Babes in an Urban Woods: Part II

Map of Harlem, neighborhood in northern Manhattan, NYC
Map of Harlem, neighborhood in northern Manhattan, NYC

On the ground floor again, we breathe a sigh of relief as we spot the bus two blocks away ready to pick us up to go back to the mission. On the way to our mobile haven, we pass pawn shops armed like fortresses, lurid adult bookstores with XXX ratings, filthy-looking lounges, a stark store-front church.

Then we spot a gargantuan black woman with a red satin turban and purple robe–a bathrobe? a graduation gown? She’s “preaching” about Jehovah God in the middle of the sidewalk. I think she’s preaching until I see she is holding an upside-down Sears and Roebuck catalog as her bible and then inhale alcoholic fumes emanating from her body. We try to go around her, but this frightful creature grabs me by the shoulder in a death grip, and I am spun round and round in dizzying circles. There is little I can do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. “Hazel, Hazel, help me,” I call out with a voice that feels somehow disconnected from my body. Hazel is astounded too and stands there immobile. I fall onto the scorching pavement as the woman lets go of me mid-air. By now Brother Paul and Sister Lois have raced up the street to our aid.

Someone deposits me across two empty seats on our bus. I am aware of heads hovering over me as a blurry hand wipes my face with a cool, wet handkerchief. We are going back to Brother Ernie’s mission on Eighth Avenue for lunch. It’s quiet for a few minutes. Then Brother Frank leads everyone in singing “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There” as we bounce across the avenues.

But I don’t join in. My head is buzzing with the pain of too many unanswered questions. Did the church elders know about the risks and think that telling us would discourage us from going? Did they come here innocent and ignorant like us and also get a rude awakening? Why didn’t Brother Ernie, now almost a New Yorker himself, give us more pointers?

Back at the mission, I have recuperated enough to eat our meal of home-made egg salad sandwiches and chicken corn soup brought up from home in ice chests, relieved that I have survived the jungle of Harlem.

BLUSH Contest closes tonight, October 2, 2013, at midnight! Here’s the link to the Contest Rules for a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s memoir:  

Review of Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH and Book Giveaway

Your comments welcome! I always respond.

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11 thoughts on “Babes in an Urban Woods: Part II

  1. Hahaha! I think I saw that lady with the red turban! My first trip to NYC was a real eye opener. I could feel your apprehension with this piece. Women on the street in fishnet see-thru blouses.

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  2. This story illustrates the incredible gap between region, class, and race in the 1960’s. Such wide-eyed idealism combined with naive expectations. I felt for you and for the woman in the turban also. I wonder if you will meet her again when the roll is called up yonder. One thing for sure, we will continue to be surprised.

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  3. As a young girl, I would pray for all the people I met who looked to be headed for hell: the drunk man on the PRR train and probably the woman with the turban in NYC. So, yes, I would love to meet them again when the roll is called up yonder.

    As I write, I continue to be surprised when I review past events. Surprise, wonder (awe), and WONDER, as in “How in the world did this happen?” sometimes all merge as I re-visit these stories from my present-day perch.

    I appreciate your being the “real deal” Shirley. I’ve read your recent post but have not had the time to comment yet. Interviewing and being interviewed, another art. As you continue with the tour, I wish you three things: peace, joy, and energy.

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  4. “Now to Him who Is our ENABLEMENT to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
    I continue to be amazed at your life experiences and how God has woven the pieces together into such beautiful characteristics of his love and grace. I am so privileged to be among those you call friends.

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  5. Marian, I reflected on Shirley’s comment about differences in region, class and race in the 1960s. The 1960s were the years of my awakening to those differences too, but it’s too long to share here. Let’s just say that I came to a realization of my parents’ prejudices during that time. Your story is an unfolding that I am soaking up and revelling in. You have much to share with others. Keep writing!

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    1. Sherrey, I remember my elders referring to people different from us with very unflattering tags. Grandma L. used to refer to a woman of Hungarian origin she knew only vaguely as the “Hunky Woman.” She also (of German Swiss descent) would say of a messy house, “It looks Irish in here!” Looking back I see the bias in bold relief, but then it appeared to me to be a way of describing people, however misguided.

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  6. Our own evolution challenges our belief and opinion. But, as it challenges and we seek a better understanding so we evolve. There cannot be one without the other. I wish you good will upon your journey. 🙂

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