Tyrone moved in with his paternal grandmother, Jean Jenkins, the evening of the funeral. His father, Tyrone, Sr., was nowhere to be found. Tyrone had visited his grandmother a few times before his mother passed but never by himself, so this new living situation was beyond awkward.
Tyrone’s first morning as a resident at his grandmother’s house started off pleasantly enough. Normally, Tyrone did not establish eye contact with anyone, but after a hearty, home-cooked breakfast, he was looking his grandmother dead in her face with a blank expression.
“Grandma Jean, is God racist?”
“Uh…” Jean made her way to her only grandchild. “What did you ask me, sugar?”
Jean was a big woman. Six-feet four-inches of Holy Ghost and three hundred thirty pounds of soul food. She didn’t play when it came to her Jesus. She had been saved for over fifty years. She was not going to allow anyone to blaspheme her God in her presence.
“Grandma Jean, you must be getting old,” Tyrone said with the same indifference. “You should probably go and get yourself a hearing aid or something. I said, is God raci-”
Jean backhanded him so fast that he did not have time to flinch.
He sat at the table teary-eyed from the sharp pain, holding his mouth. “In all my sixty-five years,” she bellowed loudly. “I ain’t never had no child with the nerve to question me about my God. No, siree. Everybody knows that Pearl Jean James Jenkins does not play with nobody, child or grown, when it comes to lying on my God.”
Tyrone silently cursed at his grandmother, not with a statement, but with the glare in his eyes. He wiped the single tear before it could dash down his cheek.
“Watch how you look at me…” Jean said, rubbing the sting out of the back of her hand. “I…I didn’t mean to make your lips swell. And I know you lack a proper understanding at times, so I won’t get you for staring at me like you got the Devil in you. But please, sugar. Please don’t play with my God. Or me.”
He got out of his seat and stood at attention like an obedient soldier, while his grandmother hugged him tightly and kissed his cheek.
She stepped back and put her hands on her hips. She didn’t like the spirit in that child. As far as she was concerned, it made him too smart and too arrogant for his own good.
“Look, li’l boy. I wanna know right now. What would make you say such a thing?”
Tyrone looked at her with his fists clenched. He had no intention of striking her. He had never been hit in the face by anyone. Never. His mama did not play that. Tina made it well known about how she felt in regards to anybody putting their hands on her kids. Tina was known to be a kind, gentle person until anyone disrespected her children.
“Well, Grandmother Pearl Jean James Jenkins,” Tyrone spoke slowly, giving emphasis to each name. “There are five Black kids in my classroom. None of them have their mothers. Shaquita’s mother went to jail. Hakim’s mother had to move back to Iraq because her visa expired. The twins, Yvette and Corvette, their mother is on crack. She’s rehabilitating in Springfield. My mom is dead, so… Maybe God hates Black women.”
Tyrone cried in the stifled way that proud ten-year-old boys have done throughout history. He never cried. He did not cry at his mother’s funeral the day before. But today he wanted to be at home with his mother and his sisters, not with this mean old lady. He wanted everybody who looked like him in his classroom to have their mothers and sisters in their homes. He grieved for them, too.
“Look, Tyrone,” Jean said. “I don’t have all the answers. Only God knows what’s best.”
She felt inclined to give him a hug but respected his space. The more he tried to hold back, the harder he sobbed. He sat down and placed his head on the kitchen table to hide the snot and tears.
She tried to choose her words wisely to fit her perception of Tyrone’s level of intelligence. “Baby, I know you miss your mama, but you can’t go around accusing God of being a racist. He created us all - black, white, and everything in between.”
Her explanation sounded naive, and she knew it. But thought she was speaking at, what she deemed to be, Tyrone’s intellectual level. Her grandson truly meant no harm, but she knew her God was almighty and all good. All the time. Since she did not know any other way to console her grandson, she stuck with what she knew.
“Tyrone, you will see your mama again one day when you get to them Pearly Gates. Outside of that, I don’t know what else to tell you.”
Jean raised her son in the church, but Tyrone, Sr. was a bad seed. No matter what Jean did, she just could not break him of his scandalous ways. Truth be told, she was overbearing in many ways and may have pushed her son further along in his delinquency. Out of the entire flock of women that Tyrone Robert Jenkins, Sr., had ever brought to the house, Jean actually liked Tina.
