Puddin’ Head Jones’ Seat

 

“That’s my seat!”

I sat on a wooden bench in one of Atlanta’s oldest neighborhoods. East Atlanta has gone through a number of changes in the past fifty years. In the fifties and sixties it was a middle-class community. It went through some changes as the white flight to the suburbs in the seventies and eighties. But is now inhabited by young families of all ethnic groups. The main drag consists of trendy restaurants and exotic coffee shops that sell seven dollar cups of coffee.

I looked up to see a skinny black man about my age glaring down at me. “Why do you say this is your seat?” I asked.

“Cause it’s where I sit every day.”

I nodded my head to my right. I sat on the far left side of a bench than can comfortable sea three people. “There’s plenty of room for both of us,” I said.

“You can sit over there, fella. Where you’re sittin’ is where I always sit.”

I studied him closely. He wore what looked like second-hand clothes. I say this because his green short-sleeve shirt was a couple of sizes too large, and his navy blue dress pants were a size or two too short. His Nike tennis shoes had a hole the size f a quarter in the front. “No problem, my friend,” I said sliding to the far right of the bench. “Have a seat.”

A triumphant smile spread across his weathered face. Plopping down on the bench, he glanced around to see if anyone had witnessed his victory.

A heavyset man standing in front of Moe’s Coffee Shop smiled at both of us.

I returned my attention to the book I had been reading,  I had read only a couple of pages of “90 Minutes In Heaven”when the black man sitting next to me tapped me on the shoulder. “You not from here, are you?” he asked, the hostility in his voice gone.

I put down my book. “No. I’m visiting my sister in Decatur.”

“Puddin’ Head Jones here,” he said, offering me his calloused hand.

I laughed as I shook his hand.

“What’s so funny?” he asked. “Is it my name?”

It’s not that. You see, my name is Jones, too. I’m Leon Jones.”

We chatted for a half hour or so. I learned that Puddin’ Head was his nickname. His real name was Willie Jones. His older brother had nicknamed him “Puddin’ Head” because when they were boys everybody in his family watched Philadelphia Phillies baseball games on TV in the fifties. And Earl (Puddin’ Head) Jones was the Phillies third baseman back then.

“At first, I didn’t like being called Puddin’ head,” he said. “But, over time, I got used to it. And Now I like it.” I learned that he had worked most of his life as a mechanic at a Ford Dealership in Atlanta. But when his wife left him twenty years ago he quit his job. Since then he’s been living in various shelters around town.

 I asked him why he didn’t live with one of his five brothers and sisters living in the Atlanta area. “They too bossy,” he replied. “I like my freedom. Living here and there suits me. I can do whatever I want.”

During our conversation I notice a change come over him.

His voice was now friendlier. And he rewarded me with a toothless smile. “I ain’t got much, Leon. But you know what?” Before I could respond he added, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”

I checked my watch. Ten till twelve. “I’ve got to go, my friend. I’m meeting my sister for lunch.” Standing, I stuck my book into my hip pocket. “I hope to see you again.”

“Lookin’ forward to it, Leon.”

I’d taken a few steps when I heard him say, “Just down plop your butt down in my seat again,” he said, smiling.

I laughed. “I’ll remember that, Puddin’ Head.”

As I headed for my car parked a half block away, I thought: Happiness is just a state of mind.

 

 

 

Memorial Day, 2014

 

My heart is so full it could burst.

I’m driving my old blue Toyota toward Kathy’s house in Franklin, North Carolina. The highway cuts through a lush, green forest. I’m listening to Lee Greenwood’s version of “God Bless The US A” as I soak in the beauty of verdant green mountains piled on top of each other.

One reason why my heart is so full has to do with the fact that I never should have lived past my eighteenth birthday.

I turned eighteen on a troop ship heading for Korea in 1952. After a month of training outside a hamlet near the North Korea-South Korea border, my infantry company boarded two and a half ton trucks heading for the base of a jagged, frozen ridge named Heartbreak Ridge.

You can use your imagination as to why soldiers had named the ridge Heartbreak Ridge.

It took us an hour to scale this infamous ridge. We arrived at the top about midnight. As soon as eight of us settled into our bunker—I was a forward observer for an eighty-one millimeter mortar platoon attached to this infantry company—we heard from the Chinese front line nearby. A Chinese soldier who spoke excellent English announced over a microphone these chilling words, “Welcome soldiers of the 160th Regiment of the 40th Division, your stay here will end in three days.”

