Monday, January 19, 2015

The Cardboard Box Chapter 3 .... Hiding Tom...................by Julianna Rowe (property of Diane Ogden)

Chapter 3   Hiding Tom

      There we stood, the old black man and me.   I was now about ten feet from the cars drivers side door.  The old man was a couple feet from the passenger side door.  And Duke?  To my surprise Duke was sitting up quietly starring at the old black man, not barking.  It was unheard of for Duke to be silent with a stranger in our presence.   I was frozen with fear as we both simply stood there looking at one another.  Him waiting for me to answer and me hoping he would vanish into thin air.

       Just then a Texas State Patrolman pulled into the rest area.  I glanced at the old black man at the same time thinking the Police would relieve me of this burden and take him out of my life space.  But instead what I saw moved me to a much higher plane of thinking than I ever thought possible.   The old man had a supernatural glowing that surrounded him. Not to mention the tear falling from one eye as he uttered the words,  "Please ma'am, I needs yer help." To add to that Duke looked directly into my eyes and whined his sad whine! 

       I briskly walked toward my car as the officer briskly walked toward both of us with his hand on his gun.  I got there first and whispered to the old man, "What's your name?  

       He whispered in response, "Tom, ma'am, Tom Baird."

       The officer said in a deep southern drawl, "Ma'am, is this here fellow botherin' you?" 

       I looked at Duke who gave me his ole' tilted head whine, looked back at the officer and said,  "Heck no officer, this is Tom, he works for my Granddad in Austin.  I'm just giving him a lift to Amarillo so he can visit his family for a spell. Then I'm off to Sante Fe for a little vacation time."

       Officer said, "So Tom, I'd like to see some identification."

       "Yesss sir."  And Tom pulled out his drivers license which stated he was Tom Baird indeed. Then the bombshell.  Ma'am I am going to need to contact your Grandfather and verify this information.  What is his phone number? 

       I truly thought I would pee myself except I had just done that for real.  I said, "Officer, I am a full grown woman giving our hired help a ride.  If you call my Granddaddy at this hour he will not be a happy man.  As well as he is a friend of your esteemed Governor James Connally.  As I am sir.  I was temporarily engaged to Billy, his Grandson.  The lot of us recently attended the grand opening of the new civic center in Austin.  Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Justice were guests of ours.  If you still feel so inclined to contact my Granddaddy at this late hour, please carry on.

       "Well, uh, I guess maybe everything is in order here.  Doesn't look like that dog would allow anyone strange around you and he seems fine with Mr. Tom being here.   Okay, well ya'll be on your way and be safe." 

        "Thank you officer, you as well."   Tom then tipped his hat to the white man who could have made his life a horror movie on the spot.

       I stood on the side panel of the cadi, peered over the top of my beautiful pink Hog at Tom Baird, and said, "Well get in Tom.  Looks like we're Amarillo bound.  And let it be known if it wasn't for my dog Duke you wouldn't be sittin' in my passenger seat. "  Tom threw his small bag of what I suspected were his life possessions in and we were off.

       "Yes 'em, and to you Masser Duke, I thanks you."   As Tom tipped his hat toward Duke in a show of appreciation Duke actually seemed to understand. "Might I ask your name ma'am?" 

       "My name is Julianna, Julianna Rowe.  I hale from the Boundary Waters of Upper Wisconsin near the Canadian border.  And you Mr. Tom Baird.  What's your story? Yet somehow I am afraid to ask."

        "Befowe I share me short story wit youse Miss Julie, might I ask where in da tarnation did youse come up wit dat big story foe da poleece man?"

       "Oh that wasn't a made up on the spot deal Tom.  It was the truth! I just prayed it worked 'cause I am not sure what my Granddaddy would do if that trooper would have contacted him at this late hour.  He would have been very worried about me and not said what we needed him to say. Now Tom, what is your short story?"

       "Oh no needs to be feared Miss Julianna. My story is bout as simple as day come.  Loss my job tendin' the stock at  da Riverside Ranch jist outside Austin.  No place to go and no monies to git dere."

      "Tom, you mean you didn't even have money for a bus ticket?  Why is that?"

       "Well cause missy.  I done sent it all to my daughter sows she could pay her rents.  She gots a little one that needs carin' for.  She lives with my son in Amarillo.  He is sick and she tendin' to him too.  I gots to go help them kids out.  They mama died not so long ago.  She was tendin' them but now ain't nobody.  I plan on gitten' me a job and makin' a better life for dem all."

       " Now I see why Duke likes you Tom!  I believe I like you also.  Now we have us a dilemma.  It is very late.  I have been driving most of the day.  I stopped back there to sleep for the night which obviously isn't going to happen. Nor can we get a motel together in these parts.  Nor dare we sleep at a rest stop lest we wake up dead.  Right?"

       "I believes dat to be a true deduction ma'am.  Would you likes me to drive us on to Amarillo ma'am?"

       "Not so sure I know ya that good Tom!  How about you keep me awake as long as possible.  Then maybe so.  What do you think Duke?"  Duke sat up, tilted his head again and yawned a big noisy one!  I am not sure what that meant in dog language but I didn't care after my head started nodding off.  Until then ole Tom kept me awake singing gospel ballads.  He had the voice of an Angel. We sang Nearer My God to Thee about thirteen times.  We had tears and we laughed like we had known each other for years.  And as we sang I felt the presence of the mighty Angels all around us.  No, really I did. 
 
Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I'd be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I'll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

     We sang, He Walks With Me, and my favorite was That Glory Bound Train.  I swear that was the most fun I had since driving away from the Harper Rutherford back in Northern Wisconsin.  I will forever be grateful for meeting Mr. Tom Baird.  He lifted my faith more than the old grey haired pastor at our stale Lutheran church back home.  I told Tom I thought maybe he missed his calling.  He sweetly looked into my eyes and smiled what appeared to me to be an agreement smile.

        Then he said, "Missy Julie, it has been a dream of mine to has my own church all me life. But someways dreams doesn't always happen you know?"

        I recall telling Tom to never give up on his dreams.  Heck what have we got if we don't have our dreams? 

       Tom and I were both getting very hungry but again there was no place truly safe for us to stop and eat together. Whites had to eat separate from Negroes. Nor could or should we even attempt a drive in hamburger joint.  No, I would have to park the car a ways away.  Tom would have to hide under a blanket while I got us food.  As for rest room stops, we hit a few rest areas that were empty and or we used the grassy side of the road.  This was all new to me, this segregation deal.  I will say we only had one Negro family living in and around the city I came from up North but people liked and respected them.  Some didn't but they weren't the majority for sure.  Regardless, here I was chauffeuring a Negro, no hiding a Negro man in my Hog with Duke, singing gospel songs, peeing on the side of the road, headed for Amarillo.  And might I add, having one heck of a good time.  Yet in the back of my mind doing what I do best.  "Wondering" what lay in store for Tom in Amarillo.  A grown son who is ill.  A grown daughter with a small child.  No jobs....  little food.  Okay okay, stop the noise in the head!  It was so loud I was sure Tom and Duke would hear it.  It was then I fell into a deep slumber while Tom drove the Cadi all the way into Amarillo.  When I awoke we were sitting in front of a run down shabby shack of a house in a low rent darn scary district of the city.  I suspected this would be Tom's new home.  He invited Duke and I to come in.   Duke relieved himself on the way and me, I just wanted to hightail it gone but that would have been so rude.  In we went, the three of us.

        Upon entering I was surprised how neat and clean it was.  Couldn't have been five hundred square feet of living space.  A hot plate for cooking, no stove.  The child was about two or three years of age.  Tom introduced me to his family as the Angel, God sent to bring him home, Julianna.  I was greeted with a sincere hug from his daughter and a smile from his son who lay on a cot near the window.  Tom picked up his Granddaughter and whirled her around playing airplane while she giggled freely.  There was no phone, no television, no vehicle, not even a bike.  Only a small radio that had seen its day.  Peeling wallpaper, rusty pipes, and barely enough blankets for three people. Not to mention no place at all for Tom to sleep, but the hard floor. 

       Tom's daughter Shamika invited me to sit down on the only available spot which was an old wooden chair whose paint was peeling and who had outlived its time on this earth.  About the only thing it was good for anymore was firewood and I was afraid I might crash into little logs with it but I did not.  It held me proud just like the little shack stood tall for these frail but proud people.  I was invited for dinner.   I began looking around for a dinner table.  Tom noticed and said, "Missy, we has enough plates and we's all fits jis fine in our seats so's we can eat.  I smiled and thanked them. Our meal consisted of greens, rice, and beans.  Something I was not accustomed to eating.  In fact it tasted like grass.  The beans helped wash it down.

       Shamika had to feed her brother as he was unable to sit all the way up.  It was a hard sight for me to maintain.  Food would fall from his mouth onto his homemade bib and then onto the cot.  I tried with all my might not to look.  But you know when you try not to look at something it makes it even harder not to.  Something in the brain.  When the food would fall Tom's little Granddaughter would scamper over and wipe it up with a rag that appeared to be an old shirt torn into smaller pieces.  On occasion Tom would look over at me and give me a big proud smile. 

       I was so outside my comfort zone.  A week before I had attended a formal grand opening wearing the finest gown, riding in the Governor's limousine, surrounded by all forms of wealth and beauty.  Today I was having a simple dinner in a shack on the poorest side of Amarillo.  I couldn't bear to drive on playing in my little dream world knowing I had left these people in this destitute condition.  But what could I do?  Granddaddy would say, "You caint save the world girl."  No but you can buy them some groceries for God sake.  Yet there was not much room for more than a bag full at a time.  These people needed more than a bag of groceries. 

      So there lie the dilemma.  A proud people no matter the circumstances trusting in the Lord for each day, each meal.  Me, I trusted in the Lord off an on like most folks.  I guess you don't learn to trust in God until you have nothing else. 

      I asked Tom if I could visit with him outside before I had to take off.   I thanked Shamika for her hospitality and told Shamanta how nice it was to meet him and wished him the best.  I happened to have a candy bar in my shirt pocket which couldn't be more perfect for the little one.  Bet she hadn't had a candy bar all year.   I told Tom I wanted to do something for his family but he sincerely rejected everything I had to say.  Like it was charity.  I told him I could afford to help but again he rejected my offer.  I had no choice but to leave.  I was once again stuck in my infamous cardboard box.  Able to get out but not knowing how.  And this time I had an entire family stuck inside with me. The head of the family, Tom, stuck by his own pride, not realizing he was making the rest of them suffer from it. 

       I hugged Mister Tom Baird and drove away sobbing so hard I could hardly see the road.  Duke licking my elephant tears and whining with me.  I drove to a park in a better section of Amarillo and starred out the window with the rays of God's warming sun filling me back up with love while it washed out my pain.  Temporarily that is. 
        



    


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