Thursday, June 05, 2008

Using that direct line to God

I mentioned in a previous blog that I spent much of my childhood hiking the railroad track that was two blocks from my home. It was certainly a different time back then...the idea that my mom, a caring and loving mother, allowed her little boy to be gone for hours, hanging out in a dangerous environment, almost portrays her as being disinterested in my well-being. But the decade of the '50's was a time of tranquil trust - there were few overt threats to little kids who played outdoors and left the house for hours at a time. Of course, Mom had no idea how close I was getting to trains as they passed by, even crouching in the sides of trestles, two feet away from roaring locomotives. Or that I engaged hobos in conversation on a daily basis, a fascinating activity for anyone, but particularly for a nine year-old.

One hot afternoon, my older brother, Charlie, had joined me for a long hike that took us way south toward an area where we seldom went. We finally reached a point where we badly needed to turn around and did so. A mere minute later, a scraggly white dog appeared from the tall grass and angrily accosted us. We did the smart thing and simply acted like the pooch weren't there...and calmly kept walking north on the tracks. But this doggie hadn't read the manual and he (she?) bit my skinny little leg just above the ankle. Having accomplished the mission, the dog scurried back into the grass.

Unfortunately, there was a huge rabies scare going on in Dallas at the time. Kids were being bitten by unvaccinated animals and facing the spector of getting the dreaded dozen or shots directly into the stomach with long, silver needles, just to avoid dying from rabies. The tension in the city was palpable as both daily newspapers and all three television stations were intent on getting the word out about unvaccinated dogs and what might happen if one got you.

Charlie and I arrive back at the house around 4. Dad has just arrived home from his post office job. He and Mom took one look at the puncture wounds on my leg and immediately understood the significance. A young boy has been bitten by a dog in a remote area, and the dog has run off. So what do you do? I'm sure they started silently praying. Dad said there was nothing to do but find the dog or its owner, both daunting tasks if not impossible.

The closest houses to the tracks and the site where the doggy had bitten me were in "colored town", an area where white folks didn't go. The magic boundary was Haskell Ave., and black people didn't venture north of that line and whites never, ever had any business south of the line. But my parents were desperate, and I, not understanding the significance of what was going on, hopped in the car with Dad and Charlie and headed south of Haskell. Charlie took a guess as to the street closest to the area where the "attack" occurred. It was a dead-end street and Dad drove to the last house on the block.

I remember Dad saying something like, "Well, let's get started", and he sounded tired and beaten. So here were these white folks on a desperate mission, and I guess we were going to knock on doors until midnight, trying to find an elusive dog owner in an area where whites didn't go. A black lady answered the door and Dad asked if she had a white dog that had been loose that afternoon. She amazingly, improbably, impossibly said, "Yes, I do." She disappeared for a moment and returned holding the perpetrator, who bared its teeth when it saw me. Well, one miracle down, one to go. The answer to the next question would determine whether I'd be incredibly happy and thankful the next few days or lying in a hospital awaiting the next painful rabies shot. "Has the dog had its shots?" "Oh, yes!" Dad thanked her profusely, and we hurried to the car and back home to tell Mom.

There were hundreds of houses we could have started with. But God directed Charlie to the right street and showed Dad which house to go to. At my tender age, the spiritual significance of what had just happened sailed right past me. It was only later in my life that the enormity of that day hit me. And only after I was a parent could I imagine what Mom and Dad experienced.