Sure enough, on the third night Chinese buglers serenaded us. Then all Hades broke out. And our front lines were overrun with  Chinese soldiers. A Russian Burp Gun was stuck into the narrow opening of the bunker. Spraying bullets throughout the bunker. When our comrades finally took back the ridge, out of the eight soldiers in the bunker only two of us had survived.

“Hi, there,” Kathy called out to me as I pulled into her driveway, interrupting my reverie.

I  got out of the car and greeted her with a bear hug. “High there, yourself,” I replied.

I’m writing this particular blog today, dear reader, to let you know how much God has blessed me over the years. In addition to sparing my life on that miserable night decades ago, He has  blessed me with  the four  adorable children I take care in Iquitos, Peru, God also brought into my life a very special lady. A pretty brunette who hails from the Buckeye state.

I Should Have Punted

 

Most Friday nights Senora Luci and the girls and I eat supper downtown near the Boulevard. The Boulevard is a block long spot near the backwater of the Amazon River where locals gather weekend nights to socialize and enjoy the comics who put on a slapstick like-show for tips in the middle of the block.

We usually eat at a spot where women set up shop to sell hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and chaufa. Chaufa is a rice based food that doesn’t have much taste if eaten without sauce. (Sort of like grits without butter or gravy) With a little sauce spread over it,  chaufa can be tasty.

Last Friday night I wasn’t feeling well.

So I tell Senora Luci and the girls to go without me. “What about you?” the senora asks. “Do you want me to cook you something before we leave?”

“No, thanks,” I say.” I’ll eat some chaufa at Senora Mori’s stand around the corner.”

As they pile into a motorcar, I wave goodbye and head for the corner. Senora Mori—a rotund fiftyish looking woman who reminds me of Aunt Bee of the once popular television program, The Andy Griffith Show—has just set up shop on the sidewalk in front of her house. I drop down on a three-legged wooden stool next to a wooden table old enough to have been the table at The Last Supper. I ask for a plate of chaufa.

That’s when Senora Mori’s sister comes out of the house with two huge bowls of sauce. “Red or yellow, Senor Leo?” the sister asks.

I learned years ago to stay away from the red sauce. I made the mistake of trying the red sauce once. It was very tasty. But a half hour later my mouth was on fire. I had to drink a gallon of water before the flames in my mouth had burned down to a simmer.

I’ve learned since then that the rule of thumb for gringos is this: if the sauce is red, it’s really hot, if it’s yellow, ‘most times’ it’s mild enough for gringos to tolerate.

The key words here are ‘most times.’

“How is the yellow sauce, Senora?” I ask the sister?  “Is it mild enough for me?”

“Yes,” she replies.

I’d eaten here dozens of times. And Senora Mori’s yellow sauce has  always been mild. But I’ve never tried her sister’s yellow sauce. What to do. Senora Mori had stepped back inside the house for some reason.

I think about the great football coach, Bobby Dodd. He used to coach the Georgia Tech football team in their glory days during the fifties and sixties. During the times in a crucial game if he didn’t know what to do, he would play it conservative. Suppose, for example, the ball is on Georgia Tech’s forty-nine yard line, and it is fourth down and one. Since the risk to go for the first down is far greater than the reward—Coach Dodd would punt the football.

“Are you sure, Senora?” I ask.

“Positive.”

So I spread the yellow sauce across the chaufa. Cautiously,, I take a bite. It’s delicious. So I continue eating. Later, back at my house, someone suddenly lights a flame thrower inside my mouth. One thought nags at me as I toss down what would turn out to be the first of six glasses of water—I should have punted.

Code Words And Politicial Correctness

 

I watched a program on television the other night that disturbed me.

The topic being discussed by a panel of Talking Heads was the use of words that had—at least for the Talking Heads— double meanings. By that I mean … well … I think I should quote one of the Talking Heads.

She was a slender thirtyish looking woman with short black hair. But her most distinguishing feature were her eyes. They were angry eyes. When one of the other panelists maintained that the use of the word “thug” didn’t necessarily have a double meaning, Mean Eyes jumped all over her. “We all know what someone means when they use the word “thug,” she insisted.

