* * *
I ASK MY MOTHER why we have to go to church, it isn’t doing us much good. (I am 8 and considering the bigger questions of life.)
“It’s the one hour a week I get some peace and quiet,” she says.
I accept her answer – she is, after all, always saying “if only I had a little peace and quiet.”
But there’s very little peace and quiet in church, what with her shushing us, reaching down the pew to tap one of us, separating us and holding up 1, 2 or 3 fingers to tell various offenders among us how close they are to getting the belt when they get home.
I count the number of a’s or e’s in my bulletin to make the time pass without drawing attention to myself. This is my basic idea of what church is all about.
* * *
I GET TO GO TO VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL at the Salvation Army for 2 weeks in the summer. I wouldn’t be going, except Ma has a part-time job at the Salvation Army and it’s something for her to do with us while she works. If Ma wasn’t working there, we wouldn’t be going to VBS.
My teacher’s name is Esther. I get to visit Esther’s home one afternoon after VBS has ended for the day. She promises to have me back by 2, when Ma is done working.
We walk downtown. She takes my hand at every intersection, like someone watching out for me.
We go to her family’s apartment above a store on Blackwell Street and it’s different from any other place I’ve ever been.
I witness a conversation between her brother and her. They are close in age, both around 20. I can’t recall who was the older of the two. He comes into the room and asks a question and she answers and it goes back and forth a few times, and I am struck by how nice they are to each other. They talk gently and this catches my attention.
Esther’s mother is very nice, very warm. I feel at home. I feel it is alright with her that her daughter has come home with a kid in tow. It’s not a big deal.
I remember being afraid to go in at first because going into people’s houses wasn’t comfortable for me. It was somebody else’s space and….well, I won’t analyze it….I just remember hesitating at the door, but being told it was alright. And it really was.
* * *
Later that day I tell my mother about the apartment, about how there was peace and quiet there.
(To this day, I can be completely oblivious to the physical details of places, the furnishings and such, but will remember clearly the tone or mood.)
* * *
“How’d you come to work at The Salvation Army?” I asked Ma in 2010.
“Answered an ad in the paper. Worked there a few years, longer than any other place. It was the only place that was willing to keep taking me back . . . you know, after I’d be ‘off on tour.’