Nine o’clock at night. I stood in a double-wide with one hundred Mexicans. They sang at the tops of their lungs. I recognized the tune, “Blessed Assurance.” I did not recognize the words.
The first thing you should know: these people are workers. One woman told me she had two jobs—a dishwasher in a small Alabamian cafe, and a maid at Best Western.
“Don’t you ever sleep?” I asked.
Also in the congregation were field workers, house painters, roofers, landscapers, and farm hands. The pastor, for instance, worked on a tomato farm. When he preached the people shouted, “Gloria Dios!”
I hollered an “Amen!” Which made my buddy laugh until he almost peed himself.
Well, It bears mentioning: I’m not familiar with other cultures. In fact, the most ethnic experience I’d ever undergone was JB’s Chinese Buffet in Freeport.
The churches of my childhood weren’t like this place. We had greeters, bulletins, women in pearls, collection plates, and hymnals. These folks didn’t even have Sunday clothes.
Outside, after service, there were tables loaded with food. The old woman who’d cooked the spread, had an old fruit jar for tips. I watched a teenage boy tuck a fifty into her cup.
The boy wore a University of Alabama cap and T-shirt. I asked how he came to like Alabama football so much.
“Oh,” he said. “Because I LOVE it here. It’s safe, everybody happy. You are all millionaires and don’t even know it.”
This is Alabama, kid, not heaven.
“Mejico is dangerous,” he went on. “The drug cartel killed my uncle with chainsaw. That’s when my mother tell me I need to leave.”
Then without warning, he removed his cap and put it on my head, “Here, it’s yours now.”
“You take it, ’cause I love you.”
Love? This kid was off his nut pile.
Then, he handed me a plate of tacos—I ended up eating seven. He told me they were tripa; otherwise known as pork intestines.
Chitlins. I ate chitlins.
When I finished, I dropped a tip into the woman’s jar. She dug it out and handed it back. “No,” she said, rattling off something in Spanish.
My pal translated: “She say, this food is gift to you, because she like your red hair.”
Well as it happens, it was more than a gift. It was something this redhead would not appreciate until years later, when I dug through a closet and found an Alabama cap from a kid who insisted he loved me.
That boy was wrong, we’re not millionaires.