(Dear Readers – I’m taking a few days off, so with your kind permission, I’m re-running a blog post from 2013. Thanks and God bless.)
Grayburg. That was the little community where his grandparents lived, and he loved going to visit.
His grandparents lived in a small white house on two lots, with two gigantic sycamore trees in the front yard. He loved everything about the place, and he especially loved that during the summer, he could come and stay for a week, and have his grandparents all to himself.
His grandmother’s name was Sallie, and when the boy was little, he had a hard time knowing what to call her. His other grandmother was “Grandma,” so he tried calling her by the name he heard other people calling her. But she wouldn’t allow him to call her “Sallie.” So somehow, “Sallie” became “Sa Sa.”
There was lots to love about going to Grayburg. The boy loved walking down to see Sa Sa’s sister, Aunt Bib. Her name was Vivian, but everyone called her Bib. Aunt Bib was cool. She taught him how to play dominoes, and how to do leathercraft. And she had a BB gun he could shoot! She also had bee hives, and always had lots of fresh honey, whipped into a creamy spread for morning toast. And when he spent the night, she would let him get up in her bed, and they would put the covers up over their heads, and hold flashlights, and she would tell great stories. Her version of “Three Little Pigs” was the best.
There was another sister, too – Aunt Hazel. So Grayburg had lots of family connections.
Walking from Sa-Sa’s to Aunt Bib’s house was an adventure. The streets were paved with old-timey blacktop, and in the summer, the sun’s heat would soften them to the point that the boy could push down into the pavement and made little dents with his feet. He thought that was really cool.
Sa-Sa was a great cook, and his favorite was her chicken and dumplings. The dumplings weren’t the lumps of dough that most people made – hers were more like thick, wide strips of chewy deliciousness. She would take a hen, and put it in a pressure cooker for hours to tenderize the meat. And she had another secret – when she was making the dough for the dumplings, instead of adding water to the flour, she would add chicken stock. The flavor was amazing. As was the smell going through the entire house. And the hissing and clattering of the pressure cooker as the steam vented and did its thing.
There was a lady who came and helped Sa-Sa with her cooking and cleaning, an old black lady somewhere between the ages of 60 and 200. Her name was Daisy, and she was wrinkled and thin with wiry gray hair, but she had a smile that could light up a room. Daisy had been Sa-Sa’s friend and helper as far back as the boy could remember. Farther than that – his mother said that Daisy had been a fixture in their home for almost as long as SHE could remember.
One of the boy’s earliest memories was going with his mother Sa-Sa and driving WAY back in the Piney Woods of East Texas, to an old shack where Daisy’s mother lived. It was important to the boy’s mother, for reasons he didn’t understand.
Of course, one of his favorite parts about Grayburg was the trains. Sa-Sa’s house was only a block or so away from the Missouri Pacific mainline between Houston and Beaumont, and on to New Orleans. So there were lots of trains. There was a long siding there, where trains would stop and pass each other, and a small yard where pulpwood was loaded onto flat cars, to be taken to sawmills. And there was a small station there. It was a sort of creamy yellow-beige color, with dark brown trim. There was a freight deck on one side, and the station had a bay window where the agent could look down and see trains without having to leave his desk.
Inside, the station was painted in a tired ivory color, that might have been pretty at some point, but now was just dull and sad. There was a potbellied stove for the occasional cold days, and a ticket window with an iron grill where you could buy passage to all points. And there was a single small restroom in the corner. Over the restroom door was a small metal sign.
One time, the boy asked his dad about it. “But, if Daisy were here and needed to go, where would she go?” he asked in all childhood innocence.
As it turns out, there was an outhouse out in the weeds and mud at the edge of the railyard. His dad pointed out to the old privy and said, “I guess she would have to go there.”
The boy just looked at his dad. He didn’t say anything else. But all he could think about was how unfair that was.
EPILOGUE: This story takes place in about 1961 or 62. And it’s a true story, because I was that little boy. And what I remember was how many people seemed content with things as they were, and seemed not to notice unfairness.
And I guess my point is this – Jim Crow segregation laws are long since a thing of the past, thank God. But unfairness and prejudice are still with us. In society. In our churches. And in our hearts. Jesus told us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come. Surely the first place it must come is to our own hearts and our own lives. And that means being willing to notice unfairness wherever it is. And to work to change it.
No matter how uncomfortable it might make us.