The other panelist, a fiftyish looking retired judge with a mane of snow white hair, sighed. “I think you’re off base here, Joanna. Perhaps …”

“You’re either naïve or a fool,” Joanna interrupted him. “The word ‘thug” is obviously a code word that means black.” Noticing the camera zooming in on her, she looked directly at the camera. “People who use the word “thug” are nothing but closet racists.”

“I think you’re wrong, Joana,” the judge said in a calm voice. “You cannot possibly know the intent of the speaker who uses the word. Why he —”

“Oh, come on, Judge”. Fixing a menacing glare on him, she spit out the words, “You sound like the most racist man in America, Rush Limbaugh.”

That’s when the host decided to chime in. An average size man with a head full of thick brown hair with streaks of gray, he had the face of a middle-aged Tom Sawyer. “I think you’re being harsh, Joanna. You cannot possible know —”

Mean Eyes shot him a menacing glare. “PUH-LEEZE,” she said, rolling her eyes.

That shut up Tom Sawyer.

The judge said, “I guess you’re going to tell me that the word “girl” is offensive to you, too.”

“Of course, it is,” Mean Eyes said. “You should always say “young lady.”

The judge laughed. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. What … what if I’m talking to a five year old girl. Should I address her as young lady?”

Even Tom Sawyer couldn’t stay quiet on that. “You have to admit he has a —“

“Shut  up!” Mean Eyes shouted.

“Joana,” the judge said. “You are —“

How dare you call me by my first name,” she exclaimed. “Apologize to me. I mean right now.”

That’s when I turned the television off. I sat thinking about what I had just witnessed. I don’t return to The States too often. Before I return again, I think I’m going to need some help on what to say to people when I arrive. Political Correctness seems to be changing at warp speed. I don’t want to offend anybody. So what am I to do? Suddenly, the light bulb (which has been flickering off and on the past few years) came on. Why don’t I solicit advice from the half dozen people who read my blogs.

So if any of you know of a book I can buy to teach this old geezer what to say when I’m in the good old US of A, please let me know. Lord knows I wouldn’t want Mean Eyes to jump on my case.

 

Phone Call From Iquitos, Peru: There’s A problem With Erika

 

I knew there was a problem the moment I answered the phone this morning.

Every Friday night when I’m in The States I receive a phone call from Iquitos, Peru. Senora Luci, the middle-aged Indian woman who takes care of the children in my house in Iquitos, Peru calls me. The purpose of the call is twofold: to advise me how much money I need to Western Union her to pay bills for the upcoming week; and to allow me to chat with the girls about what’s going on with them.

“I need to talk to you about Erika, Senor Leo,” the senora said in a no nonsense tone of voice.

Uh, oh, I thought.

Erika is the fifteen year old girl who came to live with us seven years ago. Shortly after her thirty-six year old mother had died of t.b. Days before the woman passed away she asked me to take care of Erika after the funeral. Erika has proved to be quite a challenge. Most of the problems we’ve had with her over the years are about her skipping school now and then. I’ve always known where to find her when she didn’t go to school. She could be found at the tiny cemetery just outside of town where her mother was buried.

“Did she skip school yesterday?” I asked.

After a pause, she replied, “She did.”

“She went to her mother’s cemetery, right?”

“Not this time.”

Senora Luci explained that she went to the cemetery where Erika’s mother was laid to rest. But this time Erika wasn’t there. So she returned to our house and waited for the teenager. “She didn’t come home until a little after eleven, Senor Leo.”

That wasn’t like Erika. “I’ll call and talk to her when her school lets out at six tonight,” I said.

After I hung the phone up, I closed my eyes. Said a silent prayer to God to give me the wisdom to say the right words when I talk to Erika later  today. An old geezer like me raising three teenage girls and a year and a half old baby isn’t always easy. I’ll keep you posted on how our conversation turns out.

The Day I Walked In Papa’s Shoes

 

When I was a boy Papa and I were close.

When I was fourteen Papa decided to leave the Pryor Street Mission in Atlanta and accept the offer to pastor a small Baptist church in his hometown of Kent, Alabama. We lived in a ramshackle house two miles from the nearest paved road. Nobody lived within yelling distance. Papa and I would play ball in our spacious backyard. We’d use a beat up old rubber ball and a broken baseball bat that must have been in use when Babe Ruth was in his glory days. I was never that good at baseball. But Papa could really sock that old rubber ball.

