I can count on one hand the number of times we saw grandma Durham. I remember visiting her and grandpa in California when I was 5 or 6. We drove from Louisiana or Arkansas, wherever we were living at the time, in a station wagon that I think we slept in at least one night.
My memory focuses on the cots spread out in the field behind their house, across the levee under nothing but the California sky. The cots were available to men. The times were different and so was the language. They weren’t homeless in those days even if they had no address to call home. Here in an open stretch of space they had a place to sleep and a bowl of beans served up by grandma. I think the only payment in return was chores around the property or grandpa’s used furniture store.
Years later they moved north to Washington state and this time it was a big house where they rented rooms to migrant workers. Rooms filled in the summer and empty come winter when the work moved south back to California. The men paid what they could, often bringing heaping bowls of cherries or other fruit they picked in the orchards.
This is who they were. People with little, but feeling they had enough and giving from their enough to others.
Mama told me about the man she bought stockings for. He came to church but didn’t quite fit in. A man’s body, women’s clothes and he needed stockings. Grandma bought them. He was in need. That’s all that ever mattered to her. If she could help, she would. She did.
Years after grandma had gone to be with Jesus, mama sat in our house in Memphis. She called home to check on things in her absence and I heard her voice tighten. I saw her eyes redden.
What happened mama? Someone died. Who? I don’t remember you mentioning that name. He was a drunkard. He was my friend.
A legacy, handed down from her mama, from grandma. The focus not on herself as God’s grace swept through her heart.
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage.” Matthew 6:6 the Message
Maybe this is why I’m comfortable sitting in a roomful of addicts and alcoholics. Maybe this is why I’m fit for this work of victory and defeat, of relapse and recovery. The focus on self is removed as God shows his grace to me through these men. He shows me how desperately I’m in need of his mercy.
This is in our blood, my DNA that at its core has a cross.