Congratulations to DeLane Phillips for her winning entry!
By DeLane Phillips
Billy Graham says there’s a chasm between me and God. I have no idea what a chasm is, but it must be pretty big for a man to have to die just to get me across it. Momma! Momma! “What?” “Billy Graham says that sin causes a chasm between me and God.” “A what?” replied Mom? “Are you watching the cornbread?” she cried from the laundry room. The light reflected off the paneled kitchen cabinets.
Mr. Graham’s voice echoed through the kitchen. I looked through the oven door window at the gold crust beginning to appear on top of the iron skillet. The music was starting and Mr. Graham was extending an invitation for me to come, chasm and everything. Momma taught me how to make cornbread. She told me to use the iron skillet. She even taught me how to season the pan just right.
Something deep inside me wanted to accept this invitation, given by a man talking on a black and white television. But at the same time, something rejected it. Was it the chasm? Looking around the kitchen to make sure no one was watching, I bowed my head and asked God to take the chasm away. Seeking an affirmation greater than my 12 years, I asked that Jesus to come into my heart.
It was August and outside the little Methodist church, and we were melting. I had looked forward all week to the “sanging” we held once a month at church. This time it was different. I had been thinking about the chasm ever since the night I first heard about it from Mr. Graham. I was thinking that maybe I needed to go down to the altar and really get saved. You know, make it public and all like the preachers say.
Inside the church the air conditioning quickly cooled off our sweatiness. The upright piano had been rolled out, down front and center with had the top propped open. Someone was going to really play that piano this time.
My mother, brother and me always went to the St. Stephens United Methodist church on Sundays while Daddy stayed home and slept. He worked at the General Motors Plant in Atlanta all week and he was tired. I wonder if Daddy has a chasm? Anyway, Daddy decided to go with us to the sanging.
My brother and I sat down on the cool, smooth oak pews. I loved the smoothness of the polished wood beneath my hands. Momma always sat where she could look in the mirror on the piano down front and see me in the reflection. She saw me that time Bobby threw a spit ball at me. I couldn’t retaliate because Momma was watching me.
The music was exciting and lively, not like that apoxology thing we sang on Sundays. Everyone was having fun. The night was long. No one seemed to care about getting out on time. Then things got serious. I knew this was it. The moment I publicly crossed the chasm or whatever that thing was. But something happened that shocked all of us, even Miss Head, the red- headed widow and her sister. Daddy, big, strong and tall, stepped out from the oak pews and made his way down the aisle, past all the pews, toward the altar. Tears sprang to my eyes. Tears sprang up in everybody’s eyes. My father, the big man who worked at General Motors all week, slumped down in tears on the altar. Maybe carrying that chasm around made him tired. I couldn’t bear Daddy down at that altar all alone by himself trying to get across the chasm to find God. Everyone in the church was crying. The music sounded like Billy Graham’s. Something about just as I am, I come home. Slowly, I stepped out, and walked down the aisle towards Daddy. I felt like I was crossed a chasm before I got there. I knelt beside Daddy and we crossed the chasm together. Now we have to get baptized.
We got home late that night. Momma sat rocking in the den and crying. I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, Daddy and I don’t have a chasm anymore and we’re going to heaven. That just leaves my little brother. Why would anyone cry? But she did. She just sat there in that rocker, rocking and crying, rocking and crying.
“You gon’ smoke since you got saved?” My cousin and her partner in crime stood watching me. I had no response, just like Judas, or was it Peter? I was too embarrassed to stand up to her. I really wasn’t interested in smoking but for all the Jesus in the world I did not want to look uncool in front of my cousin and her friend. I didn’t reply.
My cousin had everything I did not. Both her parents worked so she got to roam around town on Saturdays and go shopping. She had a maid at home to take care of her. They stocked the pantry with Ruffles potato chips, Oreo cookies, and bologna for sandwiches. Momma made me eat peanut butter on whole wheat or tuna, apples or oatmeal cookies. My cousin even got to eat white bread. My oatmeal existence envied her oreoness.
Standing there in front of the two with their Salem cigarette packs, I wanted to crawl under a bushel and hide. I’m sure they would have given me a light. I couldn’t figure out which was worse, eternity in hell or saying no to the two of them. All I could muster was “I got baptized.”
All the excitement and emotion was just a memory now. Daddy and I gettin’ baptized in my uncle’s lake. Momma had a new dress made for me just for the event. It was pink and white gingham, with white lace. When I got in the water it floated up to the top. Daddy cried and when he came up out of the water he raised his arms high. He cries a lot in church. The widows hug him every Sunday. He reads his bible every morning before he leaves for work. I wonder if my cousin has a chasm? She doesn’t seem to be worried about it. The bible says that the deceiver asked Jesus if God would really take care of him if he jumped off that cliff. I wonder if Jesus felt like I do right now? I just want to go home and hide away in my room with those yellow rosy curtains Momma made me. I think I would even enjoy the oatmeal cookies.