One day Mama explained to me why her husband was so good at baseball. “When I first met your Dad he played for a Class D baseball team twenty or miles outside of Montgomery. The year before we were married he was voted the best center fielder in the league.”

Hearing that made me want to be like him.

So I tried out for my high school baseball team. When the coach asked me what position I wanted to play, I immediately replied, “Center field.”

Not that many boys went out for the baseball team. So I thought I would make the team. I was pretty good at tracking down balls hit in my direction. But my hitting was … well … like the coach told me when he cut me from the team, “Leon, you couldn’t hit the ball if you used a plank.” I didn’t do well when I went out for the football team, either. After the second week of practice, the coach took me aside. “Son,” he said, taking my helmet from me, “your body is just not made for a game as tough as football.”

Papa knew how much I wanted to be a star player like he used to be.

One cold day in December of that first year living in Alabama Papa advised me that he and I would travel to Montgomery to watch the Alabama State High School Football Game. His friend, Horace Simpson, was going to meet us at the highway tomorrow and drive us to see the game. So Papa and I bundled up in our best winter clothes and set off walking down the narrow dirt road. It had rained all night last night. And the foot high ditches on both sides of the road were overflowing with muddy water. About halfway to the asphalt road—to burn off some of my nervous energy—I began running up and down the dirt road. About a hundred or so yards from the highway I slipped. To regain my balance, I stepped into the ditch.

“You shouldn’t have been horsing around,” Papa said in a gruff voice.

“I’m sorry, Papa.”

“Take off your shoes and socks,” he ordered.

Despite the weather, disobeying Papa had never entered my mind. So I did as he said.

He took off his shoes, peeled off his socks, and handed them to me. “Put these on.”

Papa walked the rest of the way to the paved road barefooted. We didn’t have to wait long before Deacon Simpson’s ’39 Chevy roared to a stop next to us. As I climbed inside, Papa handed me a five dollar bill. He explained that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip. Nodding, Deacon Simpson hit the gas. The old car spit and sputtered and coughed its way up the highway. I looked out the rear-view mirror. My shoes clutched in each hand, Papa was striding back up the road.

That day decades ago is still etched inside my heart.

I’m posting this particular blog today for a good reason. You see, today is Papa’s birthday.  He’s no longer living on this planet. He’s in Heaven. But I wanted you to know how special that day was for me: “The day I walked in Papa’s shoes.”

 

 

 

Carolina In The Mornin’

 

This may seem odd to you, dear reader.

But Highway 441 is my favorite highway. I like it a lot more than I-285—the oval shaped deathtrap that circles Atlanta. More than the two NASCAR racetracks known as I-75 and I-85.

“What in the name of Richard Petty are you talking about,” you’re probably asking yourself.

Let me explain.

When I leave Atlanta and head north to Franklin, North Carolina I always stop at Clayton, Georgia. A hamlet just south of the North Carolina border. Clayton is special to me. It’s special because my great-great-great grandfather, Alfred Jones, camped out here after he’d sailed from Wales when he was a young man almost two centuries ago. Back then when a British father passed away all of his land went to his oldest son. (Sorry ladies, but that was the way it was in those days). Based on research before I moved to Peru sixteen year ago, I learned that Alfred was the youngest of his four brothers.

So Alfred decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean in search of his own land.

My research told me that Alfred landed in Charleston, South Carolina in 1838. Just weeks before General Andrew Jackson was sent to clear out the Cherokee Indians from their North Georgia land. Land they had inhabitated for centuries. (Old Hickory did this though the Supreme Court’s John Marshall had ruled against the rounding up of Cherokees and shipping them on the infamous “Trail of Tears” to Oklahoma Territory, not one of America’s finest moments.) Alfred and other European immigrants in search of land were detained just outside of Clayton until the Cherokees were evacuated. Then each immigrant participated in a land lottery that rewarded them with 40 acres of land.

There’s another reason why Highway 441 is special to me.

It leads me to Franklin, North Carolina. Franklin is a beautiful little town nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. A town that is home to people from every part of America. Snowbirds who’ve left the bone-aching cold of the north. Retirees who’ve found the Florida sun much too severe for their liking. And local Tarheels who have lived in North Carolina all their lives. This combination of diverse backgrounds makes for a culture rich in local history and an appreciation for the arts.

Which is, for me, is a winning combination.

I know. You’re probably thinking: Sounds like you like the diversity of the people as well as the eye-pleasing geography, Leon.

