When I was a young child, I was taught that the name of a boy’s private part was his “mule” and that a girl’s was her “five-cent”. It puzzles me now as to why the very thing that we as young girls were taught to safeguard and young boys would try to go after couldn’t be worth more than a nickel. But I guess the elders had their reasons.
From the time that I was six years old until I was around ten, I was inappropriately touched by that old Toby Ranch. He would never be suspected of doing such a thing because of his closeness to the family and because he always made it appear as though it was a game. And I, being so young, knew that I was not to say anything against a grown-up who just wanted to play games. Still, I knew inside that this game was bad.
But who could I tell? Who would believe me? It’s so hard being little because you’re not allowed to have a voice outside of “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am”; “Yes sir” and “No sir”.
I did try to tell my mother one summer when she was visiting. I would always tell her about things that bothered me. I told her about the mean cousin who would try to break my bones with her punches. Wuta would only make light of it, saying that I had misinterpreted her intentions or something to that effect.
One day, Wuta and I were alone in Mama’s kitchen when I mentioned to her that I was being molested, though I used a different term. My mother suddenly began acting nervously before quickly changing the subject. That’s when I decided that I would never bother to bring it up again.
One day, Toby Ranch grabbed me and placed me on his lap. I wanted to play with the other children who were around, but I couldn’t get myself free of him. Suddenly, I looked down and caught a glimpse of his exposed mule as he bounced me up and down. I couldn’t understand how it just appeared in front of me that way, as if it was an extension of my anatomy. It smelled like canned spinach. I glanced back at him in bewilderment, wondering if he even knew what was happening. His hot breath was coming out in quick spurts like a horse snorting.
It seemed like I was on his lap for an eternity, but I don’t think it was more than a minute before I managed to free myself of his hold and jump off, all the while mirroring the smile that was on his face because I thought that I was supposed to. But inside, oh how disgusted I felt. Still, I made sure to keep my tears invisible, for if anyone had seen them, they would’ve asked me what the matter was. And I knew … I just knew that no one would’ve believed me.
On one particular day during recess, the children were playing softball. It was Agnes’ turn to bat, so she asked me to hold her peppermint balls that she’d received from the teacher. They were so perfectly round with their red, shiny stripes. As I stared at them, I could just imagine their minty sweetness. Just to press one against my lips would’ve sufficed. And try as I might, I couldn’t resist taking the risk of humiliating myself.
“Can I have one?” I asked my cousin, my eyes stretched in hopeful anticipation.
“No!” she screamed. Then she went on to play, leaving me to hold the best looking candies I’d ever seen in my life.
Believe it or not, there was one time when my mean cousin Agnes and I actually teamed up to play a game of softball. Although Mama was against my playing such sports, I did it if I thought she wouldn’t find out about it.
Even though I couldn’t hit the ball worth a lick, softball was one of my favorite sports to play. In this particular game one of my teammates batted for me and when she finally got a base hit, I ran excitedly to first base. Since I was a fast runner, I decided to take my chances and stretch the hit into a double by running to second base. Then as I stood on second, I told myself that I could make it to third. My heart was pounding with excitement as I succeeded in getting to third base, absorbing all of the exuberant cheers of my teammates.
Now it was Agnes’ turn to come to bat and she immediately hit the ball for a base hit. I watched as she ran to first base and rounded to second. But instead of running to home plate to score, I decided to stay on third base because I was afraid of being tagged out.
The ball was now being picked up by the opposing team and thrown back into the infield, but Agnes thought that she might be able to make it to third base before the ball was thrown in. And she probably would’ve made it but for one problem: I WAS STILL ON THIRD.
“Go, Merlene. Go!” Agnes screamed, waving me toward home plate as she headed toward me. But I couldn’t move, try as I might. And within a second or two we were both standing on third base. “Go on, Merlene.”
“No. They go’n throw me out,” I yelled. “You go.”