She never should have married that wayward son of mine. He stressed the hell out of her. Stress ain’t good for nobody. He took her to a early grave… God rest her soul.
She had no tolerance for a man that did not know how to treat a woman. Both of her husbands properly respected her and worked two jobs to make sure she and her son were fed, had a roof over their heads, and did not need anything. She never had to worry about them cheating, drinking, or putting their hands on her.
However, they knew not to try it. She would have slid the blade of her knife across the throat of any man who got out of line with her. Her first husband, Tyrone Sr.’s biological father, tried to rough her up once. He learned the hard way that Pearl Jean Jenkins wanted to go to heaven, but could bring hell on Earth. He spent a week in the hospital from knife wounds. And she was by his side every morning like clockwork, praying for him and dousing him with holy water.
He calmed down real good and catered to her every whim until the day he died. Her second husband, Earl T. Garner Jenkins, III, knew the story and had no desire to watch history repeat itself. He was good to her and legally adopted her son. She outlived him and she and Tyrone Sr. kept his last name.
When Jean looked at her grandson, she saw the son she gave birth to all over again. The resemblance was striking. He was Tyrone Sr.’s doppleganger.
“Baby, I’m sorry for putting my hands on you, but you caught me off guard. That still ain’t no excuse, though. No excuse at all. But we gonna have to figure out a way to communicate better than this here. I can’t be playin’ no guessin’ games with you, sugar. You have to tell me straight up when somethin’ is on your mind or if you need somethin’, or else I won’t be able to help you. You’re ten now. You should be able to open up your mouth and talk a little more than you do.”
She grabbed his hands. “Look at me, Tyrone. Look at me, I said.”
Tyrone refused to look his grandmother in the face. He didn’t appreciate her pulling his hands away from his mouth. He purposefully ignored her; he was embarrassed and ashamed of saying something wrong and not even realizing it.
“I love you, but I can’t do everythang yo’ mama did. I will give you the thangs you need, though. You ain’t gone never go hungry. Now, let’s get ready to go to the church. We sellin’ lunches today to raise money for the building fund. Come on, so I can introduce you to Jesus,” she said and began speaking in tongues.
“Is the world about to end, Grandma Jean?” said Tyrone after his grandmother stopped spewing nonsensical words while walking in circles. “My mom said that Jesus would only come back at the end of the world.”
“Not that I know of, sugar. We don’t know the time nor the place when my Jesus is gonna show his face. He’s gonna come like a thief in the night and take all his righteous churren home with him. What time is it? Ten fifty-six? Oh, Lord... We’re about to be late. Let’s get over to the church.”
After praying for traveling mercies, Jean drove her ’76 Chevy
Silverado pick-up like a bat out of hell. She christened her truck Sweet Chariot when her first husband bought it for her brand new. Almost fifty years later, it was still burning rubber and hugging corners.
The fish fry was scheduled to begin at eleven in the morning. She had to make a ten-minute trip in roughly four minutes. She ran a couple of red lights and almost hit a stray dog limping across Main Street. In about six minutes, the old clunker skidded into Jean’s reserved parking spot.
Jean was one of the founding members of The Blood and Grace Baptist Cathedral, a little house of worship at the corner of Prairie Street and Decatur Avenue. There were over one hundred members strong and growing by the month. This fish fry was one of the many things the church did to raise money to get a bigger building.
“Roll the window up and fix your clothes when you get out.” Jean said as she grabbed her purse from the bench seat. “It’s time to do the Lord’s work, so stay close and be quiet. Close. And quiet.”
Jean planted her feet on the concrete and grunted as she pushed herself up against her body weight. Once she steadied herself, she began walking and talking.
“Well, hallelujah, Sister Beasley! I spent all night and all morning getting my grandson here settled in. I’m here now.” Jean’s voice carried like Gabriel’s horn and echoed throughout the sanctuary. “Praise God...”
“I didn’t make you late, Grandma Jean. You just li-”
Tyrone grimaced away the pain caused by a quick pinch from Jean’s thick fingers.
Sister Beasley stopped and stared at Jean as she waddled in her direction.
