Sunday, November 16, 2008

Characters of Influence

I've been considering lately all the people in my life who have helped shape me. It's amazing to think of all the people who come to mind. Of course, at the top of the list would be family and friends. But then there are the "unlikelies" who have been a part in shaping me as well.

It is my goal through this series to bring honor where honor is due. There are so many who have strengthened me by their love or their integrity. Of course, some others have shaped me by being such a bad example that I don't want to be like them! If I choose to write about them, I'll change their names, for sure. Even those people have hidden hurt and disillusionment that begs to be explored.
Today, I'll explore with you Carlene. She has been on my mind so much lately. Carlene was our African American housekeeper when I was a child. Of course, when we were children, we said "colored", not "African American" and "maid" not "housekeeper".

I loved Carlene with all my heart. Our family was not wealthy by any means but my mom worked part time and Carlene would help our family with washing, ironing and my favorite part . . . making grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for my brother and me for lunch. She either added milk or cream to the soup to make it extra smooth.

Carlene worked at our house a couple of days a week. I felt such unconditional love from Carlene. She was a large woman and always had an apron on. I felt so secure being in her presence.

One time she was in my parents' bedroom ironing. I can close my eyes and still smell the hot iron and the starch she's put on my dad's shirts. She'd let me iron my daddy's handkerchiefs.

One day a big storm blew up and it was thundering and lightning very badly. As I hid behind Carlene's apron I asked her about the scary lightening and thunder. She told me that God was mad. I said, "Mad at me?" She stooped down and said, "Oh, no, sweetheart. God isn't mad at you. You are precious to him."

Carlene told me of the goodness of God repeatedly. When the day was done, my mother would gather up some clothing and sundry items to give to Carlene and her family. Then she would slip her some money and off we'd go in the car to take Carlene home.

Carlene lived on the other side of the tracks in a green (but mostly just bare wood) house that was up on blocks. She didn't have any grass in her yard and there were always a lot of children running around and playing. My brother, Bobby, and I would beg for Mom to let us out so that we could play with Carlene's children. We knew we loved Carlene so we knew we'd love her kids. You can guess that in Birmingham, Alabama in 1964 that never happened. My parents weren't prejudiced but the society in which we lived . . . oh, yeah.

As Carlene would get out of the car, she'd always say, "Thank you, Mrs. Harris. Bye, Bye, Susan and Bobby. I love you." We'd always say, "Bye, Carlene. We love you, too."

Carlene was a victim of the times and the place we lived. But, Carlene taught me about hard work, integrity, unconditional love and that God loves us so much. I wish I knew where she and/or her kids were today. I'd love to thank them.

I want to live my life looking at the hearts of others, not their life situation. Father, continue to mold this desire in me into your likeness. Thank you.

Fondly remembering Carlene,


Sheryl said...

There are so many that influence us throughout our lives, aren't there? As I've been basically homebound God has also brought many "unlikelies" to me.

From the way you have captured her, I just love Carlene!! What a great story, thanks for sharing her with the rest of us.


Trish said...

Your reflection on Carlene and reminiscing about her is a powerful witness to the ways God's saints minister daily. Luther's idea of the "priesthood of all believers" is truly an amazing thing. Thanks.

Allison Connor said...

This is such a great story! Thank you for sharing and being so open!

Vann said...

I so admire your beautiful heart and spirit. xoxo