His biological father beat his mother. But after eight years of busted cheekbones, she hit the road. In the middle of the night, she and her four kids left.
It took two days to drive from Tennessee to Alabama.
“Mama was from the old world,” he said. “Didn’t even know how to drive. So I drove the whole way.”
He was thirteen. He sat atop suitcases and pressed the pedal with his tip-toes. When his younger siblings got fidgety, he pulled over so everyone could make water.
It was a new town. They were foreigners. They moved into a drafty farmhouse with cheap rent. She took a waitress job. He worked at a hardware store after school.
Once, he remembers not having enough to pay the power bill. They went without lightbulbs for six months. If you’ve ever wanted to hear about hard living, he’s your man.
“Folks didn’t like Mama,” he goes on. “Especially other women. It was a different time. In a small town, a single pretty girl, with kids… People talked about her.”
One day, a man in town stopped by the restaurant. She was on shift. He was taken with her. He tipped two fifty-dollar bills, leaving them under his plate.
When she saw the money her temper flared. She stormed over to his house to give it back.
“I don’t need no charity from nobody,” she insisted.
Skull of iron, that woman.
So, the man offered to pay her to clean his house on Saturdays. It made good sense. He was a bachelor, she’d been skipping suppers to save on groceries. She accepted.
They became friends. One thing led to another. He asked her out to movies, picnics, church socials, lunch dates. People gossiped—said they were mismatched. Maybe they were.
Then it happened. The man didn’t get down on his knee to ask—after all, they weren’t kids anymore. She said yes.
“Mama went from poor little waitress, to happy,” he said. “All because of a good man. That’s why we never called him stepfather, we called him, Dad.”
And a father he was. When he died, his adopted kids cried harder than anyone. His funeral was one of the biggest in the county.
You can tell a lot about a man by his last service.
“Mama was a mess,” he went on. “But when I saw him in the casket, I decided right then, I was gonna follow in his shoes and go into the family business.”
That was ages ago. He’s practically an old man now. White hair and all.
But now you know why he’s a preacher.