During our teens, my church friends–Miriam, Gladys, Hazel, and I congregate at each other’s houses after church on Sunday night for ice cream, chips, and stereo music: Songs from the West, anything by Mantovani, and The Singing Nun. We would rather have dates like Janie and Thelma, but since we don’t, we pretend that this weekly ritual is fun.
One of our other faux definitions for fun includes cultivating an acre of tomatoes. The youth group from church farm tomatoes on a fertile plot of land near Bossler’s Mennonite Church called The Lord’s Acre. We plant, water, weed, and harvest the tomatoes, giving the profit to missions. Another mission outreach is in New York City, where Ernest Kraybill, one of our deacon’s sons, drives taxi during the day and pastors a small mission church in Harlem. Some of us, along with young marrieds, are getting ready to board a bus and distribute gospel tracts in the Big City. A year ago, the freshmen from E-town High took a field trip to New York. Radio City Music Hall with its sunburst fan of a stage is my favorite memory: seeing the Rockettes was a dream come true for a sheltered girl from Rheems. After the show, we saw a movie–yes, an actual MOOOOOVEEE in dynamic sound and Technicolor, featuring Barbara Stanwyck, the very first movie star I had ever seen performing on the silver screen. Her flawless skin and hair, impeccable makeup, and a cream, cool voice mesmerized me.
On what turns out to be the hottest Saturday in August most of the teens and young adults from Bossler’s plan to spend all day Saturday bringing the gospel to poor, needy heathens in the inner city. It’s summer-time, and I wear my sheer voile lavender frock, so I won’t feel overheated with a modest cape over the dress. We are leaving in the early morning about 4:30 am, so we can spend the day giving out tracts in apartment buildings all over Harlem, With Hazel, my seat-partner, I board the bus for the 3 1/2 hour trip to New York City. Garbed in the plainest of clothing and christened with our white Mennonite caps, we are out to convert the world.
On the bus, we talk and doze, and doze and talk our way to the exotic lights, thrumming noises, and foreign smells of Harlem in north Manhattan, a neighborhood of about 1/4 million people. After we arrive, we proceed by twos among the tenement building in the concrete jungle of the 18th block of Harlem, armed with nothing but gospel tracts and innocence. Like the others, Hazel and I are assigned one tenement building with floors upon floors of apartments. Our strategy is to walk all the way to the top and do our distributing on the way down.
“Whew, it sure does stink in here!” The odors of stale air, dried blood, urine, and burnt cooking assault our country noses on the way up. There are beer bottles, Schlitz and Black Label–some broken, I notice, strewn on the landings between floors.
“Did you hear that?” I ask Hazel as we both witness a full-scale brawl going on inside one of the apartments. The sweaty-looking door-opener snatches a tract from our hands.
“I can’t believe these words,” Hazel comments as we gape at the graffiti on the pock-marked concrete walls: Call_____ for a good time . . . Go to #x!*X you dirty niggers . . . . Undaunted, we manage to bless all the other apartment dwellers with our fliers as we descend. More screaming and yelling. Things are really getting violent on the other side of the wall.
“Are we going to make it out alive?” I wonder. But things are about to get even worse.
What happens next? Part II
* * * * *
GOOD NEWS! There is still time to enter the contest on my review of Shirley Showalter’s new memoir BLUSH, hot off the press. Just POST a COMMENT on the review! Read and Comment @ Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH – A Review and Book Giveaway
You can enter to win a copy of this book now!
Here are the details:
WHAT: Read my review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.
PRIZE: One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH, after only one week now in its second printing!
WHEN: Review posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013
WHERE: Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl
And all you have to do is show up, read my review and leave a comment. Only comments posted on my blog will be counted as an entry.
The giveaway will close one week later on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 12:00 midnight. I will announce the winner here and by email.
I invite you to come by and enter the contest by commenting on the review. Feel free to invite your reading friends!
Again, here’s the link to the review: Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH: A Review and Book Giveaway and a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s book!
8 thoughts on “Babes in an Urban Woods: Part I”
I have always thought the more evangelical faiths are very brave and courageous for facing the common man/women with their stories, and with their passion for their desire to reach out.
Brave and courageous–and as the story shows, also fervent. The way you worded it puts a new twist on my intention in memoir. It helps to see my stories through another filter like yours. Thanks for following and always commenting, SK.
You make the contrast between country naïveté and city reality come to life, through wide eyes. Can’t wait to see how you resolve this tension.
Wide eyes and lots of innocence and ignorance–that was me then.
Shirley, you may have noticed that I added a new phrase to the book giveaway contest details: ” . . . after only one week now in its second printing!” You really knocked it right out of the (soft)ball park!
I’m surprised the adults supervising the event would send out young girls in pairs! Youth will never anticipate danger, but maturity usually has the depth of vision to see it coming. I hope things turn out well in part two!
Hold your breath, Traci!
Marian, your memoir is well underway these days, at least from my perch. 🙂 I enjoyed reading this comparison of the Mennonite experience with the edge of the inner city. Quite impressive that you were doing this work. I’ll be reading the next “installment.”
Yes, the next installment is now published and comes down with a loud THUD! Thanks for commenting, Sherrey.