It's now Wednesday, ten days before my ninth-grade year begins at Boaz High School. I always meet with my Dad around 5:00 p.m. to just catch up and to discuss any questions I have about my middle school girl’s youth group I teach at 6:30 each Wednesday evening.
We always meet in his study on the second floor of the church's administrative building. As I enter his outer office, "Dad, you here?"
"Waiting on you dear, come on in."
I walk in and see a man I do not know sitting across from Dad in my chair, where I normally sit.
"Honey, I want you to meet Doug Carter, he is with the home office of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville," Dad says.
"Hello Mr. Carter, nice to meet you," I say.
"Honey, Mr. Carter and I were just wrapping up a day we have spent planning our next exercise. I'll tell you about it later. If you will, give us about 10 minutes to finish up and I'll be ready for our meeting."
"Okay Dad, I'll just sit at Linda’s desk." Linda is Dad's personal assistant. She is truly the engine under the deck around here. I sit in her soft leather chair and wait on Dad to get free and can’t help but think about Dad's early life.
Dad grew up in Selma, Alabama. He was born in the late 60s.
Even though he didn't witness the dramatic and violent Selma to Montgomery March led by Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965, the happenings concerning this march and desegregation with U.S. Congress passing civil rights and voters rights acts, all affected my Dad in deeply wonderful and troubling ways.
My grandfather was Jacob Brown. My brother was named after him. My grandfather was a deputy sheriff in Dallas County, where Selma was the county seat. The sheriff was a life-long enemy of African Americans and was instrumental in seeding and fostering black-hate in his Department. My grandfather was one of the deputies who used whips, tear gas, and nightsticks against the black marchers to turn them back as they attempted to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge.
According to Dad, grandfather was a two-sided coin. He was hard as nails and fully believed that blacks were inferior to whites. He was so hard that he praised his ancestors for fighting the Civil War, often saying the South would be better off if blacks were still slaves. Dad grew up under the same roof with a father who was a bigot and proud of it.
But, there was a good side to my grandfather. He loved his family, my Dad, my uncles Simon and Preston, and my aunts Nancy and Bea, and my grandmother Marion. Grandfather worked two jobs for years. His day job was as a deputy sheriff, but several nights a week he was a security guard at Somerdale’s Lumber Mill, the largest employer in Selma. Even though he worked eighty-plus hours per week, grandfather spent quality time with his children. Dad was always big for his age and loved football. He played football, starting with Pee Wee, and continued through high school. Grandfather spent countless hours with Dad just throwing the football. He spent real time with each of his children, no matter their hobby and interests.
Two things stuck with Dad, even to this day. It is wrong to hold it against a man or woman who is born black. Even though his father felt totally different, he encouraged his children to think for themselves-and that is what my Dad did. The second thing that stuck with Dad was the importance of family, the importance of working and supporting your family and giving them a better life than you had growing up. Grandfather taught my Dad that the family was the most important government ever created and that the man, the husband, the head-of-the household, was duty bound to keep his family together.
I jumped up when I heard my Dad asking me if I was daydreaming. I told him that I guessed I was. We walked into his office and sat in our normal spots.
"What is your teaching plan for tonight?" Dad asked.
"We are going to the nursing home after I give a 10-minute talk on the elderly and their continuing value to our community and how important it is to spend time with them, showing them how we appreciate all their efforts in making our community and world a better place."
"I think that is an excellent plan." Dad said. "Is Ryan going with you?"
"Yes." Ryan is a dear friend and is the son of the Associate Pastor here at the Church. Ryan and I have been friends all our lives. Associate Pastor Grantham came to First Baptist Church shortly after my Dad did. Ryan and I were both preschool—even though he is a year older than me. He will be in the tenth grade this year. Ryan asked me a year ago if I would help with the middle school youth group. We usually talk or text every day, mostly about the group but we also share a lot of interests, such as books, words, and the outdoors. I think Ryan likes me for more than just a friend, but he is totally shy. I guess that is a good thing for me.
"Are you getting excited about high school and the ninth grade?" Dad asked.
"I think I am, but I'm also a little nervous. I keep hearing how much harder my classes will be and that I will have to work to keep up, and that making excellent grades is an absolute requirement if I want to go to an Ivy League college."
"Ruthie, you have a great mind and a good work ethic. Just take it one day at the time, faithfully completing your assignments. Also, it is important not to get sidetracked with distractions. Yes, I'm talking about boys here, my dear."
Dad's last comment hit me like a ton of bricks. I haven't thought about my predicament lately and certainly haven't been thinking of how hurt and possibly angry my dad would be if he knew that I felt and believed I was gay. Oh, how I must deal with this issue, and that includes talking to my dad, face to face, and just getting things out in the open. "What were you and Mr. Carter working on?" I asked Dad.
"We are both in total agreement that the Church's next exercise must be about our opposition to homosexuality, and the Supreme Court's ruling that homosexuals have a constitutional right to marry." "That sounds like a very hot topic," I said.
