EssaysEssay by Allen Ballard
Guest EssayEssay by Thomas Mallon
Writing samplesMoses Rose
by William Rainbolt
Man Under Authority
The Heavenly Kingdom
a virtual conference session
Allen B. Ballard
Carried By Six, Chapter 18
It was early of a fall Carolina morning, and the sky was blue as could be. DoraLee got out of her bed, put on a pair of slacks and a blouse, turned on a pot of coffee to percolate, and walked out of the house of her brother-in-law, Boatwright Bullock. She often did this when she was troubled and in despair.
She began to walk down the long, dirt road that led to the main highway. The trees were full of singing birds, and DoraLee saw one squirrel that was running along a power line, balancing itself like a trapeze artist. It seemed to want to keep pace with her. When she stopped, it did the same and rose up on two legs. Then she'd begin to walk again, and the squirrel would drop back on all fours and keep pace with her.
The dust of the road was very red here, nearly the color of all the blood that had been shed in the city where she'd grown up laughing and playing hop-scotch on hot sidewalks with Jewish, Puerto-Rican, Irish, and Chinese kids. DoraLee felt just like she did when Obie had been called up to serve in the Persian Gulf war. Like a wife on the homefront, waiting for the war to be over up there in New York.
Henry's first day of classes down here started tomorrow. It would also be her first day as a secretary at a hospital in Durham. She'd even managed to buy a second-hand Dodge Colt to get her back and forth to the job. Still she still had no peace in her soul.
So as DoraLee walked along the road she began to hum a few words of a hymn that she loved so much:
Are You Weak and Heavy-laden,
Cumbered With a World of Care
Precious Saviour, Still My Refuge
Take it to the Lord in Prayer
Like so many other times in her life, the words of the song comforted her, and a sense of fullness and satisfaction began to replace the emptiness in her stomach. She talked out loud and began to tell God about her situation, and asked him to please fix it.
Had some one been hovering over this tall, ebony colored woman, walking down that road with her hips swaying slowly back and forth in an ancient African rhythm, he would have heard her asking that somehow God reunite her with her husband, and remove the danger that threatened all their lives.
DoraLee walked and prayed and sang out loud till she'd gone nearly a mile down that dusty, country road. When she reached the main highway, she was brought abruptly out of her thoughts as a car flashed by her on the highway. She'd almost walked into it.
She returned to the house. When she reached the driveway, Henry was sitting on the steps, dressed only in his pajama bottoms. "Mom, where you been? I looked in your room and you weren't there. I was just about to come looking for you."
DoraLee laughed as the boy came up to her. "If you hadn't woken up so early this morning, you wouldn't even have known I was gone."
"Auntie is already cooking breakfast. She said it'd be ready in about twenty minutes."
"Well then, why don't you just walk down the road with me for a little bit? It'll do you good."
" I don't feel like it. I'm sore from all that tackling yesterday. These Southern boys are rough, they some ferocious people."
"Come on anyhow, I'm going to start work tomorrow, and you'll be at practice or studying. We won't have much time to talk."
"Okay, Mom." Henry started down the road, his mother's arm around his shoulder, "I really did want to ask you something, and I guess I might as well do it now."
The boy looked down at the road, like he didn't want to hear the answer to his question.
"What's going to happen to Dad and you?"
"I really can't tell you. Right now, he's got to stay up North because he doesn't think he can get a job here. And we need the money for Teshina's college."
DoraLee pulled him a little closer. "It's just too dangerous up there for us to live. You know what that drug-dealing Son Teagle has done. He almost killed that police captain. We just wouldn't have a day of peace up there."
"But why hasn't Dad at least come down and visited us? Just for a few days anyhow?"
Why was it that children always knew how to ask hurting questions?
"Baby, your Daddy's doing the best he can. He's carrying a big load up there in the city what with all that trouble. His people need him, and as long as Teagle is around, your Daddy just can't walk away, not even for a few days." She smiled. "He talks to you everyday. He still loves you, believe me. And so does your Momma."
