When Angels Reign: A Lesson in Sacrifice and Contrast © Jerome DeVonni Wilson
Back in the game, the grandfather’s son’s son had come to spend summer vacation and learn a few thangs….
The boy was an honor roll student and Sunday school enthusiast. He probably attended one of the many schools in urban America named after Frederick Douglass, since not too many were named after W.E.B. DuBois.
He had probably experienced institutional racism religiously, to where it was a trait of his every day; normal, void of any other social structures with which to compare and contrast indifference.
His freckles were the color of nutmeg atop skin the hue of his grandmother’s homemade eggnog; his fro full of life; birthed in East St. Louis and sent to the segregated South to — on this particular night — raise the roof at choir rehearsal while his aunt belted soulful hymns from a well-worn piano.
While nearing the plot of land that the family owned, he could hear locusts, see thousands of fireflies, and smell rain approaching. Ominous clouds were forming noticeably low.
He also noticed a bunch of sheets hanging on the clothesline and what appeared to be horses running behind them.
His grandfather passed the dirt road that led to the house.
“Grandpa, we’d better hurry to get those sheets off the line because it’s about to rain any minute, sir, and we might need to get those horses put up.”
He then looked to his grandmother to find that she had her eyes closed very tightly, to where her lids were wrinkling up. She was rocking subtly in her seat, her left hand on the boy’s knee, her right hand clenching the crucifix around her neck, her lips mumbling something inaudible.
“Pray for rain, boy,” said his grandfather, his huge right hand tapping on the child’s left knee.
Farther up the road, the rain came down; a force majeure as they continued toward the next county.
“It’s pro’bly best if we turn round an go on back, Jesse. Pro’bly gone by now or at least fixin’ to leave,” the grandmother finally spoke up.
“Can’t be so sure, Carla. We don’t wanna run into ’em as they’re leaving; could turn a bad situation for the worse. ’Sides, my brother’s place is just a few more miles yonder,” he reasoned.
“But it’ll be worse by morning. We can save more of our things if we jus’ pull over and hide for a bit, then go back!” she exclaimed.
“Calm down, Carla!” he ordered, then lowered his tone. “You don’t wanna upset the boy. Now, it’s bad enough that a man has to stand by helpless and witness an abomination like this take place to his family, but the Good Lawd knows there ain’t no sense in goin’ back now tryin’a save somethin’ jus’ to end up losin’ ourselves.”
He would sacrifice a little more time; a greater number of worldly possessions.
The boy was confused and became unsettled. Just earlier that morning, his grandfather had called him into the henhouse and let him watch a chick hatch from an egg.
“WOW, look at it!” he said. “Ugh! I’m never eatin’ eggs again!”
Now there was something terrible going on that he didn’t understand. The moon was rising like hate-crime rates below the Mason Dixon. His grandmother’s tears escaped their ducts and ran down her face like slaves in the middle of the streets of Galveston, Texas, on June 18, 1865.
The grandfather decided to pull over. Waiting. Contemplating. During that time, the boy dozed off. When he woke up, they were on the bumpy dirt road that led to their house.
There was a strange, charred wooden cross in the yard. The house, wooden fences, barn, henhouse, and grass were all charred as well.
Just as the boy hadn’t seen thousands of fireflies, there also were no sheets hanging on the clothesline with horses running behind them — the sheets had been riding the horses.
The structure of the house itself wasn’t ruined, but the interior and all of the contents that weren’t missing were destroyed; the cupboards and pantry divested of all perishable items.
The windows had been broken out, the front and back doors open to allow the fire to breathe, but it also allowed the rain to extinguish the flames. The walls and floorboards would be warped in places, the smell of fire forever present. The house could be salvaged; the home — not quite.
The boy, who grew to become a freethinker, learned two things that day that he wouldn’t come to truly grasp until later in life. The cross was stuck in the ground right next to, and under, a great big oak tree. However, the tree, its branches and leaves, had made it through the fire unscathed.
It was later divulged to him that his great-grandfather had been lynched from that very tree — the one to which the wicked flames could not adhere.
Though the livestock had been slain or stolen, miraculously found was a nest full of fresh eggs. All they had to eat. The boy was hungry but refused to eat the chicks.
“Remember the cross, son.”
The cross? Which one?
“The Lawd sacrificed His son for us, and the hen, as one of God’s creatures, sacrifices for us as well,” his grandfather said, adding, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”
Standing on the porch with his grandmother, his gaze repeatedly went from the crucifix on her necklace to the charred cross in the yard. What was the connection? Jesus died on the cross for everyone else… His unworldly mind figured the people who did it were against the cross and, therefore, against Christ and ultimately God.
When he discovered that the horse-riding, sheet-wearing, pyromaniac terrorists were, arguably enough, people who considered themselves Christians, he was bewildered.
It was a “first it was Santa Claus, now this” type of disgust. Oh, he still had faith in the angels, but he ascertained that one man’s savior…can be another man’s oppressor.
…and that’s on everythang.
When Angels Reign