I realize that I should be paying attention to the church announcements but I can’t get her out of mind. After all man, she’s right there front and center wearing her purple choir robe embroidered with a white lacy collar. Her appearance exactly the same as when I first laid eyes on her last Sunday morning. She must be a special choir member being the only one in purple and all. The other members were in white with purple collars.
Could be she’s the prettiest woman I have ever seen. Medium height, slender, light brown skin all blended together to perfection by her Creator,” I concluded as she got up, smiled, and began to sing solo a favorite of mine, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story”.
I do not believe in love-at-first-sight but I have to admit that this morning I’m smitten with love-on-second-sight. God has just introduced me to my life long companion and I’m going to find a way to make her acquaintance.
After the services, the choir single-filed into the robe room. I had a hunch that our paths might not cross this morning, so I engaged my back-up plan to ask the preacher about her on my way out.
“Hello Reverend, that sure was a touching and timely message this morning. I’m Hezekiah Worley. Friends call me Hezzie. I’m new to Green Fork.” I said shaking his hand.
“My pleasure Hezekiah, uh…Hezzie, I seem to remember seeing you in the congregation last Sunday. Call me Brother Holder,” the preacher answered with a grin. “I like the title ‘brother’ because I believe religious titles exalts one brother above another.”
“Yes sir, your memory is good, this is my second visit and I agree Brother Holder about titles. I agree wholeheartedly.”
“Allow me to formally welcome you to the Green Fork Baptist Church. I hope you will make it your church home.”
“Thinking about it sir. I thought the music was also special this morning. Uh, who was,” I began before an interruption. I glanced around and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. She was standing directly next to me. Her semi-long sleeved red dress with a gathering on the right side really accentuated her beauty.
After introductions, I began tripping and stumbling over my words trying my best to tell them where I was from, my church, and why I had moved to Green Fork. Lydia said she had heard of his hometown church, Chicago’s Pilgrim Baptist, and that she had personally met the music director, Dr. Thomas Andrew Dorsey.
“You don’t say,” I replied amazed that Dr. Dorsey knew her. “I’ll have to, in good spirit of course, chastise Dr. Dorsey when I see him next time for keeping you a secret from me.”
“Sure enough,” she answered. “I first met him in Jackson just after Red Foley recorded his spiritual, ‘Peace in the Valley’ “.
“Yep, Dr. Dorsey is clearly becoming known as the father of black gospel, no ifs-ands-or-buts about it.” I acknowledged.
“Lydia Ann Kifer, may I be so daring to invite you to dinner at a diner or restaurant? I’m such a short-timer in these parts that I have no clue where to find a bite to eat”
Smiling, Lydia said she was ravenous and would introduce him to the choicest of the three colored-owned cafés in town – the Gulf Breeze Seafood and Grille.
“They are now open for dinner and supper on Sundays. It was just last month Gulf Breeze began opening on Sunday afternoons and Hezzie, I kid you not, they serve the best Muffaletta sandwiches this side of the Mississippi river not to mention the rest of the menu,” She said flashing the okay-sign and a wink. “It wasn’t many moons ago that all the whites and coloreds were totally closed on Sundays.”
As she rose to sing her very own spiritual rendition of, “Tell Me the Old, Old Story”, she couldn’t help but to notice the attractive and intriguing gentleman seated up close in the center pews, sizing her up while nodding his head to the rhythm of the music.
She rushed off to the robe room after the services, removed her purple robe, hung it in her locker, grabbed her bible and bolted toward the sanctuary. She expected to encounter the intriguing young man but by the time she reached the sanctuary, he wasn’t there. Panning around she eyed him talking with Brother Holder outside and on the front steps. She scurried over.
“Good morning brother Holder,” She interrupted. “My, my, my that was a mighty fine sermon this morning. I do declare, our Lord was speaking right through you and directly to me.”
“Thank you my dear. I reckon the Lord uses us in many ways. He replied smiling and turning back to Hezzie.
“Hezzie, please allow me to introduce Ms Lydia Ann Kifer. I imagine you might have noticed her in the choir this morning.”
“And Lydia this is Mr. Hezzie Worley. Hezzie moved here from…” Brother Holder paused, glanced at Hezzie and nodded for him to finish.
Lydia, noticing Hezzie’s strong and handsome face, was mindful that he had a distinguishing and pronounced scar above his right eye. No never mind to her – she liked it. The scar lent character to an already athletic and personable face.
” Oh, yes…uh…right…uh,” Hezzie stammered. “Moved here from Memphis to continue the Sears and Roebuck Management Training program. I was born and reared in Southside Chicago just a few blocks from the Pilgrim Baptist Church,” Hezzie explained to her as they moved on to the front lawn providing brother Holder the freedom to acknowledge the rest of his departing congregation.