By ten o'clock, the entire Bullock family was pulling up, in Boatwright's Blazer, to a church. It was a white, wooden building way out in the countryside. It could only be reached by travelling five miles down a dirt road and had been the church of the Bullock family since shortly after the Civil War. In a graveyard that stood behind the church were tombstones marking the burial places of the father, grandfather, and great-grandfather of the Bullock clan.
The church had been founded by Great-Grandfather Nathaniel Bullock when he'd returned to North Carolina after fighting in a Union regiment in Virginia during the War. Whenever DoraLee came down here, she would visit the site and place fresh flowers on his grave and that of his wife, Sarah, on whose tombstone were the words, "Travelling Days Are Over."
The clearing in front of the church was filled with people, the men all dressed in suits despite the heat, and the women with wide-brimmed straw hats and dresses in bright yellows, reds, and whites that contrasted vividly with their glistening, black skin. In the yard of the church, little children, just let out of Sunday School, ran back and forth in a game of hide and go seek. One boy, about four years old, seeing DoraLee, ran and tried to hide behind her skirts from a little girl who was it. DoraLee laughed, and tried to pretend she didn't know the child was there.
A deacon, his skin almost the color of a lemon, his face creased with lines, came out of the church and stood on its top step. Dressed in a neat, but thread-worn old black suit and a black tie, the man looked out over the crowd of worshippers. "Folks, it's time to start the devotional."
Slowly, the worshippers walked up the creaking, yet solid, wooden steps of the church. The children stopped playing and ran to reattach themselves to their families. Henry took DoraLee's arm, and helped her up the stairs, as he'd seen his father do so many times before.
The church was decorated with polished, birchwood paneling--Boatwright and some of the men of the church had spent an entire week of evenings and a solid weekend doing the job. The interior of the church was plain. A golden cross stood before the altar, and the wall that formed the background for the altar was covered with a purple cloth, on which, embossed in gold leaf, was written something in Latin.
The windows of the church were of frosted glass, and they were always kept open to the outdoors in the spring, summer and fall. One could, as DoraLee often did, look out the windows and see the seasons change Sunday by Sunday. What had been green a month and a half ago when she'd fled down here from the city, had now changed to a burnt brown as the Carolina sun beat down upon the fields and the rain refused to come.
The pews of the church were sturdy oaken benches, and as DoraLee had learned over the years of visits, each bench by custom belonged to a particular family. As members of the founding family of the church, DoraLee and Henry sat with her sister-in-law, Martha Ann, in a front pew. Boatwright sat along with the other deacons of the church in seats at the front of the church.
Boatwright, as the head deacon, stood up, and broke into song:
"Jesus Is A Rock....."
To be joined by the congregation-- female voices high, quavering, and breaking; male voices, deep, and gravel-like, like the rough dirt roads that criss-crossed the land-:
'In A Weary Laaaand"
Boatwright began a slow, rhythmic clapping of his hands. By the time the last line of the chant was reached, all in the church, including the little toddlers, were clapping slowly, using the time and space between claps to sharpen the power of the music. They made silence an accompanying instrument.
"He's A Shelter In The Time of Trial"
DoraLee began to clap her hands too, and her body began to sway from side to side. Boatwright raised the pitch of his voice just a little bit higher, and the congregation moved right on up with him:
"Jesus Is a Rock......"
Flashes of Son Teagle's face came to her mind. Jesus Is a Rock. She saw Teshina coming home that morning after her rescue from the kidnappers. Jesus is a Rock . Her mind rested for a second on her man, Obie, and on that strange woman's voice answering the phone when she called. Jesus is a Rock...
Her mind must have floated away, because suddenly Boatwright said "All Rise. We're now turning our service over to the Minister of Music."