You darn tootin’, I do.

I’m writing this blog from my friend Bill’s house in Franklin. I arrived here two days ago. I’m sitting in the front yard sipping coffee. The bright spring sun is climbing the backs of some trees in the distance. Sending long slivers of golden light in my direction as it peeps in and out of the branches.

I inhale.

The air is pure.

I feel the presence of God here.

I know that God is everywhere. But I’ve always felt His presence more when I’m in this special place. When I served in the military eons ago one of my best buddies was from North Carolina. His favorite saying was, “North Carolina is God’s country.” I agree with him.

As I soak in the beauty surrounding me, I break out into song: “Nothin’ could be finer/than to be in Carolina/in the mornin’.”

 

 

Phone Call From Iquitos, Peru: She’s Looking For Her Baby

 

“I’ve got some bad news, Senor Leo,” Senora Luci said over the phone.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s … It’s …”

She began crying.

Oh, no, I thought. Something has happened to one of the three teenage girls I take care of in Iquitos. Neither Juanita, Iveli, or Erika are my children. At least not biologically. But in my heart they’re mine. In Peru traffic lights are just suggestions. And running red lights is common.I asked myself: Has one of the girls been struck by a vehicle? In my mind’s eye I could see one of them lying in the street, blood oozing from a wound.

I said a silent prayer that wasn’t what Senora Luci was going to tell me.

“What’s the bad news?” I forced myself to ask.

“It’s Ja Di. She …”

More tears.

Ja Di (Jay Dee) is the eighteen month old baby who has been living with us for the past year. I was downtown visiting some expat friends when it happened. When I arrived at my house at noon Senora Luci had a six month old baby in her arms. I thought she was just babysitting for a neighbor. But the senora told me that a young man who lived a couple of blocks from us had asked her to take care of his baby daughter for two days.

He explained to her that his wife had run off to Lima with another man. And the father wanted to go fetch his mother to take care of the baby while he worked. His mother lived in a fishing village two days travel by boat down the Amazon River. He’d promised Senora Luci that he would return for the baby in two days.

But he never returned.

And we have been taking care of the baby since then. After a year had passed we concluded that we’d never see either the father or the mother again.

“Ja Di’s mother is looking for her baby,” Senora Luci said, a tear in her voice.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Do you remember the old woman who runs the grocery store in her house a a few blocks from here?”

I thought for a moment. “Senora Angelica?”

“Right. Well, yesterday I went there to buy some milk for Ja Di. The woman told me that a young woman was in the community is looking for her baby.”

“That doesn’t mean she’s Ja Di’s mother.”

“That’s what I thought at first. But Senora Angelica said the woman is telling everybody that her baby’s name is Ja Di.”

A pregnant pause.

I thought about saying that maybe it could be another baby named Ja Di. But that wasn’t likely. Ja Di is not an ordinary name. “Well, Senora Luci. The baby isn’t really …”

“I love Ja Di,” Senor a Luci said. “She’s not really my baby.. But I love her so much.” Sniffling, she exclaimed, “And I know that you’ve become fond of her, too.”

She was right about that. All of us in my house have come to adore this precious baby. Like she was a gift from God.

I spent the next five or six minutes trying to comfort Senora Luci. I had seen the loving look on her face as she cared for this baby the past year. The nights she’d sat rocking her when she had had a bad dream. Comforting her as she went through the painful “teething experience. Before I hung up I said, “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

I hope I did he right thing.