By now the ball had been thrown back to the infield, so one of us was going to be out either way. Agnes was older and much bigger than I was, so she used her strength to her advantage by pushing me off of third base, causing me to fall hard and scrape my knee. I got up and walked over to sit on the front steps of the school, watching as the blood trickled down my right knee. It oozed for a good portion of the afternoon. I had no bandage or tissue to clean it, so I’d put spit on it and wipe it with my hand or the hem of my skirt. Thankfully, it stopped bleeding by the time I got home.
One evening while Adam and I were glorifying our Father, my attention was suddenly diverted to a creature of inexplicable beauty. It stood almost as tall as my husband and possessed a shiny gloss to its emerald covering. Its eyes were a never-ending black and it moved about in the most carefree, hypnotizing manner. A very attractive being, indeed.
“Oh Adam, look,” I said to my husband. “Look at the beauty of the creature which lurks in our midst.” My husband momentarily turned his attention away from the Glory, the love-smile still stuck on his face.
“Eve, what is it about that creature that allures you so, that even the Glory does not keep your attention?”
“Oh Adam, you know that I adore our Father. Nothing else is capable of comparison. But of all the creatures you’ve shown to me, I don’t recall having seen this particular one of such distinct grace.”
“My dear Eve, that is the serpent,” he said, “a creature that is no more special than any of Father’s other creatures. And I may exercise my dominion over it as well.”
My husband then proceeded to lie down and rest. He appeared to be confused by my engrossment with the serpent. But I couldn’t be concerned with that. He didn’t understand how I felt. It was as though the serpent was speaking to me in its own sly way. And if I didn’t know better, I’d say that it was deliberately avoiding saying anything to my husband, almost as though it did not want to be seen by Adam.
“Adam, did you hear that?” I asked with a hasty thrill in my voice. “It said for me to follow it.”
Adam’s eyes remained closed as he attempted to pull me down beside him. But I was not tired. I wanted to see where the serpent wanted to lead me, so I decided to follow it. I didn’t think it would cause any harm. I was curious to see if there were others like it and couldn’t help wondering if its female counterpart was as graceful.
It brought me over to a tree, the very tree which Adam told me that Father had warned him about. Then it spoke, and this time, I was sure that I was not imagining it.
“Isn’t this a lovely tree? Just look at the marvelous fruit which it brings forth.”
“Yes, this tree is lovely,” I agreed. “But there are many other trees in the garden that are just as lovely.”
“None are as magnificent as this particular tree, however. Look at its rich branches and luscious fruits. I’d bet they’re just dying to be picked and eaten.”
“Yes, I guess so,” I said looking around for my husband. I thought for sure he would’ve followed me there. “But I don’t believe the fruits on this tree are any more delectable than the others,” I said to the handsome creature.
“Really? Don’t you agree that their taste is just a bit more pleasing?”
“Well, I cannot say for certain, being as I have yet to taste of this particular tree. Nor am I allowed.”
“What? ‘Not allowed’ did you say? Why would God not allow Man, His most treasured being, His very own children, to taste of such exquisite fruit?”
"I don’t know my Father’s reasons, except that He loves us and does not want to see us harmed. He said that we must not eat or touch of the tree or else we would surely die.” At that point, I recall the serpent wrapping its body around the trunk of the tree as though embracing it with himself.
"Did God really say that you would die if you touched the tree? If that were so, why am I still alive?”
"I don’t know. Maybe He didn’t use those words exactly. How about we ask Him …”
"Um – wait, no. No need to ask Him on my account. I can tell you the real reason God does not want you or Adam to eat of this tree.” I waited to hear his explanation. "God knows that if you were to eat of it that you would become like God Himself."
I began to think about what the serpent was saying. "But, that cannot be the reason," I replied. "For my husband and I are already like God. He made us in His image, and He made us to have dominion over every creature, including you.”
"Well then, you tell me the reason, Woman."
"I don’t know the reason."
"Well I do. It is because you will receive knowledge. Why else would it be called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? It is because you will become all-knowing like your God.”
"But, we are like God. My husband was born from Him, and I from my husband. We have all the knowledge we need.”
"Really? Then why am I able to touch the tree and yet live?”
"I do not know."