A middle-aged, dark brown skinned woman, dressed in a yellow dress, and with a red flower pinned to the front of the dress, sat down at the piano, cocked her head to one side, then looked towards the rear of the church where the choir was standing.
She looked to see that they were ready, then dropped her head in a signal they were to start marching up the aisle. She began to play:
"Walk in the Light, Beautiful Light"
DoraLee looked up at the front of the church. A beam of sunlight fell through a window and played onto the red prayer bolsters before the altar.
The choir, the women dressed in black skirts and white cotton blouses, the men in white shirts and black trousers, began to march down the aisle. Their bodies moved in a joined swaying cadence towards the front of the church.
"Down Where the DewDrops of Heaven Shine Bright"
Every voice was distinct to DoraLee as they marched past her, and each one seemed to have been honed and given its own peculiar tone of sorrow. It was like their ancestors were singing through them, vessels through which poured the spirits of the African slaves who'd the fields around the church for over a hundred years before the Civil War.
"Shine All Around Me By Day and By Night"
The choir had by now taken its place in its pews, and the entire church joined in the singing of the song. DoraLee thought her heart would burst with joy for she knew that no evil could come nigh her in the midst of such great power. Oh, I want to thank you, Jesus, for this song, and for this morning, and for this church, and for this people.
Boatwright prayed out loud about "Hard Trials, Cruel Tribulations" and DoraLee clasped tightly onto Henry's hand and prayed that God would put a fence of protection around her family. Obie had taken on so much when he'd decided to start that anti-drug group in their project.
The choir began to sing , low now, the song that had sustained her through all of her life:
"Sweet Hour of Prayer,
That Calls Me From A World of Care"
She was a four year old girl, and Big Momma , after a night of weeping when she heard that her husband had died of an heart attack while on duty, was sitting beside her as she herself now sat beside Henry. Remembered now the grace that had filled her soul then as she'd heard the words:
In Seasons Of Distress and Grief,
My Soul Hath Often Found Relief
DoraLee just couldn't take it anymore when a woman, with thick glasses on, short and round of body, stood up and shouted " Thank........You............Jesus!"
Something seemed to grab ahold of her. She stood up herself, and began to shout.
"Can't stand it no more, Master!"
She fell back into her seat, her head between her hands. Great sobs came from her, and she would not cease from crying even when her son and Martha-Ann wrapped her in their arms.
The choir and the church people just kept on singing the song, repeating verse after verse, until DoraLee's mind could only hear "My Soul Hath Often Found Relief."
She slowly opened her mouth and began again to sing the words of the song. And after awhile, the mighty sorrow that was on her soul seemed to depart and take wings.
DoraLee's soul was rested. She barely heard the words of the preacher, it was like God had cleared her mind of the world and all the troubles of her life.
And soon the minister was ending his sermon.
"Because we got a God"
Oh, yes we do!
Who Sits High!
Yes, he do
And Looks Low
He's A Father
Yes He is!
To the Fatherless
And A Mother To the Motherless
Oh, try him!
So Wide You Can't Get Around Him
Oh, no you can't!
So High You Can't Get Over Him
Say so, preacher!
So Deep You Can't Get Under Him
The piano player got up from her seat in the audience, moved back to the instrument, nodded at the choir , and began to sing,
in a low voice:
That's All Right, That's All Right,
My Soul Got A Seat Up Over In The Kingdom
And That's All Right!
The preacher, brows wet, red gown soaked with sweat, walked around from behind the lectern, and joined in the song.
The choir rose, and began to sing along with the pastor. DoraLee joined in the song with the rest of the congregation and felt truly blessed of God. She looked at her son. Tears were in his eyes. All around her the women were weeping and sobbing. God gave us, she thought, these women and this music, so that we could live and survive these devilish times.
She got up again and clapped her hands in unison with those around her, as those who remained seated stomped their feet in a drum-like rhythm on the floor of the church.
Surely God would answer the prayers of his people.