CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith and Life for the Years of Winter..
My first paying job was running errands for Mrs. Dickerson, our next-door neighbor on N. Oakland Ave. in Indianapolis. She was the only black person for blocks around. I would go to the store for her, and she would give me a nickel. Her relatives came to call on her Sundays after church. The neighbors commented on how polite they were and what nice clothes they wore and how they weren’t any trouble.
The trouble came from the bullies who chased me down streets and up alleys whenever I ventured into the neighborhood to run those errands. But they were white, and went to Catholic school, so everyone just said “Boys will be boys.”
My second paying job was singing commercials. Not on the radio, but for Great-Uncle Joe, Joseph Gordon McFarland, who had no children or grandchildren and so had un-squandered money. He came to our house one night. I don’t know why, but I sang commercials for him. He paid me $5. I announced, “Now I have five dollars and ten cents.” He thought that was cute. [Apparently I had already gone to the store twice for Mrs. Dickerson when I sang commercials for Uncle Joe.]
The trouble came when my voice changed and my singing was no longer cute. I did court Helen, though, by singing to her with my manly voice the songs that had captivated Uncle Joe. “Oh me, oh my, Tastee’s the bread to buy,” and “Fill your pipe up PA, and take a puff or two; you’ll get that extra smoking joy Prince Albert brings to you.” It worked.
My third paying job came from selling The Indianapolis News. When the paper girl would come onto our block, I would deliver one side for her. Everyone said it was unusual for a girl to deliver newspapers, but she was efficient, and didn’t cause any trouble. In payment for my help, she would give me any left-over papers, which I would sell at the gate of the Mallory factory at the end of our street at quitting time. If there were only one, I would hide it behind my back for the lady in the red coat. We never spoke a word, but when I saw her coming, I would produce the paper, and she would give me the dime she already had in her hand.
The trouble came from the purveyors of The Indianapolis Times, the other evening newspaper, boys five or six years older than my nine, who told me I had no right to sell papers there and that they would have me arrested if I persisted. I had an unbreakable pact with the lady in the red coat, though. I felt that life in prison would be a small price to pay to keep my unspoken promise.
I learned to be a Christian from my paying jobs. I learned that bullies are bad, even if they go to church or claim the law is on their side. I learned that singing is good. I learned to keep my promises, even if they were unspoken. “I shall not be, I shall not be moved. Just like a tree that’s planted by the waters, I shall not be moved.”