Interlude: Bama and Brimstone
My name is Esther Anna Sweethill.
I was born in Selma, Alabama in 1945. 20 years later, I marched with Dr. King to the state capitol in Montgomery. Listening to him, I felt the power of strong words backed by a strong faith, and what could be accomplished by a man who believed in both.
I felt love, too. I met my husband, Samuel, on that march. He gave me two beautiful boys -- after we were married, I'll have you know.
Samuel went to Vietnam in 1968 and never came back. It was hard, being a widowed black woman raising two boys in the 1970s, but by God, and with His help, I did it.
Neither of my children did drugs or became delinquents, praise Jesus. I loved them and I nagged them to be better. I praised them when they did good and, yes, I spanked the devil out of them when they were wicked.
None of them ever went to jail. Not a one. I told them, "If the police arrest you then you might as well plead guilty, because when I get you home I will take a switch to your hide like you've never seen and you'll never sit down again, and then I'm really gonna punish you." I think they were more scared of me than they were of the police, and that suits me just fine. I had to be both mama and papa to my boys, and sometimes that meant I had to scare them back onto the Lord's path.
They're all grown up now, and have fine families. My eldest, Jacob, went into construction. Nothing wrong with hard work, I told him, it's an honest days' work for an honest days' wage. He started by digging ditches and now he's a foreman. He has a passel of girls now, all sweet and giggly. They're the apple of his eye, but they do task him. Serves him right, I tell him, for all the grief and hassle he caused me growing up! His oldest, Ruth, is in college now.
My youngest, Eli, went to college on scholarship, God bless him. First in my family ever to go, and the day he graduated I was so proud I was full to bursting. He does something with computers that I don't rightly follow, but that's fine -- he understands it well enough for both of us. He married this Indian girl called Parvati, and oh I did NOT approve of that, let me tell you! I taught my boys to be God-fearing Christians, and then I see him taking up with this heathen!
I started to give him a piece of my mind, and you know what he said to me? He said, "First Corinthians 7:16, mama." Well, how do you like that? If my boy loves her enough to quote scripture at me, then I reckon he knows what he's doing, and I'll trust him.
I pray to Jesus for his marriage just the same, though.
Oh, and their wedding! We all flew to India for it, and while India is a heathen country that needs Jesus like you wouldn't believe, they're still some of the nicest folks you could ever meet. And would you believe that they have elephants there? And not in the zoo, either, but working like a farm horse! I got to ride on one which about made my year, let me tell, except for the fact that my baby was getting married and that was better... but only by a smidge, I say with a wink. Oh, I've always loved elephants, ever since I was a little girl, and never did I think I would get to meet one in person, let alone ride one. It was an adorable little baby, all fat and huggable, and did you know that baby elephants have hair? I didn't! They have this fine hair all over their backs that you can't see, but you can sure feel it, mmm-hmm.
Afterwards, Parvati's mother gave me something called a "garnish." She heard how much I loved elephants and so gave me a little doll of the cutest little cartoon elephant. He's wearing the cutest little hat, and one of his tusks is broken and it reminds me of my boys when they were losing their baby teeth and went around all snaggletoothed.
She said it would be bring me luck, but I don't know about that. I lost my savings not too long ago. I don't rightly know how it happened -- I said I don't properly understand computers, recall? -- but according to Eli I clicked on something I shouldn't have and next I know, my credit's run up and my money's gone and my identity's stolen. Lordy! Why would anyone want to be me so bad they'd steal who I was?
But just when I think I have to go live with one of my boys, I get a telephone call from a nice man called Mister Netty, and he says he's figured out what's happened and who's to blame and how to fix it.
No fool I, I ask what the catch is for fixing it.
Mister Netty, he says "If I tell you there's no catch you'll think I'm lying to you. So what if I told you that you could help punish the people who did this to you, and stop others like them from doing it to other people?"
"How could I help with that?" I ask. "I'm just an old lady in her sixties. I'm a grandma!"
He says, "You're a mother, and these criminals are naughty children that need a good spanking. And when you are filled with righteous indignation, Miss Esther, you're terrifying." Well, how could I say no to that?
And so here I am, driving around the country in my old car. Yevgeny is a special boy -- God love him, he's special -- but it's nice to feel like a mama to someone again. I don't know if Yevvy was ever properly mothered, but if there's a way to make up for it, I will. He's got a good heart, even if it doesn't really know how to connect to folk sometimes.
And then there's Reecy, who I swear is the Lord's way of testing my patience. She is surly and difficult and wicked and hateful, and I could almost hate her back if I couldn't see just how badly life's hurt her. Maybe if I'm patient enough and loving enough and kind enough -- Lord, give me strength! -- she'll trust me enough to open up to me and maybe she'll let that love into her heart to cover up all that pain she carries.
Of course, before I do all that, I have to get through this right here.
My name is Esther Anna Sweethill. I am sixty-three years old. I raised two children on my own, survived being widowed, and came back from losing everything.
I'm in my nightgown, and my hotel room is on fire.