Oh wow! It’s really her but I don’t think she recognizes me. This should be interesting.
“What is your name?” She asked when she came and stuffed a couple of fives in the jar.
“John,” I said. That’s what I always say, even now.
That’s what I told her that first time we met:
“Mr. William–that’s my husband–and I would love it if you could come to Sunday School with us this week. Would you like that?”
I didn’t say anything. She seemed nice enough, but I wondered what did this old lady want with a dirty little kid.
She didn’t give up right away. “Would you ask your mama if it would be all right with her?”
I was pretty sure she knew I didn’t have a mama, or why would I be sitting next to the Pizza Hut dumpster?
“We’ll have cookies and milk, and a whole bunch of neat things to do,” she persisted.
Cookies sounded good to me. I didn’t care about the “neat things to do,” whatever that meant.
“You could bring your friend, too,” she said, looking at Tasha who was hanging around being nosy.
Tasha looked all happy. “I know Mama will say it’s okay,” she chimed in. She didn’t have a mama any more than I did but she knew how to sparkle those big brown eyes and make grown-ups think she was “just so cute.”
I finally said I supposed we could go, except neither of us had anything clean to wear.
When I said that, Ms. Alice went all smiley and said she would love to bring us clean clothes if we liked.
I said okay.
Well, that was just the beginning. Tasha and I went, and it was actually pretty nice.
Tasha in a dress. A clean one at that. Now there was a sight for you! We had both snuck into the 24-hour Wal-Mart and washed up in their rest rooms. We were eight years old and knew how to act as if we were with customers there—some of them weren’t any cleaner or better dressed than we were—so they didn’t chase us out.
We got ourselves back to the Pizza Hut and that’s where Ms. Alice and Mr. William picked us up. They must have been important, because when we got to church they let themselves in with their own key. Mr. William took me to the Men’s rest room and Ms. Alice took Tasha to the Women’s, and before you know it, we both looked almost normal.
The next few weeks are a blur in my memories. Some woman in the church with Children’s Protective Services arranged for a couple to take both Tasha and me in as foster children. I don’t remember how she found out we were living on the streets on our own. Evidently, people noticed two kids hanging around Wal-Mart and dumpster diving behind restaurants.
To tell the truth, I don’t exactly remember ever living anywhere else.
Ms. Alice taught Sunday School classes for all grades, and early on, she taught us how to ask Jesus into our hearts. She talked a lot about love, and we sang “Jesus Loves Me” almost every week.
When I was about fifteen, I woke up stupid one morning and ran away. I tried living on the streets again, but it was not as easy to blend in with the Wal-Mart crowd as when we were eight. A few months of that and the cops arrested me for vagrancy. Off to Juvie.
I completely lost track of Ms. Alice.
Another blur of years followed. I went into the army when I got out of Juvie, and there I met Ashley. She was my sergeant, in fact, and shaped me up like only an Army sergeant can do. After the army, we got married and had three kids—all girls, wouldn’t you know!
Now on Saturday afternoons I dress like a bum and sit here in the Santa Fe Plaza, playing my guitar and singing songs, hoping that some lost kid will come along so I can tell him about Jesus.
And it all started with this woman sitting here. We’re both older but I would know that smile, that voice, that face anywhere. I owe her my life.
“John, will you sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’? You still remember, don’t you?”