This was written for NPR’s Three Minute Fiction as an historical exercise. I hope you enjoy it.
Thank you, Mr. President
I stood looking down at Momma’s grave. At the end she’d said she’d seen a white light. “Providence come to take me to the Lord:”, she’d said. Then she smiled like a spring day and was gone. Seemed to me that every time Providence showed up, something terrible be a happening….. Looking up I seen Sheriff drive up and wave me over. Providence seemed to me to be most persistent this May of 1932.
As I walked over to the Sheriff’s car I thought about all the stories Momma told me. ‘Bout how we were mostly Cherokee from a place far to the East of Missouri and how we survived a death march. How we came to be slaves then freed. But the end of every story were the same; Providence had seen us through. She’d said my doubts bout Providence would lay her low one day.
“How old are you, boy?”, the Sheriff asked, driving t’ Smith’s. Momma and I sharecropped there, and worked his farm too.
“12 Sunday, sir.”
“Boy, Smith and the others are selling out. Money’s in the bank, none of you colored own the land yonder and you need to clear out. No trouble now. Get your things and move on.”
We’d only gone a few dozen yards but I knew there weren’t nothing to go back for.
“Stop the car Sheriff, I’m getting out.”
The Sheriff let me off in front of the Bank, and just as he drove off a rush of folk coming running through the doors of the Bank. The first one run right into me and knocked me clear over and I landed on my face in the dirt. I seen them tear down the street and the Sheriff round and tear after them, with most of the town after him. Getting to my feet I realized I’d fallen on a small canvas bag. Inside was full of green paper I’d never seen before. I got to my feet a bit dizzy and made my way back to the colored church.
The Pastor’s wife screamed, “Oh bloody terror!” and fainted away. Old Jake, the handyman, told me to sit myself down. He seen to the Pastor’s wife and run off to get the Pastor.
Jake and the Pastor got to cleaning me up and it was then they seen the bag. “What you got there, boy?”, Jake barked. I’d near forgot that I had it and the story come tumbling out. Jake told me to sit and rest awhile and he and Pastor Wright went to talking quiet like and left the room.
Pastor and Mrs. Wright drove Jake and me to Joplin that very day. Jake had worked the trains and had family in Chicago, and he would take me to them. We boarded the colored car, there was some shouting and with the Pastor and his wife waving good-bye, the train gave a lurch and we were on our way. I watched out the window as everything I’d ever known disappeared behind us.
And here I was. Jake snored next to me as old men do. He said the bag of 100 new 20s was a “windfall”, but Momma knew what it really was. I felt in my pocket for the one bill Jake let me hold on to, and looking around to see if any one was watching, I snuck another look. I read the name on the bill, ANDREW JACKSON. and smiled.
“Thank you, Momma. Thank you, Providence. And thank YOU, Mister President…..