As I stood there thinking over what was just said, the serpent’s forked tongue slithered into one of the fruits, piercing its soft, ripened skin and spilling some of its syrup on top of my foot. Without hesitating, as though out of reflex, I bent over and wiped the syrup, licking it from my fingers. It was so sweet and satisfying that I couldn’t imagine why my God would want to keep something this blessed away from us. I stood up and was startled to find my husband by my side.
"Eve, what are you doing?” he asked me. “Father said that I should come and rebuke the evil one right away. Could He possibly be referring to you?”
"Oh, Adam, how could you even imply such a thing?"
"Then what is it that you’re doing to cause Father to have such urgency in His voice?"
"All I was doing was tasting of this most gratifying food."
"What have you done, Eve? Father said that we must not eat of this tree in the middle of the Garden or else we would die.”
"But Adam, I’m not dead." Then I looked around for the serpent and found that he had sauntered several yards away from us. "And neither is the serpent," I pointed.
"Did he force you to eat of this tree, Eve?"
"Of course he did not force me. I tasted of it by my own free will. And look at me. I’m just as alive as you are. Here,” I said placing my fingers near his lips. "You must have a taste." He seemed to shiver with temptation, trying with all his might to resist my offer. "Just taste it, Adam. Nothing will happen.”
"But Father said not to."
"The only reason Father said not to was because He doesn’t want us to know all that He knows."
"That’s not true, Eve. We are His children. We have a right to all that is His.”
"But we don’t know everything, Adam. For if we did, we would not need to annoy Father with all of our petty inquiries.”
"But if we did know everything, Eve, and if we never had need of Him, then which of us would be God? There can only be one God, Eve. And no one should exalt himself above Him, lest they be cast down. Don’t you remember what He told us about the archangel, Lucifer, and why he fell from heaven? If Lucifer had been satisfied with his position, he would’ve still been one of God’s most precious creations. But he said `I will make myself like the Most High. I will raise my throne above the stars of God’. And because there can only be one God, Lucifer was cast from heaven and is now known as Satan.” My husband stared long and hard at me. "Any knowledge that this tree has to offer isn’t worth losing our relationship with the Father, Eve."
"But that’s another thing I don’t understand, Adam. Where is this Satan that you speak of? He was supposedly cast down to the earth, but I haven’t seen him. Have you?”
My husband seemed confused. "No."
"Could it be that we’ve seen him and didn’t know it, Adam?"
"It could be.” My husband took a moment to reflect. “Maybe you’re right, Eve. Maybe if I tasted of the fruit, I would at least receive the knowledge I need to discern who this evil Satan may be. Then, being as I have dominion over all the creatures of this earth, I would be able to cast him into the pit with the other fallen angels that are bound until the appointed time.”
My husband wasted no time. He pulled a piece of fruit from its branch and bit into it with long awaited fervor. And then he lifted his eyes and smiled at me. "You were right, Eve. We didn’t die.”
"See, I told you."
"Wait until Father hears about this," said my husband as he took another bite. "He’ll be so proud of us."
We began to run around the way we usually did whenever we were happy. We wanted Father to know of our new discovery. But, something wasn’t quite the same. Something about the thought of being in Father’s presence wasn’t as appealing as it had once been. Then my husband stopped running and just stared at me. It was a sad, frightened kind of stare.
"Wait a minute, Eve," he said looking down at himself. "We can’t let Father see us this way." That’s when Adam grabbed me by the hand and we ran together to find refuge.
These Married Men
One of my shortest-lived relationships was with the twenty-nine year old preacher, Johnny McClinton. In fact, it could hardly be called a relationship at all. The first time he came to see me was on a Sunday. Then he came the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and on that Thursday when he drove up to the house, Mama would not allow me see him.
“You bet’ not come out that room.”
“Mama, why can’t I see him?” I cried.
“’B’cause, he got the mark of a married man.”
“But Mama, he wants to marry me. He’s go’n buy me a car and a house.”
“If you come out that room I’ll cut yo’ ass.”
So I had no choice but to stay in the room and cry. I couldn’t remember ever being so angry at Mama. Here was my chance to get out of the cotton field and get my own house and a brand new car, and she was trying to ruin it all.