Jean said, “Did you bring your infamous potato salad? I sure hope you didn’t put too much mustard in it this time.”
Sister Beasley sneered at Jean and walked away in a completely different direction. Jean kept walking and talking.
“Praise the Lord, Brother Paul…” she said with a smile. She stopped and pointed. “I see you brought the boxes of catfish. You didn’t let ‘em sit out all night and spoil again, did you?”
Paul faked his laugh and shook his shoulders for added effect.
“No, ma’am, Sister Jenkins, no ma’am... I took ‘em out the freezer last night so they’d be thawed by this morning.” He winked and said, “They are as fresh as they were last month when I bought ‘em from the fish market.”
“Father God is still working on you, Brother Paul.” Jean playfully swatted in Paul’s direction and returned to regulating. “Now where is that Brother Leroy? He was supposed to have these tables set up an hour ago. I hope he didn’t go out drinking and whoring around last night. I know one thing. He better not come in here this morning too tired to do the Lord’s work!”
Leroy lurched through the door. One eye was bloodshot, the other was blackened and swollen. His polo shirt was missing a few buttons. His pants were ripped. He only had on one shoe.
Jean was indignant. “Why in the hell you come here lookin’ like this? You gotta give God more respect than this! You don’t go in the club lookin’ like any which-a-way. So don’t come up in here lookin’ like a whirlwind done hit you.”
“Is that blood on you, boy?” Jean approached Leroy and stopped suddenly. “Now what kinda mess you done got yourself into?” Leroy tried to respond, but he fainted.
Sister Beasley shrieked, “Lawd. Hammercy, Jesus. Somebody call the ambulance. Brotha Leroy been shot!”
“Move out the way.” Jean reached down, picked up Leroy, threw him over her shoulder, and trudged towards her car. “By the time the ambulance bothers to get out here, I could already have ‘em at da hawpilla. I got him. Go open the door, Tyrone.”
Everyone, but Tyrone, stood in awe of her might.
She yelled behind, as she waddled through the door. “I’m gone run ‘em down to Memorial General. I gotta hurry up, or else, Jesus gonna have some more company.”
Jean placed Leroy in the bed of her pickup while Tyrone took his time walking through the parking lot counting the cracks in the pavement. His grandmother yelled at him to get in the car and buckle his seat belt.
Jean reached in the glove compartment.
“What’s that?” asked Tyrone.
“A police light,” said Jean, as she plugged it into the cigarette lighter port and slapped it on top of the Silverado.
“Are you a police officer?”
“Hell naw. Now sit back and hold on.”
Jean reached through the back window and got a handful of Leroy’s clothes. She then put the pedal to the metal and ran through every intersection she came to. Even though they could not hear her, she yelled at some boys playing basketball in the street.
“Get out of the way unless you wanna ride to the emergency room, too!”
The boys scattered while the ball rolled underneath the truck. The ball exploded as she ran it over and sped down the street.
Minutes later at the hospital, she lifted Leroy again and took him through the automatic doors. Tyrone kept up with her as he looked around.
“This boy been shot. Somebody! Check him in quick, and go get the doctor,” Jean cried out to the nurse at the triage counter.
Staff members worked frantically to triage Leroy in one of the corridors and instantly sent him up to an operating room.
“I’m sure that he will be fine, Ma’am,” one of the nurses guaranteed. “What’s his name and date of birth? Does he have any insurance? What’s the nature of his injuries?”
Jean gave her all the information that she knew, but her comments went beyond medical in nature.
“Chester Johnson may be the culprit. Leroy’s been fornicatin’ with his wife Lucille. I told the boy that the woman was a succubus and was gonna be the death of him. Lord, help him, Jesus!”
Jean began speaking in tongues, pleading for the Lord to save Leroy, so that he could change his life around.
Again, Tyrone waited for his grandmother to finish her gibberish. “Is Mr. Leroy gonna die like my mom, Grandma Jean?”
Jean was quiet for a change, and Tyrone was the talkative one.
“This is the hospital that my mom had her surgery at. Leroy is having surgery. Is he gonna die too?”
She was rarely at a loss for words.
“I don’t know, baby.” Jean shook her head thoughtfully. “It’s in God’s hands now. Let’s just be still and wait.”