"Honey, I'm sorry, but I have to cut our time a little short. I have a meeting with the Deacons before prayer meeting. I hope you will forgive me my dearest. I'll see you tonight at home. Thanks as always for being such a wonderful daughter and for your work with our youth group."
After Dad left, I stayed in his study for the next hour before meeting with Ryan and our youth group. I stayed in his private library, which is right next to his study. It is wall-to-wall books with a small round table and two chairs in the middle. It has one entrance--a door from Dad's study--and one window, a rather large stained-glass one with a multi-colored Christ coming to earth in the clouds.
I pulled John the Apostle, by Clint Bosworth, from a shelf filled with commentaries. I have loved this book for years now. It seems it encourages a belief, a celestial belief, that God is divine and that all men are just a little lower in importance. It also contends all men are made in His image, with all being unique in individuality, but all being His children, all loved equally, and all with one purpose, that of glorifying Him.
But, I couldn't read, all I wanted to do was continue my thoughts about my dad. My mind couldn't get past the thought of Exercise. This was Dad's word for community involvement. Dad had coined this meaning shortly after he became pastor here at First Baptist Church, some 15 years ago. I believe Granddad had taught Dad something unintentionally. Granddad had inspired Dad to think of those black men and women marching to Selma but in a different vein entirely than Granddad thought. Dad believed blacks had a message for the world and that they were willing to risk their lives to share that message. Dad believed--yes, I know, because I have heard him speak of it so many times--blacks knew they were made in God's image, and that they were entitled to fair and equal treatment. Dad believed blacks on that Selma to Montgomery march were engaged in an exercise--one of putting feet to their prayers. Dad was planning another exercise—one focused on his and the Church's opposition to homosexuality. Dad knew his work was righteous work and that God was behind his efforts 100 percent.
Dad had organized and led many other exercises in his role as pastor. I remember him protesting our City's vote to legalize alcohol. I also remember his stance and demonstrations against teaching evolution in school. This last one had been last year. Dad was a believer, a dogmatic believer, in the absolute truth, without error, of the Bible. Dad could be so reasonable, wanting his children to think for themselves, but he could also be so unreasonable, forbidding his children from disagreeing with the Bible.
Last year Dad had carried a whole bus load of folks to Montgomery to protest the Alabama Department of Education's ruling that evolution be taught in Alabama public schools. Dad is against evolution in most every way, but he is more for Creationism and his entire protest was over making sure public schools also taught the Bible story of creation.
Dad hasn't been too concerned with what has been taught in science class, especially biology class, here in Boaz. Mr. Hickson has been the Biology teacher for 35 years and is a staunch creationist--and a faithful member of First Baptist Church. But, Mr. Hickson retired at the end of last school year and his replacement hasn't been announced. I think Dad is a little worried about this.
I looked at my watch and it said 6:29. I had to leave and hurry down to the Fellowship Hall. Hopefully, Ryan would already be there.
When I arrived, I was thankful for Ryan. He is always early and always leading. He already had our group sitting down at two tables, all eagerly creating their individual thank-you cards for a special nursing home resident. Last week Ryan had assigned an individual resident to each student. He believed in the personal touch. Each of our students would adopt a resident.
"Hi Ruthie, what's up, you’re normally early?" Ryan said.
"I was in Dad's library and just lost track of time. You know how libraries can be. Ha."
"Hey, have you heard about our new Biology teacher?" Ryan asked.
"Emily Ayers from Chicago. The School Board just announced it this afternoon. You know my dad always attends the Board meetings." Ryan said.
"What do you know about her?" I asked.
"Actually, more than you probably care about right now. She moved here this summer with her husband and daughter. Her husband is a big-wheel with Progress Rail and was transferred here by Cat, you know, the big company that makes bulldozers and other big equipment. Her daughter is Ellen and she will be in the ninth grade with you. Oh, one other thing, teacher Ayers is a former professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Chicago. She has her PhD in Evolutionary Biology and apparently is widely published in science journals. Dad bored me with all these details when he picked me up after the meeting to come here. Sure, looks like Biology class at Boaz High School just entered the 21st century."
Richard L. Fricks, Author
I became a private fiction scribbler in 1994 while I was in law school. In November 2015, I took the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge to write 50,000 words towards a book. In May 2016, I published God and Girl. Over the next nine months I wrote over 140,000 words towards another novel. It is now on life support in a desk drawer. Since then, I've written and published: The Boaz Scorekeeper, The Boaz Secrets, The Boaz Stenographer, The Boaz Schoolteacher, and The Case of the Perfectionist Professor. (the first book in The Boaz Sleuth/Connor Ford series). I’m currently editing The Boaz Safecracker. Also, I'm currently drafting two novels: The Boaz Scholar and The Boaz Stalker. Thanks for reading my little stories.