After a Good Rain
After a good rain, the ditch would fill with water -- a perfect time to wade around and look for crawdads.
"You kids stay out of that ditch!" Mom would yell. "You could get polio."
Just the thought of being in an iron lung or having to wear leg braces for the rest of my life would usually send me scampering. But, sometimes the temptation would be more than I could bear. I'd stand on the edge of the ditch and see the crawdad mud houses -- all stacked up in circular mounds with that tiny opening at the top. How'd they get in and out? Sometimes I'd take a stick and stab at it. Nothing in there. Just mud. So, they'd build their mud houses, then abandon them. Picking up a crawdad took courage. They had pinchers and could pinch the fire out of you. Sometimes we'd put 10 or 12 in a mason jar, but we'd always let them go. Except for Willard Maynard. He told me that his family ate them! I didn't believe him.
The best thing about the ditch was the tadpoles. Millions of them. All darting around so fast, it made your eyeballs hurt to watch them. "They turn into frogs," Michael Johnson once told me. "No way," I said. It was hard to believe that one thing could turn into another thing. Like caterpillars becoming butterflies. I saw it in the schoolbooks, but I still didn't understand how it could happen. Absolutely amazing!
Since we lived on a corner lot, I had the biggest ditch in the neighborhood. It was the drainage ditch -- where all the water from all the streets raced down hill during a rainstorm and ended up in our ditch. After a big rain, you could probably even drown in there if you fell in. But after a few hours, the water level would get low enough and you could wade knee deep in the ditch.
"Get out of that ditch! If I have to tell you again, I'm going to come out there and tear you up!"
I'd get out of the ditch just long enough to watch my mother go back in the house. Then, I'd get right back in. After two or three other kids joined me in the ditch, my mother would give up and threaten to tell my father when he got home from work. I couldn't help it, though. The ditch was too tempting. There's something about a ditch full of water teeming with life. Life that will take on new form and become something else.
One day, after a good rain, a bunch of us neighborhood kids were sitting on the side of the ditch with our pants legs rolled up, feet dangling in the water and we saw someone running out of the beer joint across the street. He had a gun in one hand; paper sack in the other. He jumped in a car, backed up, and sped off, burning rubber. It was a '52 Ford, black, license plate number FT1423. We all knew who it was. It was Jimmy Hale. The neighborhood hoodlum.
About 10 minutes later, the cops showed up, went inside and stayed about 30 minutes. All the while, we were dangling our feet in the ditch, watching the tadpoles dart in and around our feet. One of the cops looked our way and started walking toward us.
"You kids see anything?"
"No sir," we lied.
"How long you been sitting here?"
"Did you see someone come out of Mac's over there and take off in a black car?"
"No," we repeated.
"I'm going to ask you one at a time." And so he proceeded to go down the line: Clayton, Bobby, Wilma, Esther, Michael and me. We all said we didn't see anything. Then the cop left.
"I'm telling," Wilma said.
"You idiot," Michael snapped. "Jimmy Hale saw us all sitting here and he'll come after all of us if you do. We didn't see nothing. You got that? Nothing!"
Wilma got scared and promised not to say anything. We never did either. None of us. We never told a single person.
A few years later, we heard that Jimmy got shot during a fight. We heard that he almost died and was in the hospital for weeks. Then later, he got out and found Jesus. One Sunday, he even came to our church and got up and gave his testimony. He talked about being a sinner, but how God had given him new life. How he had been transformed into a reverent follower of the Lord. Then he cried and asked everyone to come forward and seek forgiveness for their sins. "Come to the Lord and be saved today," he offered. "Turn your life over to God and be healed. He's calling you now. Listen. He's calling your name."
I kept waiting, but never heard my name called. I looked at Esther sitting beside me. She looked at me.
"I'm going up," she whispered. I could see tears in her eyes.
"No," I stated harshly. "It's all a trick. Don't go!"
Esther got up and practically ran down the aisle, along with about 20 other people. After they all cried and carried on and turned to face us as new "souls in Christ," I sat rigid in my seat.
"Come on, I know there are more of you out there," Jimmy beckoned. "I know that the Lord is nudging you, trying to take you by the hand and lead you up here. Don't say no to the Lord. Let Him walk you down the aisle. Let Him lead you to the path of glory, and when you take that path, you will be turning your back on sin."
What sin? I thought. I'm still a kid. I haven't done anything so wrong that I need to go up and pretend I'm sorry for something. I heard a faint noise and looked toward the window. It was beginning to rain; just misting, as my mother would say.
"Don't be afraid. Jesus is calling. Close your eyes and you will hear Him. Let Him take you by the hand and come forward. Come join your brothers and sisters in Christ as we all become born again in His name. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
More and more people got up and went forward. I slid down in my seat and listened as Jimmy continued:
"This is your last chance, you sinners. Don't turn your back on your Savior. Now is the time. Now is the time for your personal transformation. Leave that sinner behind and come forward to walk in the light and feel the love. Time's running out. No telling what might happen to you tomorrow. You might find yourself in a situation that only the Good Lord could get you out of. You know you want Him by your side. You know deep in your heart that He wants you to change. Don't be afraid. Jesus is calling, calling, calling your name."
The rain was coming down harder now. I wondered how much water would be standing in the ditch when church was over. I looked up at Jimmy Hale, all dressed in white, holding tight to his Bible. I saw Esther, looking up, with her hands reaching high for the sky. Wilma was there, too, tears running down her cheeks. Even Willard Maynard, the crawdad murderer.
Jimmy Hale looked right at me, almost pleading with his eyes. "Don't hold out. Be brave," he said.
His stare locked dead center with my stare. Something stirred within me. It was almost hypnotic, and suddenly, I lost complete control of my thoughts, emotions and movements. I was becoming something else -- someone different. With a jolt, I bolted out of my seat and raced down the aisle. Jimmy reached for my hands and shouted, "Praise the Lord!" The rain had stopped now, and I slowly turned around to show the congregation the new me. Their righteous sister.
About the author:
Sue Mayfield-Geiger, is a freelance writer, editor, and published author, working on her third book of short stories. She holds a B.A. in English and her writings have appeared in several publications. She recently won first place in the "Best of Fiction" category for the UHCL 2003 Bayousphere magazine. Sue is also the editor and publisher of "Edgar Literary Magazine," which made its debut this summer. A native Houstonian, Sue was born downtown at Memorial Baptist Hospital, danced at the Houston Coliseum, saw Elvis Presley at the Music Hall, and hung out at Playland Park. All structures are now gone, but Sue's writings often reflect her many memories of growing up in the shadows of oil refineries, the turbulent '60s, and her present life on the Texas Gulf Coast. She has two grown sons, three grandchildren, and is married to another native Houstonian who rode the same roller coaster at Playland Park that she once rode (only at different times).