CHAPTER Seven: THE WRONG KIND OF HELP

     Chuck slammed down the phone just as Greg was arriving. “Goddam it! Has the world gone utterly mad?”  He noticed Greg standing halfway into the room. “Sorry about that. I have just had an unbelievable  phone conversation with some jerk in our Washington Office!”

   Greg came in, and sat at his desk, waiting for more information.

   “We have just been made an offer that we can’t refuse but, by God, I would if I could. We’re being assigned a trainee to work here through the summer. If that doesn’t sound too bad to you, wait until you hear the rest. The trainee is a woman – about your age, I suspect – just graduated from college with a biology degree. Still seem okay? Well, the woman is an African-American from Alabama – no, hold that, from Arkansas. She is coming to us from The South where, less than two months ago, Alabama State troopers wreaked havoc on a bunch of colored and white protest marchers at Selma. (Some are already calling that Bloody Sunday.) I think the marchers are still walking toward Montgomery, where they are again being harassed by law enforcement. That diner guy in Atlanta – Maddox – is chasing away African-Americans with guns and with axe handles. He’s selling the axe handles - “Pickrick Drumsticks” after the name of his restaurant - to anybody who wants to use them on colored protestors. Just a year or so ago, there was a big disturbance in Little Rock – where she’s from – when African-American college students tried to integrate the lunch counter in a Woolworth’s. In other words, the whole South is still a scary, damn place to be Colored.

  “Now, from that environment – where it probably isn’t safe for a Colored woman to walk around alone – our Government is going to put this young woman on a bus for a 48 hour trip to Idaho. For awhile, she will probably be the only Colored person on the bus, and many of her fellow passengers are going to find it intolerable that she is allowed to ride with them, at all. Once out of the South, there may be another Colored person or two, but she’ll still be pretty much alone because of her color. She won’t find segregated toilets and diners, but she will be aware that a lot of the people there will wish they existed.

   “Finally, she’ll arrive in Idaho and, when she gets off the bus, she may be the only Colored person within 50 miles. Most of the people around her will be Mormons, whose religion tells them that she is black because God made her that way, so that everybody will always know that she is descended from Cain, who killed his brother, who God liked a lot more than he liked Cain. Their religion also tells her that she might become a Mormon herself, but she will never be able to get into the highest level of Heaven made exclusively for White Mormons.

   “This whole God damn thing has the markings of a fucking tragedy!”

   Chuck had finally run down. “I think that may be the longest speech I ever made. Sorry, and sorry for the bad language. I don’t resort to it much, but this whole slavery-segregation-integration situation just riles me up. You know, we North Dakotans are often thought of as having kind of an exclusive community, and not relating well to other peoples’ moral standards. But, by God, we never bought and sold people like you would a horse or a car!”

   “So, how did we get this offer we can’t refuse?” asked Greg.

   “When I was watching the news the other night, I saw some Southerners holding signs that said, ‘Thank LBJ.’ They were sarcastically ‘thanking’ him for having to integrate. In a way, though, I guess that’s right. You know that President Johnson has really pushed his War on Poverty, and implementing his civil rights legislation. Part of it is making sure that there are good jobs available for minorities. When a President is so forceful about something, lots of people rush to try to please him. In this case, some Southern congressman learned that one of his minority constituents wanted a job in biology, so he told Fish and Wildlife Service to give her a job. I have no idea if the congressmen was acting in good faith, or trying to mess up the works, but we – the Service - agreed.”

   “Can a politician do that, just order a government agency to do something?”

   “He can, if the agency lets him. In general, I think bureaucrats – particularly in Washington – are always running scared of elected officials, and will bend to almost anything, without necessarily looking at the problems or consequences.

   “Now, something I don’t think I mentioned in my long speech is, this isn’t something that’s going to happen some time in the future.  She’s supposed to get on a bus in Little Rock about 8 o’clock Saturday morning, and arrive here in town next Monday morning about the same time. We have a little planning to do before she gets here, like where is she going to stay, and what are we going to have her do? She can’t stay in the bunkhouse; the boys aren't staying there much right now, but they will be. I suppose we could make room for her in the house with the girls, but does that seem right? I don’t know.”

   Greg had been thinking. “One thing we could do – maybe the easiest – is to move my stuff over to the bunkhouse, and let her have my house. I’ll be fine there, with or without the boys – as long as they don’t try to ply me with red wine, when they’re here.

   “For meals, she might want to take care of those herself. If she didn’t want to, it would be no problem to just eat together in the bunkhouse, however many of us are here. Take turns cooking.