The two of them were in the living room talking for no more than five minutes when I heard Johnny’s car leaving from the front yard. After he was gone, Mama came and told me what had happened. She said that Johnny told her that he truly wanted to marry me.
“Son, you already married,” she told him. She said that it took him a little while, but he eventually admitted it.
“Yes ma’am, I am. But we’re not together.”
I saw Johnny McClinton six months later at a church function. He was preaching in the pulpit, wearing the same suit that he used to come to see me in. I recognized the cigarette hole in the pant leg. When service was over, we passed by each other and he smiled cautiously, but said nothing. I never saw him again.
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It was going on eight in the evening. The church meeting had let out late, but I didn’t mind because I got to play with my friends and talk about the upcoming Halloween party that the teacher was going to have for us. While we waited for Uncle Lee to hitch the mule to the wagon to take us home, Mama realized she’d left her brown paper bag containing such items as peppermint balls, Vaseline, her handkerchief and some medicine on one of the pews.
“Go see if you see my bag, Merlene,” she said.
Since I knew exactly where she sat, I had no trouble locating the wrinkled paper bag propped in the corner of the pew. Although the church had been cleared out and was about to be locked up, the lights were still on.
Then, I looked up. The rear of the church near the exit had suddenly become obscured. The light behind the pulpit was still on, however, and it allowed me to see the large figure coming toward me.
“Hey Merlene,” Mr. Ranch said with a grin on his face. I wondered how he knew that I was in there. Did he hear Mama telling me to go inside? “I gotta lock up,” he said walking back toward the pulpit from where I was coming.
I thought about running, but I knew it would’ve looked strange and I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, or to him. So I tried to walk normally as I headed toward the exit. Although it was inevitable that we would have to pass by one another, Mama and a whole bunch of other people were right outside the church. So I couldn’t imagine him trying anything.
I imagined wrong. Just before we were about to pass, Toby Ranch took a quick glance over his shoulder before slipping his hand beneath my dress and between my thighs. It was too quick and unexpected for me to have time to react and was over even quicker. He went on about his business after that, heading for the light switch behind the pulpit.
I was eight. What could I do?
After exiting the suffocating, stale-scented church with Mama’s paper bag, I made sure to wear a very wide grin on my face, just to show my audience that everything was fine and dandy, and that nothing was the matter with me because I was a very happy little girl with ready-to-serve smiles and invisible tears.
I recall walking past Toy and some of the kids, making sure that they could see my exaggerated grin in the setting sun. Then I walked up to Mama and handed her the bag, my face still stretched in a grin. I can remember her looking at me, her brows furrowed, her eyes staying on me longer than usual, almost as if she could read something within the fakeness of my face. I wondered if she could see that the dam was disintegrating and the water was this close to bursting through.
Oh, how I wished I could’ve told her what had happened. How I wished I could’ve let go and allowed the tears to spill. But I knew that if I had cried, Mama would’ve asked me what the matter was. And if I had told her the truth, she would’ve said that I was lying. And if she thought that I was lying … well, you know the rest.
Still, I wonder … did she know?
Did anyone know?
Didn’t everyone know?
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Adam loved to play. He was so childlike, just an all-around fun being. He even played with the angels who, according to him, weren’t always as excited about playtime as he was. There were two such angels who were posted just outside of the Garden. They were over nine feet tall and wore glimmering attire that shone almost as brightly as the sun. Their belts were made from pure gold and at their sides were flaming swords. Adam said that one day he offered the angels some of his food. The angels looked at one another and then at him, and smiled with a slight shaking of their heads. They simply explained to Adam that their job was not to eat his food, but to guard the Garden until they were told to do otherwise.
One day, Father came down to visit with Adam. It was in the early part of the evening, the time during which Father would usually come to visit. It was after one such visit that Adam felt really special at what he’d overheard the two angels saying about him.
"Have you noticed how the Almighty treats Adam? How exceptionally loving He is toward him?"
"Yes. As a matter of fact, I have.”
“What is Man that even God would leave His throne in the cool of the day just to visit him?”
“He’s made Adam to be His heir.”
