We received more feedback on our last newsletter than any other to date. I was encouraged to share more stories. I wrote the following piece in a memoir class. It came to mind this past weekend. I hope you find it of interest.
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The Storytellers Channel
It was a beautiful spring Saturday morning. I’d gotten up early. I always had a hard time waking up on school days and the Saturdays I had to work, but on the days I was free, I was up early and raring to go. I’d had a bowl of Sugar Pops while I watched The Lone Ranger and Zorro on TV and then I was going to go for a ride on my bike. My metallic, gold Schwinn Stingray with the banana seat and chopper handlebars was my pride and joy. It had cost me $69 and I’d bought it with the money I made delivering papers. It was the envy of all.
I opened the back door and it was gone. Somebody had stolen my bike. This was not the first time I’d had a bike stolen and so my reaction was more ‘not again’, versus ‘how could someone do this’. But as I stood there I remembered I’d ridden my bike to school the day before and forgotten and had walked home. I took off running down Nansemond Street the six blocks to Albert H. Hill Junior High School. When I got there the bike rack was empty. I don’t know why but I chose to walk back home along Roseneath Avenue. And there two blocks ahead of me I saw three boys walking toward me with my bike. I ran up to them and said, “Hey that’s my bike.” And one of them said, “Yeah, I know we were bringing it back to you.” I didn’t mention that they might have been bringing it back to where they had taken it, but that was the opposite direction from where I lived. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.
I was 13 at the time and not even five foot tall. The three of them looked huge to me and it began to dawn on me I might be in trouble here.
One of them said, “Your name is Gail, isn’t it?” And I don’t know why but I said, “No, my name is Warren.” It wasn’t a lie, my full name is Warren Gayle Turner Jr. I go by Gayle, but in this case it seemed risky to acknowledge my “feminine” sounding name. They pushed the point. “No, your name is Gayle.” I looked them square in the eye and said, “No, my name is Warren.” I pushed my bike through them and rode on home. I don’t know why, but I was positive I had been in for a beating and I was pleased with myself for having been quick-witted enough to escape.
But as the day wore on, it ate at me. Since birth my mother has told me, “Your father loves you so much he gave you his name.” As a matter fact generally, when people gave me grief over my name being a girl’s name I would stand up and confront them with, “That’s my father’s name.” It frequently led to some sort of a tussle or they’d back off. Eventually folks just knew it wasn’t worth it messing with me about my name. I began to feel as though I had responded cowardly. I hadn’t had the strength of will, the heart, the courage to stand up.
That was over 50 years ago. Since that day I tend to choose the immediate pain over the delayed. Whenever I think of that situation and you’d be surprised how often it haunts me, two thoughts come to mind. The first, ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied’, prompts me to address situations then and there as they relate to injustice. You’re probably thinking, ‘What injustice?’ To which I respond, there were several in the moment, the least of which was my stolen bike. The second is ‘The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.’ This was an inciting incident in the story of my life. Since then, I have stepped between bullies and their victims, I have spoken out against Injustice as I have perceived it. I’m sorry to say, occasionally I have been accused of being bullying myself. That’s a story for another time.
But never again have I denied my name.
Whenever I think of that day, I think of Peter denying Christ. I understand his fear. But having done it once, I pray I’m never in the situation again where my fear for my personal safety will lead me to deny who I am.
The prompt for this story was things I hate. I don’t get that worked up about a lot, but I hate the way I feel when I remember that day.
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Til next time,