I knew this would happen. After four months in Mississippi I can’t find the keys to my old life. I knew I wouldn’t need the keys to things like our post office box or the hobby shop or the barn so I left them here at home. I very carefully left them in a place I figured was safe. On purpose, I did this. Thinking all the while, “Gee, I hope I don’t forget where I’m putting this.” And, of course, I did.
I felt like I left my home in suspended animation. When I walked into the house last week the first thing I saw were the Christmas cards still on the kitchen table….next to a few plastic Easter eggs the kids left from their spring break stay. Yes, that means that Beaven didn’t exactly keep the house the way I would have, but it also says how long I’ve been gone.
I’ve been going through a real culture shock for the last week. I forgot how to work the Tivo. I looked in my closet and wondered what on earth I ever did with so many different things to wear. For the last four months I’ve worn the exact same outfit every day, including Easter Sunday. I really should have gone into the military; the uniform thing is right up my alley.
It was a vivid four months and I’ll never be able to shake it off, nor would I want to. Brief memories come back to me in flashes. Here’s a list of things I can’t get out of my mind:
· How small the tent was that contained all of Jan’s possessions. She is going to have to move out of her FEMA trailer before she could get a cottage and needed a place to store all her stuff. I went over to help her put up a tent and we had a fun time doing it. But, after I got back to the camp, it hit me that she was going to put everything she owned into a space no bigger than a small bedroom. She is one of many who simply lost everything.
· How empty Miss Henrietta’s new house is. How on earth will she fill it? How do you start over when you’re 80 years old? Some of the elderly are slow in moving out of their trailers and into their homes once they get their Certificate of Occupancy. I wonder if that’s when it hits home to them that there’s nothing to put on the walls, nothing to put on the coffee table. Moving to the new, permanent housing will be another reminder of how much they lost.
· The disarray in Miss Susie’s backyard. When I left she still hadn’t moved the bags and bags of clutter out of her small house and into the new shed we built. We kept coming up with reasons to hang around her back yard to bring her out of her isolation. We kept painting the shed. Then we built a pump house and painted it. We mowed the yard and burned trash. Certainly it made the yard look better but the real goal here is to get her to move the bags of stuff outside into the shed. I think she was getting used to the idea. The presence of so many visitors and new friends had a very healing effect on her.
· How big the new sanctuary at the First Missionary Baptist church is going to be. How will they ever find enough people to fill it? How will they find the money to pay the electric bill? But then I remember last year at this time wondering if they would ever find the people and the money to build it this far so I guess I need to just stop second guessing God.
· Every time I passed the spot on Interstate 10 where Rich Cozzone drove off the road to his death. Those of us on the PDA staff when he died have a deeper meaning when we tell each other goodbye and say, “Have a safe trip.”
· The time Chloe ran, literally ran, to greet me when she saw me, then jumped up into my arms. I can never forget her bringing me a copy of her report card. (And they were VERY good grades, too.) The school lets them request as many copies as they want for their family. She asked for enough copies so she could give me one. You don’t forget something like that. I may have to frame that report card.
· The woman kneeling in the road, stoned out of her head from crack so bad that she couldn’t tell me her name. I heard later from the fire department that her name is Leslie and she ended up in the county jail after breaking her restraints in the hospital. I will always wonder if she got help. And pray for her still.
· Likewise, I can’t forget Trudy, our homeless friend. After a couple of days, I called the place who took her in so I could thank them. Trudy was still there. But she was working around the center and they were content to let her stay.
· Burying Jan’s cat. She was out of town when the cat got run over so I took its body off the highway and dug a hole in her backyard. Swarms of gnats flew around my face while I dug. I was torn between getting the cat buried deep enough and just wanting to get away from the gnats. Afterwards I noticed blood on my jeans. It reminded me of the mud I got on my jeans the day I wrestled with the crack head in the road. The stains wash out of the clothes but the experience stays in your head.
· How great it felt to see folks lined up at Hattie’s Hamburger Stand.
· I remember Miss Susie’s hugs. And Shirley’s. Even Dallas’. Each one is unique. Sometimes they differ because of their size and bulk (Rev Rawls is so big, it’s more like just leaning against him than a hug) and sometimes they differ depending on their mood. Miss Susie is inclined to add a little kiss on my neck if she’s in a pretty good mood that day. It always tickled a bit because Miss Susie has a kind of bristly little old lady’s mustache.
· But my most memorable experience was the way Mrs. Rawls hugged me when I dropped in to tell her goodbye. I’ve never had a hug like that in my life. It was like she had enclosed my whole body with her love. Back home my pastor wondered if I had felt Jesus’ touch while I was gone and I realized that was Mrs. Rawls’ hug. It was as though Jesus borrowed her body for a few minutes. I wish everyone could have an experience like that. You never forget a hug from Jesus.