Monday, August 23, 2010

Will Campbell's Grandma Bettye

If you don't know of Will Campbell, you should.   He escorted the black students who integrated Little Rock, Arkansas, public schools, and he was the only white person present at the founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  And he ministered to Klu Klux Klan members.

He believes in justice and grace.  And family.  For a slice of his life and ministry, consider his 1977 biography Brother To A Dragonfly.  Below is one of four portraits of his grandparents that begins the book:

Grandma Bettye
Grunting every breath, sometimes twice,
  with neuralgia and lumbago.
But smiling, too.  Because her lover
   (for sixty-six years her lover)
never one forgot to say: "Mighty fine supper,
   Mrs. Campbell."
No matter what the fare.
And once she cried when he asked if the bread, hon,
was cooked yesterday
   or the day before.
That being as close to irreconcilable differences as
  the years ever knew.
And she talked about the Glory Hole,
meaning the place just above the bridge
where we baptized
  And where
boys went bathing with her nod,
but girls' bodies made it a naughty sacrilege.
And McComb City was the wickedest place in the world.
Camphor Balm from the Rawleigh Man and
  aspirin from the store
were good for lumbago
But not as good as salt mackerel
  and knick-knacks Uncle Tiff brought from Louisiana.
She sat on the pew that ran crosswise
  to the congregation.
Right up front.  With Miss Emma, Miss Lola, Miss Eula,
Aunt Donnie, Aunt Ida,
not one of them either "Miss" or "Aunt," but old, like
  Grandma was old.
  For old began at thirty.
And she wore the flannel bathrobe to church
the very first Sunday after Christmas.
Because it was the prettiest thing she
  had ever seen,
  and the Lord deserved the best.
And because it was 1933 and she didn't have a
  bathroom.

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