It’s been a week since dining with Lydia. She’s marvelous to say the least and I’m hardly able to stop thinking about her. Those stupendously New Orleans styled muffalettas and their conversation could not have been any better.
“What it is man? You ready for tomorrow?” His roomy asked as he entered the room. “You watching this boob-tube? I’m going to cut it off, okay?
“Fine with me Sturly,” I answered, “I’m not watching anyway, my mind has been a million miles away thinking about the past three weeks.”
“Yeah, aplenty has happened in a short period of time. I’m pleased about this apartment we were able to rent, it being furnished and all…real nice…and reasonably priced. I’m surprised they rented to the likes of us. You know what I mean?”
I knew exactly his meaning, even the hidden message, but decided to change the subject. “Maybe I should invite Lydia over sometime soon for supper, maybe charcoal a steak or something, what do you think?” I said to his back as he strolled from the room.
The history Lydia told pertaining to her hometown of Green Fork was very interesting. In part she said that the city was named because of its location in the fork of two major rivers merging into the Pascagoula. Maybe some day Lydia and I could rent a boat or a canoe and float down part of the Pascagoula River. I wonder if she would enjoy something like that.
“I’m ready man. The past weeks have been very nice but I’m ready to get our last training phase underway.” Sturly confessed shuffling back into the room.
“That goes for me too man,” I laughed. We can’t make a living playing tennis with Lydia for the rest of our lives. I would love a chance to try though. I think I’m in love with that woman.”
Sturly chuckles and waves him off as he enters the bathroom and closes the door. Through the door he hollows, “Yeah, man, I catch your drift; dream on!”
Sturly and he had been training in the Sears and Roebuck’s Memphis wholesale-distribution as store trainees. We’re entering the second and last phase in Green Fork for hands-on retail store training. We are to report tomorrow morning to begin the final phase.
” I look forward to being in charge of my own store in the next two to three years,” he thought. ” I need normalcy in my life. I can’t seem to shake that darn war.”
Today’s June 21, 1974. The President, my former Commander-in-Chief, appears to be in the final throes of the Watergate scandal and it seems to me that the scandal is tearing the nation apart. Nixon had earlier withdrawn troops from Vietnam stopping our direct involvement in the war. But it was too late to stop the anti-war sentiment that has brought havoc across America. The war even has citizens up in arms against each other. “The whole thing is bewildering. I’m thankful that I have learned to trust in Christ and maintain the faith that things in this country will improve.”
Hezzie rubbed the half-moon scar above his right eye with his fingers, which triggered another of the daily and nightly flashbacks to that arduous and horrendous battle near Hue, Vietnam.
Suddenly without warning a hail of rapid machine gun and small arms fire.
“Get down!!! Cover! Explosions all around me! God help us! Casualties everywhere!
Where’s the Company commander? There…there he is! He’s down! He’s hit…blood and brain matter spewing from the head as he dropped. Oh God!
Almost out of ammo! Gotta get it together! Confusion! Confusion! Confusion…!
I have to assume command!
Attack! Counter attack men!
Totally exhausted! The assault’s over…finally!
The smell of dust and sweat! Stench of explosives!
There’s blood flowing; Skull-deep gash! Right eye blind!
The medic left me in this sitting position leaning against a fallen tree.
Shrapnel and bullet wounds to the body and legs. Can’t stand. Foggy!
Have to remain awake somehow. Foggy!
What’s that, a voice from the fog?
“Sir, I have a casualty report,” The blood smeared First Sergeant announced as he wiped blood from my face.
“How bad First Sergeant”?
“Sir, It’s bad but not as bad as it would have been had we not countered when we did,” He answered breathing heavily. “We have twelve dead with the third squad completely eradicated. Eight more casualties, including you sir, will have to be evacuated with severe wounds.”
Fading to black…It’s my time to die!
Rousing hysterically back to the present I restrained my screams. I was soaked in perspiration.
“I have to get help with these flashbacks and nightmares,” He grumbles knowing he probably would not.
“Let’s go Sturly, time to leave for tennis,” he shouted as he pulled on his tennis shorts and pullover. “Lydia will be waiting!”
I do not like the nickname stuck with me since Junior High School. My name is Sturly Cain not “Candy” Cain. I once thought it was so wicked cool but not anymore. I’m going to take advantage of escaping old Chicago friends, at least somewhat, to drop the Candy name.