Phone Call From Iquitos, Peru: She’s Searching For Her Baby

“I’ve got some bad news, Senor Leo,” Senora Luci said over the phone.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s … It’s …”
She began crying.
Oh, no, I thought. Something has happened to one of the three teenage girls I take care of in Iquitos. Neither Juanita, Iveli, or Erika are my children. At least not biologically. But in my heart they’re mine. In Peru traffic lights are just suggestions. And running red lights is common.I asked myself: “Has one of the girls been struck by a vehicle?” In my mind’s eye I could see one of them lying in the street, blood oozing from a wound.
I said a silent prayer that wasn’t what she was going to tell me.
“What’s the bad news?” I forced myself to ask.
“It’s Ja Di. She …”
More tears.
Ja Di (Jay Dee) is the eighteen month old baby who has been living with us for the past year.I was downtown visiting some expat friends when it all started. When I arrived at my house at noon Senora Luci had a six month old baby in her arms. I thought she was just babysitting for a neighbor. But the senora told me that a young man who lived a couple of blocks from us had asked Senora Luci to take care of his baby daughter for two days.
He explained to her that his wife had run off to Lima with another man. And the father wanted to go fetch his mother to take care of the baby while he worked. His mother lived in a fishing village two days travel by boat down the Amazon River. He’d promised Senora Luci that he would return for the baby in two days.
But he never returned for Ja Di..
And we have been taking care of the baby since then. After a year had passed we concluded that we’d never see either the father or the mother again.
“Ja Di’s mother is looking for her baby,” Senora Luci said, a tear in her voice.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Do you remember the old woman who runs the grocery store in her house a a few blocks from here?”
I thought for a moment. “Senora Angelica?”
“Right. Well, yesterday I went there to buy some milk for Ja Di. The woman told me that a young woman was in the community looking for her baby.”
“That doesn’t mean she’s Ja Di’s mother.”
“That’s what I thought at first. But Senora Angelica said the woman is telling everybody that her baby’s name of Ja Di.”
A pregnant pause.
I thought about saying that maybe it could be another baby named Ja Di. But that wasn’t likely. Ja Di is not an ordinary name. “Well, Senora Luci. The baby isn’t really …”
“I love Ja Di,” Senora Luci said. “She’s not really my baby.. But I love her so much.” Sniffling, she exclaimed, “And I know that you’ve become fond of her, too.”
She as right about that. All of us in my house have come to adore this precious baby. Likes she was a gift from God.
I spent the next five or six minutes trying to comfort Senora Luci. I had seen the loving look on her face as she cared for this baby the past year. The nights she’d sat rocking her when she had had a bad dream. Comforting her as she went through the painful “teething” experience. Before I hung up I said, “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
I hope I did the right thing.

Conversation With An Agnostic

 

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

I was sitting on the bank of an oval-shaped lake near my sister’s apartment on the outskirts of Atlanta. Thinking about the five children I take care of in my house in Iquitos, Peru. And hadn’t noticed the man until he’d spoken the words.

I looked up at him. “Sure is,” I said. “God has provided us with a beautiful day.”

He studied me thoughtfully. He was a scholarly looking man. I say this because he wore an old gray Mr. Rogers gray sweater over a white tee shirt. His hair was salt and pepper and he wore thick horn-rimmed glasses. I didn’t notice the pipe in his hand until he dropped down on the bank beside me.

He peered at me over his glasses. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those Bible-Thumpers,” he said in a friendly voice.

I laughed.

Chuckling, he said, “Did I say something funny?”

“No, it’s just that … well …”

“Yes?”

“Well, I’m eighty-one years old and nobody has ever called me a Bible-Thumper before.” I waited for him to say something. When he didn’t, I said, “I’m not—as you say—a Bible-Thumper. But I  believe in God. And I enjoy sharing my faith with others.”

We sat in silence for a while. It was an early Saturday morning, and the sun was peeping through the branches of some pine trees on the other side of the lake. I love coming to this spot when I visit my sister. Birds singing in the trees and families of white ducks gliding across the water fill me with a joy I’ve experienced in just a few other surroundings.

“My name is Leon,” I said.

“Sal here.”

“What do you do, Sal?”

“Teach philosophy at Georgia State University,” he replied.

“That explains your question about me being a Bible-Thumper.”

“I didn’t mean to offend, you, Leon.”

“I’m not offended. It’s just that you don’t have to force your belief on others to believe in God.”

He sucked on his pipe. Blew a cloud of smoke at a brown squirrel racing past us. “God is just such an outdated concept these days.”

“Not to me.”

He smiled.

“I used to think like you,” I said. “Considered myself to be the captain of my ship. Then my life spiraled out of control. One night about midnight I awoke crying. All those philosophers I’d studied in college were nowhere to be found. So I did the only thing I knew to do.”

“And what was that?”

“I dropped to my knees and prayed to God. My belief in God has brought me out of a lot of tight spots over the years.”

Well. Leon, that’s great for you. But God is not for me.”

We chatted for another ten minutes or so. He shared with me his reasons why God was not a relevant entity for him. And I shared with him why my relationship with God is so crucial for me. After we’d gone our separate ways, I recalled a song my parents taught me when I was a boy, “Whispering Hope”

I sang it all the way to my sister’s house.