As soon as Randa and I got to church yesterday, one of the members told me, “There’s a woman here who wants to talk to you. She’s wearing the brown coat and sitting on the bench over here.” I had intended to use a couple of minutes to tune up my guitar for the special music Randa and I would sing. Instead, I sat the twelve-string and my Bible on the front pew and then headed back to speak with Carol.
“Is there somewhere we can talk?” She queried, “I don’t want the others to hear. People can get pretty nosey, am I right?”
I led her into the church office and pulled out a couple of chairs. She leaned over and set her large handbag on the floor. “Oh, I tell you, some days I think I’d just like to head out into the woods and say ‘To hell with the world.'” She straightened up and grinned at me as I eased into the other chair, “You know what I mean?”
For the next ten minutes or so, she gave me the day’s version of her history, starting with her husband dying of cancer in Louisiana. While she talked, I studied her a bit.
Her short, thick hair had been brushed but not combed. Her face was browned and finely furrowed and her eyes carefully lined. There was a faint smell of perfume and her clothes looked to be clean. If she was any leaner she’d need a skin graft. I guessed her age to be somewhere between sixty and seventy-five. Life can sometimes add a lot of years in a short time.
She admitted to being from New York (“It’s been forty years but they say I still have the accent; I know I still have the attitude.”) She talked about being on the road and how she’d been harassed by different people and how it’s illegal to be poor in this country. After a while she paused and got to the near nugget, “Is there any work I can do for the church? I need to make fifty dollars. And I need a ride to MacDonald’s in Wellington. Do you know where Wellington is? I’m starting a job at Wellington tomorrow taking care of somebody and living in their home.”
In the pause, I caught the sound of singing and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a group of angels cued by the mention of the county seat of Sumner County. She went on to say, “Now of course I know how this works. You can ask me to say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and I’ve said it a thousand times. That alone ought to be enough to get me into heaven, am I right? I’ll say whatever anybody wants me to say if that’s what I have to do to get help.”
My response may not have been quite on cue. “Carol, I need to get back out there. You’re welcome to stay with us through the service but you don’t have to for us to help you.”
She said she’d stay and I said we’d help her out and give her a ride to Wellington. She stayed and after Sunday School, we kept our end of the bargain.
We stopped in the parking lot and I gave her some cash lifted from the church’s unofficial benevolence fund. She counted it, twice, before getting out, “Oh, green is the color of life. I love it; I love money.” And then she kissed the bills. “Now give me a minute; it’ll take me a minute to get out.” She took hold of one side of the door frame and pulled herself up and out of the back seat.
She was certainly one of the most interesting people I’ve helped out over the years. She might be a professional con artist or she might be another one of those folks that got bent by life and folded into a small pocket of the universe. I guess she could be both at the same time. It doesn’t much matter to me; we had the opportunity to help and I’m glad that we did. I’d rather we get taken in by a hundred strangers than have a single one of them say we wouldn’t take them in.
Am I right?