A tall, slender man turns his mule off the main road. He rides down an inner track before turning onto a dirt path. His mule grunts with familiarity as they pass field after field; fields bearing fruits and vegetables that Jamaicans have lived off for decades since they were taken from Africa. Bananas, oranges, yams, breadfruit, pawpaw, and others burst from the ground bringing news of a successful harvest.
The man, William Case, only in his mid-twenties but a full grown man all the same, stops in front of a piece of land, tying his mule to a wooden post before walking down a narrow path, crops as far as the eye can see welcoming him back. This is his land; his first piece of earth. Maybe he knows that it is the beginning of something larger than himself, larger than digging his hands into black soil in the hopes of feeding his future family; larger than the speeches he has yet to deliver to his people who will listen to his words with unyielding confidence; larger than the truck he will purchase, the town’s first automobile, and use to transport people, the harvest, and anything else that requires more than a mule’s hooves. Maybe he knows this, but it is unlikely.
After surveying his crops, William removes his wrinkled hat and stares into the sun, closing his eyes as the wind sweeps past his face. He exits his field, mounts his mule, and makes his way across the dirt path, up the inner track, and onto the main road when he hears a voice that says, “William, go back and get some food and take it to Miss Winnie Christie.” Without hesitation, William turns around, zigzagging through the narrow dirt roads, and picks fresh yams, bananas, potatoes, and more before loading them onto his mule.
William rides back home, but doesn’t stop. He continues on, much farther, to Miss Winnie Christie’s home. “Miss Winnie! Miss Winnie!” he calls out from the entrance. “Hold dog!” he yells, a common Jamaican expression when approaching visitors, so guard dogs don’t attack.
When William enters her property, opening his bag of fruits and vegetables for Miss Winnie Christie, she raises her hands in praise, looks towards the sky and says, “Thank you, Lord. You have never lied to me. Whatever I’ve ever needed, I’ve only needed to ask for it, in faith.”
Miss Winnie Christie, despite being older than William, says, “Come with me, Mas William,” addressing him as one would an elder. Stepping inside, he removes his hat, following her into the kitchen. As William enters, he sees a pot of boiling water on the stove. “This,” Miss Winnie Christie says, pointing to the pot, “was in preparation for the food that I knew God would provide for me and my children.”
As a child, I heard this story many times, always told with the same details, admiration, and conviction in trusting God to provide. I no longer believe in the God that told William to go to Miss Winnie Christie’s home, but I do believe this story. You see, William Case was my grandfather.
Two boys enter a bedroom. The older one goes left, pulling back his covers and jumping into bed. He closes his eyes and clasps his hands so tightly his wrists shake. The other turns right, moving close to the wall so that his father, or sometimes mother, can lay next to him. “Gentle Jesus,” the older one begins, signaling for the younger brother to follow. “Meek and mild. Look upon a little child. Pity my simplicity. Suffer me to come to Thee.”
The boys repeat these 19 words every night for over a decade. Words handed down to them by their mother, who learned them as a young girl in Jamaica. The older boy would never know the impact these 19 words had on his younger brother, but he knew what they meant to him. They were a key. One of many keys he was given — by his mother, the Church, and the Bible — that would help him earn his way into heaven. The Ten Commandments were another key, which is why the boy never lied for so long; afraid of receiving third-degree burns for eternity, something he often tried to fathom but never could. In his mind, the more keys he had, like a janitor’s belt sagging from the weight of entry accrued over a long career, the safer he was from the evil at the end of the tunnel.
He said, “Oh my gosh,” instead of “Oh my God,” in accordance with the fourth commandment. Whenever he felt the impulse to want what someone else had, he swallowed it like a large rock, plunging it deeper into himself until it settled at the floor of his stomach. He got dressed every Sunday, along with his younger brother, and attended a church where no one looked anything like him, including images of a European Jesus; a savior, the boy was told, who was the son of a God who created humans in his image. “But,” the boy would think, before swallowing this doubt, “if that is the son of God, who made us in his image, why do I look nothing like him?” He knew he had to kill the questions in order to survive; that questions only introduce doubt, and faith has no room for doubt.