- Nobody’s Boy
My father named me Mary Ruth. He was a Baptist preacher, so all of his seven girls were named after strong biblical women. Naomi is the one next to me, and then came Anna, Rachel, Leah, Sarah, and finally, baby Deborah. By the time my younger siblings finished destroying the pronunciation of my name, it had morphed into Mayru. In addition to giving us our names, Daddy also gave us labels that stuck like glue even into adulthood. As the eldest, I was of course the smart one, Naomi the talented one, Anna, the assertive one, Rachel the stubborn one, Leah the curious one, Sarah, the nurturing one, and Deborah was the little tomboy. As a child, I thought things were pretty normal and that all daddies were like my daddy. When I started school, however, I realized that Daddy was very different.
The first odd thing I remember about Daddy was that in 1964, when I was in the fifth grade, he started reading my history, social studies and geography books. Daddy had only finished the third grade, but no one in his congregation knew that. He had received his education from books; hundreds of musty volumes lined the shelves in his dingy little study. Other than a homemade desk constructed from two sawhorses and a sheet of warped plywood, an electric clock, and a small metal oscillating fan so covered with thick sticky dust you could write your name on the blades, there was nothing in Daddy’s study but his books. He’d sit in there perched on an upturned five-gallon bucket and pore over those books for hours. One of us would always take him a glass of lemonade, or a sandwich on mama’s orders, but otherwise we knew not to disturb him while he was in there. I remember one evening, I needed my social studies book to study for a test, so I tapped lightly on the heavy wooden door to the study and peeked in. “Mama say supper’s ready.” Daddy peered at me from behind a large atlas book.
“Tell her I’ll be there directly.” His tone was dismissive, but I stepped inside anyway.
“Daddy, I got to study for my social studies test tomorrow.” He took the book from the pile and handed it to me. I promised to bring it back when I finished studying and went to tell mama what he’d said.
Over the next few days, there were strange people in and out of the house. They came at night after we girls were in bed, but I discovered their presence one night when I got up to use the bathroom and heard voices coming from the study. When I cracked the door and peeked in, a shadeless lamp illuminated the faces of three men in dark suits standing around the desk. One of them paced back and forth while the others studied the papers that were strewn all over the desk. Daddy was sitting on the stool looking nervous but not in a scared way. “Rev, you can’t take any chances,” the man pacing was saying. “Once you take this job on, we are counting on you to finish it. Are you sure you want to be involved?”
“I wouldn’t have called y’all if I wasn’t going to do it.” Daddy’s resolve was firm. He was the kind of man who spoke his mind, no matter who he was talking to, even white people. Unlike some of the men in our congregation, Daddy was nobody’s boy.
“I got to be at work by six, so with all due respect, can we get on with this? I assure you I am ready.”
I closed the door as quietly as I could and crept back to bed. As if by magic, the men were gone when I woke up, but they returned the next two nights. As far as [End Page 657] I could tell only my mother and a few trusted neighbors knew about the visitors. I told no one what I knew, but I had to know what was going...