"True, but doesn’t the Almighty realize what He gave to Adam?"
"What do you mean?"
"A will. He actually gave Adam a free will.”
“So, surely you haven’t forgotten what happened to Lucifer and part of our family because of the free wills we were given?”
"Of course I haven’t forgotten. Lucifer used his free will to exalt himself. But that doesn’t mean that the Almighty wants to withhold the gift of choice from His own son. It was Lucifer’s own fault for being foolish enough to think that he could overthrow God.”
“What made him think that the creation could ever be greater than the Creator?”
"Tisk, tisk. That Lucifer never was too keen."
"Well, he was keen enough to deceive a third of the angels into following him."
"And Lucifer was cast to the earth. I saw him fall from heaven like lightning. Sorry. I don’t mean to snicker. But it was a sight to see."
"I’ll bet. God wasted no time in expelling him."
"That was many, many years ago, my friend. And it was his fall that caused this planet to become void and catastrophic."
"Well, of course. I know very well that our God did not create a catastrophe. Old Lucifer himself made a mess of things when he fell. That is why we all rejoiced when the Almighty decided to once again allow His Glory to permeate and fill this atmosphere."
"What was it that He shouted from His inner most Being?"
"‘LET THERE BE LIGHT’, He said. Isn’t it wonderful the way He restored the earth back to its original beauty?"
"Well, He is God, don’t forget."
"Oh, I won’t. But it still puzzles me as to why Adam causes the Almighty to become all goo-goo eyed whenever He mentions his name to any one of us. Why, we’ve had the pleasure of serving the Master for centuries, but He’s never looked at any one of us in the same manner. Tell me, friend. What is Man that even God will leave His throne in the cool of the day to visit him?”
"Let me explain something to you, my friend. We angels are God’s beloved creation. But Man was made in God’s very image. He brought forth Adam from Himself. And He adores him. We should feel honored, however, to have been assigned the wonderful task of protecting God’s most precious possession."
"Speaking of which, where is Adam now?"
"He’s using his free will to hide behind that oak over there listening in on our discussion. He thinks that I do not see him, but I do."
“Such a happy lad, he is.”
“Indeed, he is.”
One day before the sun was set, Father came to visit with Adam. Adam thought that He’d come to talk and laugh and share the day’s events with him as He usually did. But instead, Father had a big surprise for him.
My husband said that Father had been expressing to him how proud He was of him, proud of the way he was handling his authority over the beasts of the fields and the fowl of the air. Father also brought to his attention how for every male beast, there was a female counterpart. And for every male fowl, there was a female companion, and so it was with the fish.
“And now My son, it is time that you are blessed with your helpmate.”
Adam said that Father then brought the most peaceful rest over him. And when he awoke, there I was by his side.
I can recall being held in the arms of someone that I knew, but had never met. I felt secure and happy in his bosom while the Glory of our Father hovered above us. And then His voice spoke, filling us to the utmost with His love.
“Repopulate the earth, My children.”
In the days that followed, Adam introduced me to the animals and boasted on how Father had allowed him to name them all. Then he showed me the wonders of the Garden, the perfect flowers, vegetables and fruits. Then he walked me over to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and his face turned serious.
“See this tree? Father has warned me that we are not to eat of its fruit because we would surely die.”
“Then why is it here?” I asked him.
“To serve as a prop so that we may exercise our free will. Father has given us power and authority, but we can use our free will and disobey Him if we want.”
“That would be foolish.”
“Yes, it would be. So take heed.”
“Adam,” Father’s voice suddenly called. “Adam?”
“We’re here, my Lord.”
“Have you given a name to my daughter as of yet, Adam?”
“Uh, no. Not yet Father. I’ve been having so much fun with her that giving her a name has been the least of my thoughts.
“Well Son, I would like to know how I might address my daughter, and since I did give her to you … “
“Say no more, Father. I shall call her ‘Eve’. How does that please You?”
“How does it please her?”
“I am very pleased with the name my husband has chosen for me, Father,” I said.
“Then I, too, am well pleased. Adam,” He then said, “teach my daughter as I have taught you.”
