Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obese, Unbathed and a Low IQ

I credit my pastor, Pete Hise at Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY, for the idea for this blog entry ...

Summer 1977.
The Salvation Army building.
Akron, Ohio.

I am 12.

We are on our way home from the Salvation Army's Sunday evening services. My parents are pastors in this northern Ohio city. Sundays are spent forever in the chapel, classrooms and freshly-mopped hallways of The Akron Citadel Corps -- or, The Salvation Army's local church.

I am learning to play a brass baritone and have just had the opportunity to sit on stage and toot out a 2nd baritone melody. I click the latch on the black instrument case, kneeling on the floor of the band room, when my father pokes his head in the doorway.

"Come on, kiddo. Time to go home. We're locking up."

I nod and stow the brass away and move into the hallway towards the plated glass doors.

Then I see her.

She's sitting on a wooden bench, her ankles crossed, her hands folded in her lap. She's only 15, but she looks as if she's 30. She has lived a lifetime of hardship and of poverty, of little love and much pain.

I recoil slightly as she looks up and smiles at me.

"Hi Heidi. You guys are taking me home tonight."

"Oh ... sure. That's great. Just great."

I manage a smile but inside I am screaming NO!

Her presence in and around my family is repulsive to me. Her hair hangs in greasy strands around her obese face. Her body reeks a pungent odor. And I will soon be sitting next to her in our station wagon.

My father nods at me, and my mother barks an order at my younger brother, who stops throwing a small ball against the wall long enough to traipse outside like a lolly gagging puppy.

We pile into the car, three abreast in the back seat. At the last second I nudge my brother in first so that he will separate me from the object of my distaste. He glares at me when he realizes my trick and scoots in unwillingly.

We drive in silence, all five of us. She looks out the window, her chin resting in her palm, and my parents stoically stare straight ahead. My brother sits with his arms crossed, and I try to keep my mind off of the ripe smell of unbathed flesh and filthy hair.

Finally, we pull up to her house, a shack really, and she smiles and thanks us for the lift. My parents nod and smile. My brother and I have been well-taught to be polite, so we wish her a good night.

As soon as she has disappeared through the front door, all four of us simultaneously reach for the windows and crank them down.

"Drive fast, Dad," my brother orders.

"Yeah, Dad, it's unbelievable in here," I chime in.

"Poor girl," my mother laments.

"Poor girl, nothing," my dad snarls. "There's no excuse for that. She has no self-control to stop eating, and she should have the brains to take a bath at least once a week."

"No one has taught her," my mother shoots back. "No one has loved her."

My brother and I exchange glances and roll our eyes at each other. Our mother is always defending the poor people she serves, always finding compassion, always giving them a prominent place in the midst of our family's every day life.

"I agree with Dad," I say.

She scowls at me from the front seat. "You have been given a lot of opportunities that she hasn't. She doesn't know any better."

"I don't care," I snip. "I agree that she needs to stop shoving food in her mouth and not come around other people until she takes care of that smell."

We drive the rest of the way home in silence, and I plot the whole way how I will beat my brother to the shower to wash the stench from my nostrils.

What does this have to do with a "Christian safehouse" discussion? Tune in tomorrow for the next part of the story ...

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