I will never forget the first time I meet Becky
. I had just moved down south to what was quite possibly the smallest town in Alabama
. The town circulates around one school system
, four churches, two grocery stores, one drug store
, a movie theater that plays movies for a dollar and a half one month after they’ve been released, one doctor’s office, a public library
, and two barber shops.
At the center of all this activity is Skid’s, the local diner. There, a person can get anything they can think to order as long as it can be deep fried, grilled, or served between two slices of bread. Skid’s is known for good coffee, thick burgers, and excellent pie. The diner is situated beside the men’s barber shop just across from the library, and that’s where I meet Becky.
She is tall and young and wears a uniform that is typical of waitresses employed at greasy spoons. Hers is a crisp yellow shirt with a white collar. There are faded grease spots across the front and "Becky" is embroidered on her left pocket. She wears old jeans and leans on the counter talking to some construction workers who are putting a new roof on the middle school. She jokes with them and warms their coffee as they spoon bites of apple pie into their mouths.
I only knew Becky from church. I saw her sitting on the third pew of First Baptist on Sunday morning. That church is the reason I came to this dusty, backwards town. I’m filling in as pastor for the church, until the congregation can find a permanent guy to do the job. I have been in this town only two weeks, mostly meeting the congregation and moving myself in. The only furniture I have consists of a card table with chairs, a bed, dresser, and two lawn chairs. I had spent that morning assessing the state of the parsonage. All it will take is two coats of paint, a couple nails, some Draino, and more Pine Sol than I care to think about to make it feel like home.
"What can I get for you, suga’?" Becky asks, with a glint in her eyes, clearly teasing me with her overdone accent. She smiles and shakes her head. "I mean, Reverend."
"Oh, please, don’t call me that. It’s Michael."
"Alright Mikey, what’ll ya have?"
She pulled a pen out of her pocket as I ordered a cheese burger, fries and a coke. They still serve their sodas in glass bottles here. Ice cold and burning with carbonation as it goes down.
Becky sat my order down in front of me, pulled up a stool, and made herself comfortable.
"What brings you to town?” she asked. Becky has very blue eyes.
“I need to go to the hardware store. I’m going to try to fix up the parsonage. It’s gotten a little run down, so I’m going to paint it and fix some squeaky doors. Stuff like that.”
“What color?” she asked.
That caught me off guard, I hadn’t thought about it. “I guess white,” I said.
“White? No, no, no. You need something bright, something to give life back to that house. Paint her yellow or red. Don’t paint her white. I’ll come paint with you tonight if you want some help,” she said.
“Oh no, you don’t have...”
“Alright, I’ll be over tonight after work.”
I was glad she said yes, and I bought three cans of yellow paint that afternoon. Normally, it’s not good policy for pastors to be alone in houses with women they’re not married to, but I was willing to risk it if it meant making a friend. My house is situated in a close neighborhood anyway. We couldn’t have gotten away with anything in that house even if we had wanted to. But I like where I live, with or without the snooping neighbors. Children are always biking up and down the streets or playing basketball in each other’s driveways. I found out pretty quickly that the tire swing in my front yard is public property.
The parsonage is not a very big place, but it's comfortable. It has a wide front porch with a swing hanging from the ceiling. The bottom floor has a living room, kitchen, dinning room, and study. The upstairs houses two bedrooms and the only bathroom in the place. The pipes squeal when I take a shower. Each room has a ceiling fan and they were on full power as I painted the mantle in the living room white. All of the windows and doors were open too. I knew that between the extreme heat of the day and the paint fumes, I would either die from heat stroke or asphyxiation if I kept the house closed up. I didn’t have air conditioning.
It was getting dark when Becky walked in. The sound of the neighborhood children being called home for dinner echoed in the street. She had two pie tins and a jug of tea in her hands, which she placed on the steps. She smiled at me as she opened a can of bright yellow paint. She smiled so much it startled me. We painted the rooms together. We worked all around the house. We talked about our lives that night. We talked about things we had received and sacrifices we had made. We told each other stories, trying to make the other laugh or cry, I’m not sure which. Sometimes we would be quiet and feel the breeze blow in through the windows and listen to the crickets chirping out on the lawn.
When we were through, we stood in the middle of my living room, empty except for a ladder, three cans of paint, drop cloths and ourselves. The room was bright with light and yellow and polished hardwood floors. We were proud of ourselves. We were proud that we made this parsonage into a lighthouse. It glowed from the inside out and we loved it. We loved each other for making it. I loved her for who she was.
We sat on the front porch eating cold fried chicken and macaroni out of pie tins. I poured the sweet tea and we drank it out of my plastic cups. We watched the children outside catching fireflies. We watched them spin in the darkness with the little stars. The children sucked me in and I felt a peace. I felt it like the inside of a storm where everything is perfectly quiet.
I didn’t realize the wind had begun to pick up and lightning rolled in quietly in the distance. I didn’t realize it when it began to rain, so quietly just beyond the steps we were sitting on.
“Well suga’, I better be getting home, there’s a storm blowing in.”
I walked her to her car and told her goodnight. I left the house windows open so I could hear the storm. The second floor of my house had cooled off since that afternoon, but I still stayed above the sheets. I didn’t sleep. I laid there listening to the thunderstorm outside my window. I listened to the wind and the rain and the electricity course through this little town in Alabama. I felt the electricity crackle in the air. I thought of Becky. When I closed my eyes to think of her, she was just a color. Yellow and whirling. Never still, never peaceful. She was beautiful and scary to me. I nailed boards over my heart, keeping myself from loving this woman. I did everything I knew to do to make sure I didn’t let anything leak into my heart. But even she could get over the sand bags I put up.
The next day I had lunch at Skid’s again. Becky served me meat loaf and mashed potatoes. I asked her to a movie. She said yes.
We went to the movie together, walking up and down Main Street afterwards, stopping to talk to friends as we passed by. Everyone was happy to see us, everyone said they were glad I had asked her out, even when we told them we were just on friendly terms. Everyone knew better. Everyone knew about the young pastor and the girl who works at the diner. Everyone saw how I loved her. And everyone knew she would blow around me, fast and furious. But everything is intense with Becky.
I took her home, all the way to her front door. We walked to her house just on the otherside of town. You can walk anywhere here. Her parents had left the porch light on for her. She was beautiful in her white dress with buttercups on it. She smiled at me and we kissed eachother.
Everything is color with Becky. Everything is a whirlwind of color and movement. A torrential downpour of energy and electricity. She tears through life, leaving others to capsize in her wake. But what a sweet ride they would tell me. Just keep holding on. If your grip is strong enough, you will be able to hold the wind in your hands. You will be able to calm this storm into a spring shower. And I believed them. I needed to believe that. I needed to know that I wasn’t letting her seep into my heart, only to have it wrung out.
Becky called me sugarcane because she said my lips were as sweet as pure sugar. But me, I just called her hurricane.