A Journey for Jemail
by Pete Haynes

 

Jemail looked out the window of his grandmother's home and saw only rain. It lay in puddles here and there. The dirt road out front was red with mud. The sides of the houses were streaked with dark stains, running down.

"Rain, rain, go away, come again some other day..." The whole world seemed covered with rain. Jemail hated rain. Only bad things happened when it rained.

"Jemail, come here!" In the kitchen stood his grandmother. A big woman, black as coal. At times he was afraid of her, but mostly he longed to sit in her lap and be wrapped in her arms. "Grama," he called her. A woman to respect and love.

"Jemail, I need some things from the store. Please go and get them for me."

"But Grama, it's raining."

"Of course it is. The good Lord sends the rain. Please go. I need these things for tomorrow. Remember, your parents will be here. It's Thanksgiving. The good Lord has given us much to be thankful for. Now go."

So, Jemail went. You don't argue with Grama. However, he took his time. If you're going to get wet, you might as well do it right. He thought about what she said as he walked. Thanksgiving. He missed Momma and Poppa. He hadn't seen them since they brought his brother and him to stay with Grama. They said home was no place for children now. Only the baby. His heart hurt when he thought of them.

"The good Lord has given us so much to be thankful for." What did he have to be thankful for? Jemail remembered that terrible day. They said the storm was coming - a bad one. Poppa went around the neighborhood searching for plywood and nails. Jemail helped him hammer the wood over the windows of their house.

Poppa said the wind would blow, so everything needed to be nailed down. It scared Jemail when he said this. He acted brave so Papa wouldn't know.

Then the wind started to blow, and the rain came down. Poppa said they all had to leave. It was too dangerous. "We can't take very much with us," Momma said. "I'll pack some clothes. Each of you pick two things you want to bring. That's all."

Jemail had a hard time deciding. Finally he grabbed the cane Grampa had given him before he died, and the "buddy bear" doll Aunt Mariam had brought him from her trip to Atlanta. The family then got in the car and drove a long way, to Uncle Aaron's house.

The wind blew even there, and the rain came down ... hard. He shook in fear as he hugged Momma. She had her arms around her babies. When the side window blew in, Uncle Aaron had them get in the closet. In the light of the lantern he could see Poppa's face. Poppa was scared, too. Then he looked at Jemail and winked. For a moment, things were a little less frightening.

Then there was a big boom, and the house shook. Jemail hugged tighter, and felt Momma's arms hold closer. Poppa surrounded his family with his big arms. He heard Poppa say, "Dear Jesus, protect us." Momma echoed, "Sweet Jesus, save us." Uncle Aaron and Aunt Mariam started talking like that, too. The sound was kind of like church, and Jemail could almost hear a piano playing.

Then there was quiet. "It's over, the storm's over," he thought and started to squirm. "Hush, son," said Poppa. "The hurricane is right over us." It was quiet, too quiet. Jemail could hear a baby cry next door. He looked down at his sister. She was asleep.

Then it started up again. Loud! It just kept on and on. Rain and wind. Wind and rain. After a while he got used to it. He fell asleep.

When he awoke the next morning, the storm was over. He was laying on a bed, his brother next to him. He got up and looked around. The adults were all up, doing this and that. Poppa and Uncle Aaron were outside cutting away at a big tree laying on the roof. There were trees down all over. Another had fallen on their car. Poppa's Chevy, which he washed every week, looked terrible. Momma and Aunt Mariam were cleaning up the house, sweeping glass off the floor, picking up things. It was a mess.

Four days passed before the police allowed them to return to their own home. When they did, Jemail wished they hadn't. There wasn't really a house there. Just a bunch of wood scattered about. Jemail looked for some of his toys. There wasn't much to find.

He looked up at Poppa. Tears were streaming down his face. "We're going to build a better house, son," Poppa said. That night Momma and Poppa told him and his brother that they would be going to stay with Grama for a while. "There's no place here for children, now," Momma said. "We'll bring you home when there is."

So Jemail and his brother came to live with Grama. The hurricane didn't really come her way. Jemail only had a few things with him: some clothes, a few toys he had found and cleaned up, Grampa's cane, and the "buddy bear". Grama cried when she saw the cane. "Bless you, child."

Jemail thought about all this as he went to the store and back, getting groceries for tomorrow's Thanksgiving's Day meal. "The good Lord has given us so much to be thankful for," Grama had said. "What do we have to be thankful for?," he asked himself. "Nothing!"

He was totally drenched as he opened the door to step inside the house. He brought the groceries into the kitchen and set them down.

"Jemail!," his Grama yelled, "what's got into you, boy! Look at yourself. Look at the floor. You've brought mud all over my house. Where's your brain?"

"But you told me to go to the store. I said it was raining."

"Yes, son, but there are such things as raincoats and boots, aren't there?"

"I forgot ... I'm sorry."

"Well, don't just stand there dripping on my clean floor. Go get yourself dried off, and put other clothes on. Honestly, you don't have the sense you were born with."

Jemail went, dried off, and changed. When he returned to the living room his brother was playing with his "buddy bear." "Give me that, Germaine," he yelled, grabbing it from him. This only made Germaine hold on tighter.

Soon they were hitting each other. Jemail was calling his brother all sorts of names. Since Germaine was younger, he was getting beat up pretty good. He started to cry. "Jemail," Grama's voice boomed out, "stop that at once, do you hear me?"

But Jemail didn't. He kept on hitting, only he wasn't hitting Germaine. Anything in his way got hit. He soon was on the floor doing something he hadn't done in a long time, throwing a temper tantrum. He was angry at everything. He hated everybody. He expressed his anger in the only way he knew how.

"Jemail," his Grama yelled, "stop that." When he didn't stop, she picked him up and shook him. Startled, he looked up into Grama's face and saw the fire in her eyes. Then he started to cry. "Go to your room, Jemail. There will be no supper for you tonight."

As Jemail made his way to the bedroom he heard Grama tenderly pick up Germaine, and wipe away his tears. Jemail laid down on the bed half crying, half beating the pillow. Then he just lay there. After a long while there were footsteps, and Grama came and sat on the bed. She picked him up in her arms and held him close.

"O, Jemail, this has been hard for you. Living here without Mamma and Poppa. Wondering where home is. Maybe still frightened by the storm." All he could do was nod his head as he was cradled in his Grama's arms.

Swaying back and forth with him, she went on. "For one so young, you had to face something terrible. You had to make hard choices. Your home, as it was, is no more. Momma and Poppa are finding you a new one. That's scary.

"But you know what? The good Lord has been with you. He brought you and your brother, and your baby sister and your Momma and Poppa safely through it all. The good Lord was there all the time. Don't be afraid, Jemail, He will still protect you, and provide a way. That's why we call him the good Lord. He's given us so much to be thankful for. Maybe you should do some thinking about what you are thankful for. Come, I saved some food for you."

So Jemail ate his supper and got ready for bed, thinking about what he might be thankful for. "My house and everything I had are gone," he thought, "but I have my family, even my brother. What would I do without them? And I have God, who protected me. God will provide a way. God will provide a way." He repeated this over and over as he slowly drifted off to sleep.

Later that night, two people quietly stepped into the room, bent over, and kissed him. Tomorrow would indeed be a day of thanksgiving.

1996Peter L. Haynes

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