Every evening my ma would sit me on a stool, run her fingers lovingly through my hair and brush with gentle downward strokes. Her tenseness and agitation would lessen with each stroke of the brush and each sip of Jack Daniels.
“You’re my little angel” she would repeat over and over as if in a trance ” my little angel”. After a while she would tell me about my daddy.
Your daddy was always holding up the wall besides Jed’s liquor store, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, a permanent smirk on his face. I would pass that way every morning and afternoon going to and fro from school. He would shout ” Hi little angel, how ya doing” and I would keep my head down and rush by.
One afternoon on my way home from school he grabbed my arm and said “what’s your hurry little angel”. I pulled my arm away and tried to run but he was faster and pulled me into the alley behind Lucy’s. I struggled and kicked and punched but he was strong. He slapped my face twice and it hurt and I cried. Later on it hurt a lot more and I screamed. Then he was gone.
I made my way home ashamed and dirty. Grandma took one look at me and asked what happened. I told her between sobs that threatened to wrench my heart from my body. Walking to her bed room she came out with a gun and left the house. She returned a while later and said he was gone.
Every few weeks as I stepped out of the shower grandma would glance at my body. There was a time when that glance was followed by an announcement that I would be having a baby. I cried and screamed that I didn’t want the baby. It would be the spawn of Satan. Grandma told me not be silly.
” You were born a while later and it took me time to come around, but here we are my little angel”.
My ma would pause here, slowly sipping her whiskey, as my body tensed for what came next. She became agitated as the brush ripped through my hair.
“Your daddy was the devil incarnate. Not just him, all men are devils sent from the pits of hell to prey upon woman. Don’t trust them, stay away from them. They are here to pollute your soul and drag you to hell when they die. Listen to me. Are you listening.”
She would continue ranting and raging till exhausted. Her anger abated she would return to brushing my hair with those gentle downwards strokes, ” You are my little angel, my little angel. I’ll put a pink ribbon in your hair tomorrow. Would you like that.”
Mornings, grandma would come over as ma struggled to dress and get out the door to work. Grandma would stare at me, arching her eyes, asking if I wanted some eggs for breakfast.
There came a morning when grandma came over to cook me breakfast, ma was still in bed. Grandma went in the bedroom to wake her and came out with a sorrowful expression.
” Your ma’s dead. Guess you’re with me now. First thing we gotta do is cut that hair and make you look more like the boy your ma never wanted. You’re the man of the house now.”
As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. Well, you can read and see what you think. -Wendell Berry