rabid ringing of the bell and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” to anyone who walked by. You would have thought she was getting a commission from the Salvation Army or that Jesus Himself had asked her to ring the bell. I haven’t seen as joyful a bell-ringer in a long time, maybe ever.
It was probably one of the best feelings I’ve had this Christmas. I glowed during the whole drive back to Pearlington. It was a “Namaste Moment.” The Spirit in me had greeted the Spirit in her. The Christ who lives in me had recognized the Christ who lives in her. It wasn't Miss Dorothy's face I remembered; it was her soul.
Here’s wishing you a Namaste Christmas.