Four Letter Words
In my 11th year I was a paperboy in Valdosta for the Atlanta Daily World Newspaper. On Friday night, a weekend version of that publication was printed in Atlanta, then put aboard the Southern Railway train for delivery to communities along the southbound route through Macon. In the early morning it arrived in Valdosta. I picked up a bundle of 70 papers for delivery through my neighborhood. The paper brought news of how we Colored folks lived in other parts of Georgia and the nation. I sold each paper for ten cents. My commission per sale was three cents.
One day I stood at a junction and waited for a hopeful rendezvous unrelated to the sale of papers. I waited for a cute little girl with pretty eyes and a gentle smile. Her home was in the next county, and she was spending the Summer with her relatives, including Bubba, my friend and playmate. As usual, at about 11:30, Bubba would come to Mr. Rivers store with the fuel can and a nickel to buy a gallon of kerosene. The girl would come with him. I first saw her in Sunday School. Mrs. King, the teacher, noticed that the girl captured my attention, and I was reminded that what was likely on my mind was not written anywhere between Genesis and Exodus.
As I waited, Miss Lula Mae, another neighbor, rocked comfortably on her front porch and waved at passengers who passed on U. S. Highway 84. She also watched me. After about 15 minutes she detected my uneasiness. A few minutes later my discomfort was hard to hide, and I became fidgety. My neighbor beckoned me. “James Edward, come to Miss Lula Mae.”
She pulled another rocking chair close to her and she prefaced her offer of comfort with the endearing word. “Sugar. I suspect you’re waiting for somebody who might not come.” She shared her profile: “I ain’t got a lot of schoolhouse learning, but I do know some things. I can read what folks say about me, and I can write what I want somebody to know if I can’t tell them face-to-face.” She hesitated, smiled, and added, “And I can count my money.” Miss Lula Mae took my hand and commanded my eye contact and continued, “Sugar, I also know this: You will not be a man until you learn to shake hands with disappointment and not let it fluster you. You’ll have more days like this.”
Miss Lula Mae rose, offered to get us something to drink and promised to tell me some ways to live happily. When I heard the familiar tic, tic, tic, I recognized the sounds of the ice pick chipping pieces from the block of ice in the refrigerator. It was Saturday, and Mister Murray, the iceman, delivered in the neighborhood yesterday. She returned with two glasses of NEHI, an orange flavored soft drink. My glass had more; she intended me to stay long enough to hear her message.
My mentor opened her hands and raised only four fingers on each, and as she began her message, she pointed to a finger to emphasize each letter. “James Edward, Sugar, there are two words you spell with just four letters. L O V E and H A T E. One will bring you joy, the other will bring you sadness. You have to decide which one you want to be your companion, whether you want to live in happiness or misery. I suggest you learn to love. First, love yourself, then love somebody else, and somebody else will love you, love your neighbors, love what gives you peace of mind. Love your work, your animals, and other living things around you. When you’re in love other folks see your blossom, and they welcome your company.” Miss Lula Mae slightly caressed her knee and continued, “Sometimes, being in love and having somebody love you is also a good remedy for rheumatism and arthritis and other afflictions that make you pace the floor…
Hate poisons and eats away at everything it touches. When you carry hate, you put a screen over yourself that blocks out the sunshine. People who tend to hate will always find a reason, even if its whether you’re a boy or girl, how much money you got or ain’t got, or if your hair is straight or nappy. But the hate that cuts the deepest and causes the most pain and worst consequences is to be hated because of the color of your skin, or if you worship God in a different way…
The best way to deal with hate is to not give it a resting place in your heart. James Edward, it takes energy to hate. People who carry hate in their heart and mind live with a burden that saps energy from every fiber of the body. Hate also calls out for pay-back. If you know somebody hates you, don’t waste your time and energy figuring out ways to hate them. They ain’t worth your time or energy.”
I had finished my drink, and Miss Lula Mae knew other customers were waiting for their paper. She rose, steadied herself and opened her arms, which silently invited a final affectionate embrace, and she forecasted, “James Edward, you’ll likely find somebody to love you all the days of your life. Cherish it and be grateful.”
Later that day I saw Bubba, alone. His cousin had returned to her home. I was disappointed, but I was still a boy preparing for manhood, and I heard Miss Lula Mae’s admonition: “You will not be a man until you learn to shake hands with disappointment and not let it fluster you.”
I finally reached manhood and learned to attenuate disappointment. And I chose my companion. I have more joy than sadness.
Good memories are treasures that we horde for ourselves.
Sometimes they are the only currency that can buy peace of mind.
They give us safe passage to where we were once content.
Good memories are not exhausted by time.
To order your copy of my latest book,
WE, go to www.jeatrilogy.com