Mama also told me a story of when she and her siblings were young, Grandma was adamant about them putting something on their heads before going out to work in the cotton field. Be it a straw hat or just an old rag lying around the house, you were not to go into the fields without first tying up your head. Well, one day, Mama had forgotten to put anything on her head, so Grandma stepped out of her underwear and tied it over Mama’s head for the entire hot, sweaty day. Mama said that after she got through smelling drawers all day, she never forgot to put on a hat again.
I recall one day when I was around fifteen when grandma Narcissus had given me some money to pay for a package I had ordered. Neither one of us had told Mama about it, but somehow she found out and asked me where I had gotten it from.
It was an early evening in late August. Grandma Narcissus, Mama and I were sitting on the porch making small-talk and staring yonder for signs of life aside from our own in those desolate country woods.
“I said, where did you get the money from, Merlene?” Mama repeated. I wanted to tell her that grandma Narcissus had given it to me, but I also wanted to give grandma a chance to speak up on my behalf. When I looked over at her for help, she was staring at her hands as if they had suddenly sprouted fingers.
“I ain’t go’n ask you again,” Mama warned. Eventually, grandma decided to let me off the hook.
“Where you think she got it from? You think she sell her pussy?”
Needless to say, that shut Mama’s mouth. I loved my grandmother, but I wished she could’ve been more fun and easy to talk to the way my great grandmother was. But like I said, she must’ve felt that being hard on me was the only way to keep me from turning out like my mother.
I am so happy to finally have the opportunity to tell the story as I see it. I don’t intend to repudiate what’s written in the bible, but I feel a need to explain why things went down the way they did. I would first like to recount my husband’s rendition of life before I came along.
Adam enjoyed fellowshipping with our Father, God, who birthed him from His very Being. I thought it most astonishing when I learned that Father had actually formed my husband from the dust of the earth, and then breathed His Spirit into him to give him life. Imagine that. Only the Father could do something as wondrous as bringing life to a lump of dirt.
They had a special relationship, my husband and Father. Adam said that Father had given him total dominion over this planet that we call earth. Even though we originated in what is known as the Garden of Eden, Father told Adam that He was appointing him god over everything within the earth. He even had all of the animals to march up to Adam to be named by him. And whatever name Adam decided to give to the animals was what they were called. Adam’s dominion applied to the grounds of the earth as well. There was no need for my husband to tend the fields for long, strenuous hours. All he had to do was speak to them and the land obediently brought forth food in due season.
Before I was made, my husband said that he would enjoy long swims in the early morning hours. And the winds would obligingly blow him dry when he stepped out of the waters. Then he’d jump in and out over and over again, just to feel the warm winds obey his desire to be blown dried again.
My husband has told me that the latter part of the day was always his favorite. The sun would step aside and allow the beautiful moon its turn to highlight the star-filled sky. The air would be a bit cooler at that hour, and the birds made music. On one such evening after my husband had fallen asleep, he suddenly heard the much welcomed voice of the Father.
“My son, awaken yourself, for I have something that you must be made aware of. As your Father it is only right that I teach you in the way that you must go.” He paused for a moment. He wanted Adam’s undivided attention. “I have placed many trees in the garden for your eating pleasure, except for one.”
Father then lead Adam to a particular tree and allowed him to observe it for a moment. Adam hadn’t noticed it before because there was nothing unusual about it. It was just as beautiful as all of the others – not more, not less.
“Of this tree” Father continued,“the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you are not to eat thereof. No matter what, do not allow yourself to be deceived by the enemy who was cast from heaven. Be aware, for he lurks about seeking whom he may devour. He seeks to avenge Me. And the only way that he can do this is through harming you, My son.
"I understand, Father," my husband said. "I shall not eat the fruit of this tree. And I shall not allow myself to be deceived by the enemy.”
“I have given you dominion over the all earth, all that is in the air, all that is on the land and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. Do not be deceived. Exercise your authority and reign. For the day that you eat of this tree, you shall surely die. Do you understand Me, Adam?”
“Sure,” my husband answered gleefully.
(TO BE CONTINUED)