Hezekiah’s nickname is really far-out. Yeah, I like the Hezzie nickname but I don’t think I care much for him. Fact is, as a rule, I disliked most colored folks. More likely than not, he is a longtime colored-gang member. After all, there’s a large difference in my all-white Eastside suburb and the almost all-colored Southside.
Actually I don’t mind being paired with Hezzie during our training program so long as he remembers his place, but what concerns me the most is how our black and white companionship will be accepted this far south. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s how these Southern white bigots think. But I have to admit; I have never met anyone quite like this quiet and reserved Hezekiah Womble. Most of my colored acquaintances are members of street gangs – all distrusting of us “Crackers”. But I can’t quite figure it out – Hezzie is a different kind of colored somehow.
Sturly lit a Chesterfield, inhaled, and blew smoke into the bathroom mirror. I know another thing for sure; Hezzie was somehow completely different from him. Hezzie is too trusting of other people to suit him.
“I’m looking out for number one first and then I might worry about others.” Sturly thought aloud just as Hezzie yelled that it was time to leave for the courts. “If he ever crosses me, I’ll open him up like can of tuna.”
“Another thing that has me worried,” he grumbled under his breath. “We have been playing tennis together every afternoon with Hezzie’s sweetie-pie and I’m concerned about that fence sign notifying visitors that: ‘By order of Green Fork police department — WHITE ONLY TENNIS COURTS’.”
“Well its 70s not the 60s and we have not been asked to leave yet. Maybe, just maybe, the city is past the black and white hang-up thing,” he thought. “It’s about time these Southern bigots drop their stupid racial prejudices.”
Late that night the phone rang and Hezzie out hustled Sturly to answer it.
“We know everything about you boy. We know all about your kind and I…”
“Who is this? What you want,” Hezzie interrupted.
“Don’t interrupt me nigger! You keep your damn mouth shut and listen the hell up!
We can’t get the Green Fork Police to do their sworn duty so I guess we will have to do it for them. You, your lovely high yellow girlfriend and that white trash Chicago friend of yours better stay off our tennis courts. We won’t put up with a nigger mixing with whites and flaunting the laws down here. You hear? Don’t let us see your asses out there again. Do you copy?”
“By the way boy, Lydia is being beaten and raped as we speak so that you will understand that we mean business.” The caller shouted into the phone.
Hezekiah cried out, “Wait one minute. Who are you, who do you…”
“You don’t worry about me. You make sure that Candy Cain gets my message too. I know he’s there. You better concern yourself with…”
“You go straight to hell mister. I’m calling the cops,” Hezzie threaten as the caller slams down the phone.
“Choir practice and a long afternoon of tennis has left me exhausted. I can’t wait to slip into my PJ’s and crawl into bed.” Lydia thought while driving home.
Her place on Watuga Drive was not considered the safest of neighborhoods but she worried very little about that. After all, she hasn’t experienced the slightest problem since moving-in about three years ago. She could hear the telephone ringing as she fumbled to unlocked the front door. “won’t make it. The caller is going to give up before I can reach it,” she predicted.
“Hello, Lydia speaking”
“We’re watching you bitch. We can see you right now,” the man growled. “You, Hezzie, and Sturly will stop using our tennis courts and mixing. If you don’t, you pathetic black whore, I swear that you will not like what my friend is so hot and hankering to do to you. When he’s satisfied, we will slit your throat from ear to ear.”
Click, the phone goes dead, and Lydia screams…, and screams…, and screams…!
Lydia’s phone was busy so Hezzie hung up and immediately redialed. Thank God she answered.
“Lydia, are you okay? What’s the matter? What has happened?” Hezzie questioned in a quaking high-pitched voice.
Without any doubt something had happened. Lydia was sobbing and screaming unmercifully.
“Lydia… Lydia, I want you to calm down. Tell me something…please.”
“Hezzie, get over here as quick as you can. I need you with me. I’m so frightened. I need you now. I need you!” she screamed.
Hezzie thought he heard the phone drop to the table and the distinctive dull terrifying plunking sound of a falling body. What happened? Is she hurt? Maybe she only fainted! Oh God make it okay…please!
During the high-speed drive to Lydia’s apartment, Hezzie kept reviewing the madman’s phone call. Who is the man? Why the hate? Is this the KKK that he had heard so much about? Why would they rape and harm Lydia? Why? Why? Why? Suddenly he flashbacked to Vietnam, “that damned war,” he thought. “I am sick of the hate, sick of fighting, sick of violence!
Hezzie wiped the tears from his eyes just in time to see the stop sign. It was too late. He blew pass the stop sign and into the intersection.
The tanker’s headlights were the last image he beheld before the truck t-boned his Studebaker Hawk and burst into a tremendous ball of fire.