“My mama already has her some wings,” the little boy said.
His name was Joseph and he would be the one child Mary Alice would always remember. Even though he only came to Vacation Bible School for a few nights that summer, long ago. She never saw him again and over the years she wondered what became of him. He was a kid who wandered over from the string of let go mill houses with overgrown yards on the dirt road which lay behind the church her husband had taken over as pastor the winter before.
That was the winter of her second failed pregnancy and the winter she accepted the possibility that she might never have children. It had been a hard winter.
And when winter turned to spring and everyone started asking about Vacation Bible School she pretended not to hear.
“Well the pastor’s wife has always been the one to head it up,” she heard from more that one of the curious church women who paid her visits. And when it looked like no one was going to step in and take up the Vacation Bible School cross that summer she still didn’t feel up to it. Her sadness was real and the thought of all those little children laughing and playing and learning Bible verses and making arts and crafts and singing songs only made it more real. Finally she announced Vacation Bible School would be in July.
“Bring a Friend,” was the theme that summer. It was something her husband suggested since the church was small with only a handful of children likely to attend. And it was a success. By the end of the last week of July the window cooled classrooms were filled with children excited by learning about Jesus, singing songs, and painting angel wings to take home to their mothers.
“You can have mine,” the little boy named Joseph said, eyes dark, as he smiled up at Mary Alice while continuing to dabble shiny silver paint on his plaster wings that were almost ready to be glittered.
“They are for you mother,” she remembered telling him.
That was when the little boy smiled even brighter through his sad eyes and told her his mother already had wings.
Mary Alice, doubtful, said, “Okay,” and seeing her doubt the little boy with his dark eyes twinkling , pinched his lips tight, nodded and with raised eyebrows said, “Really she does.”
There was something different about this little boy in his threadbare tennis shoes, and clothes that had been worn out by some other child long before they ever belonged to him. And when he asked for a second hot dog and another cup of grape drink Mary Alice gave in. Even though the rule was one hot dog and one grape drink, for everyone.
That was the third night, his last night coming to Vacation Bible School, the night he told her he was saving the new red tennis shoes with white laces she had given him the night before.
“For when school starts,” he explained. She had asked him where they were not expecting to see worn out shoes on his little feet when he made his way through the church doors that night.
She smiled, remembering, thinking, pushing back her sadness as she went about passing out paint brushes and praise to every child, most wearing speckles of paint and glitter.
“My mama says you can hang them over your baby’s crib when he gets here next summer,” Joseph told her holding up the wings onto which he was painting, “For those who wait upon the Lord,” his special verse.
She smiled not hearing what he had said until the next night when she didn’t see his smiling face in the crowd of children who flooded into the sanctuary. And again when it was time for the children to put the finishing touches on their wings.
“My mama says you can hang them over your baby’s crib when he gets here next summer,” she heard him say again later that evening as she walked through the neighborhood from which he had come. The sun was setting when she came to the house she knew must be his. It was dark, no light spilling through its broken windows.
A neighbor girl told her the man and boy who lived there in the old house had moved out that morning. “And the boy’s name was Joseph,” she added holding her hand up not too far from the ground.
As the girl watched Mary Alice make her way back down the overgrown driveway she smiled and waved. And it was then that Mary Alice holding Joseph’s wings even tighter, saw his little red sneakers with white laces on the feet of the skinny little girl knee deep in weeds.
Mary Alice still has those wings and they still hang over baby’s crib. Only now its her grand baby who sleeps under them and her memory of a little boy named Joseph who gave them to her because his mother already had wings of her own.
-edward reed 2018