Dateline: South side of Chicago
Place: Probably 1970
(Well, if a dateline can be a place, then a place can be a time, right?)
Circumstance: Richey’s front yard, surrounded, and facing North
Maybe I should back up a bit.
I wasn’t wearing a coat, and my surrounders were all in t-shirts, so I’m sure this happened during warm weather. It was whatever time of year Catholic kids get confirmed I know, because I was celebrating my confirmation into the Catholic Church that day. I had just become a ‘soldier for Christ’ they told me. That was pretty cool, but even on top of that, I now had an extra name, a first time baseball glove, a bunch of candy, and an extraordinary pocket full of green cash!
When I declared that I would choose ‘Patrick’ as my confirmation name, Mom very deliberately checked to see if I was hoping to be associated with the great Saint Patrick, or simply trying to get in good with my favorite brother. I lied (I always loved Pat, and constantly tried to emulate him. I even tried copying the way he ate a peanut butter and honey sandwich. I’m pretty sure that it was he who invented the famous bowling ball grip you’ve heard so much about! For all I knew the famous Saint guy was named after my brother.).
Yes Mom, you’ve been in heaven a long time now, and if you’ve been going through my files at all, you know I was lying about that name thing. I expect now that you probably saw through me from the start, and were pleased that I admired my brother so much. But what is it in man that puts him into such a dilemma? Even in a simple effort to honor my closest brother, I thought I had to lie to my Mother. God says the heart is deceitfully corrupt. Sorry Mom.
Now about that baseball glove. Being the fifth boy in the family, it seems that all the good Uncles were taken by the time my confirmation sponsor had to be chosen. I’m sure the famously raucous Uncle John, the one with the big laugh and the swimming pool, was long ago used up, and Uncle Don, the not so likeable, but perfectly prosperous (the number one sponsor’s criterion of course.), had also been taken. I have no idea who brothers three and four scraped up, but they had left our Uncle Paul, whose motto must have been ‘Never Do Smile’, to me.
I certainly didn’t choose Paul because I thought he would be a great role model in my new soldiering for Christ status. It was only my hope that he might have some extra cash lying around and feel obligated to spend it on me that prompted my decision. Small scale maybe, but herein lies a perfectly real example of the deceitful and the corrupt God was referring to when He said in Numbers 23 “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Yes, I had produced a fine testimony to back up God’s declaration about man, but it worked! Uncle Paul, all of a sudden my favorite Uncle, gave me a brand new baseball glove! And I’m sure that if I exaggerated just a little I could say it was the first thing I ever owned that wasn’t a hand-me-down!
Well I was sure having a great day. Everyone was over to celebrate me. I got away with fooling my Mom and incorporated Pat’s name into mine. Uncle Paul came through beyond my wildest dreams (Thanks Aunt Georgeanne!), and I had garnered 40 or 50 bucks cash! And, oh yeah, I was now a soldier for Christ too. Besides all of that there was plenty of good Aunt food to be accommodated, cousins to play with, and with great running around outside weather, outside I went.
I was playing alone until suddenly I was surrounded! But not by anybody I knew. There I stood, just two houses down from mine, at the edge of the hedge by my best friend Richey’s front yard, at the center of the attention of 6 or 7 older kids. It was a lazy, quiet Sunday afternoon and I felt like the only white kid within a mile. I was facing North.
This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time I would be ‘jumped’, as we called it then, in our changing neighborhood. Perhaps it was the first time some of those guys were the ‘jumpers’ instead of the ‘jumpees’; I will never know. But it was the first time that I actually had the pocket full of cash most ‘jumpers’ only dream about! Usually I was ‘asked’ to ‘borrow me a korter?’, but this time someone said ‘you got any money?’
Man! Couldn’t I even get through one day of being a new Soldier for Christ without being tested in battle? All I can say is that it was a good thing I’d been practicing deceit on my Mom, and playing poser with my Uncle, because I was ready. Without answering the question, I reached down deep into my pants pocket and came out with my little hand full. “I got candy!” I declared with some excitement, and held up a whole bunch of fruity Now and Laters!
To prove to me that color of skin means nothing; to demonstrate that people are people wherever you go; to suggest that they were just trying to mimic the behavior of older excitable brothers or enact some token revenge on their behalf; or maybe just to have what they probably wanted the money for anyway, they all just grabbed the candy out of my hand and ran off happy.
Oh Mom, if you are reading this over my shoulder now, or if it did make it into my file up there, I’m sorry I never told you about it. There were several other, even more scary events that I protected you from knowing about too, but this one ended up very well don’t you think? I still had my cash, and my glove, and all those brothers and sisters you gave me, and Dad, and you Mom, and now I’m even grateful for Aunt Rita’s Jello so embedded with carrot shavings. Why did you people do that to Jello Mom?
But I learned that people everywhere are just like me: Deceitful and greedy and selfish yes, but otherwise, we are all just trying to be contented victims of our surroundings. We live with what we can get and knowing only what we know, until God reveals Himself to the heart, and if invited in, He opens our lives to a whole new world full of brotherhood and selflessness, and joys before unimagined!
source: personal history and opinions