   “Work has me a little puzzled. We know there’s enough miscellaneous stuff around here to keep you and me busy, but I don’t really see a job for a third. She can ride along with me on bird counts, of course. If she’s interested in botany, we might get her going on a refuge herbarium. She’ll be here early enough to see all the spring blooms. If she can type, she can do some of that. Maybe she’s a country girl who knows how to drive a tractor, and could help the Johnsons.” He shook his head. “I just don’t know if we can keep her both occupied, and interested.”

   Chuck stood up. “I’m going over and talk to Alice a bit about this. She might have some ideas. I like yours, for a start. You moving over to the bunkhouse for the summer would solve one big problem.”

   “Hey, Chuck, before you go, can you tell me a little more about Mormons and African-Americans. Seeing as how this is a Mormon stronghold, I best be prepared.”

   Chuck sat back down. “Well, from what I know about it, Mormonism is a funny religion. As you said, this is definitely Mormon country, and even White non-Mormons like us have a little trouble fitting it. All in all, they’re pretty nice people, with strong family ties, and supportive of a lot of charities. It’s only in the religious aspects that it gets strange, and maybe especially so in the matter of race.

   “The way I understand it, when Mormonism first got going in this country, just about anybody could be a member. Then, the Mormons settled into Utah – their State of Deseret – and Colored people came to be known as the descendants of Cain, and they had been made black so God would always recognize them. They couldn’t be in the church. Not only that, but Utah – well, Utah Territory at the time – was the only place in the West where slavery was practiced. Now, after the Civil War and Emancipation, Colored people became sort of okay again...”

   “Hang on a minute,” Greg interrupted, “Did something in particular cause all these changes in perception?”

   “I guess you’d have to talk to a Mormon scholar to really get it, but as I understand it, the Mormon God regularly gives the church new revelations. Nobody ever claims that anything was wrong; God just decides that it’s going to be this way from now on – or, at least to the next revelation.

   “I’m not trying to make fun of their religion; I’m just saying what I think I know. Right now, I think the status of Colored people is that they can be members of the church, but they can’t participate in any of the more exalted practices. They can’t be church teachers or in any kind of leadership  in the church. Because they’re not allowed to participate in the holy rituals, they can’t get all the way to Heaven... You know, some religions have different levels in Heaven, and where you end up depends on how your life went. I think that’s the way with the Mormons. Colored people get somewhere, but they can’t ever get to the highest level, reserved for the ‘White and delightsome” group of Mormons.”

   “Yeah, that’s all a little strange. With that atmosphere, somebody should probably go into town with her, any time she wants to go.”

   Chuck started for the door again, but turned back. “Say, you mentioned tractor driving. The Johnson boys were telling me that they were bewildered by your sudden expertise backing up trailers.”

   “I guess something just clicked with me,” Greg responded. “Maybe they are better teachers than they thought they were.”

   After Chuck left, Greg typed up the water theft press release, vouchered a few bills, and worked on the time and attendance reports that needed to be sent in if they were going to get paid. Chuck returned after lunch, and they batted around the trainee issue some more. Alice didn’t have any immediate ideas to help them.

 

   The rest of the week seemed dominated by worries of, and strategies for, the arrival of the trainee. (It was mostly the former.) Greg took time to go to town with the water theft press release.  (It was printed in the Friday paper.) While in town, he applied for an Idaho driver’s license, got Idaho license plates for his car, and did some grocery shopping. Thursday, he took a quick drive out to the water theft site, but didn’t catch any thieves, or see any sign of new activity.

   On his morning walks in the woods, he noticed that mourning doves were building nests – if one can call a flimsy bit of twigs piled together a “nest.” (From what he had seen in other areas, he suspected a number would blow down, and have to be rebuilt, before any new doves were added to the population.)

    He was gratified to see that the spring warbler migration had begun in earnest. There were still some of the winter Audubon’s around, but by Friday they had been joined by orange-crowned, yellow, Wilson’s, and MacGillivray’s cousins. Everywhere he looked, there were little flashes of bright yellow among vegetation that was still more gray than green.

    There was one incident early Thursday morning that (literally!) made him sit up and take notice. Something awakened him in the night, perhaps some distant rumble of thunder. It didn’t recur, and he settled down in bed to try and get back to sleep. Later, he couldn’t say what happened next – if there  was a noise, or just a sensation. Whatever, he suddenly found himself bolt upright in bed, with the air seeming to sizzle around him. He felt stunned. When nothing else followed, he shakily got out of bed, and went to the door. The compound was quiet, and there were no lights in the Anderson house. After a few more minutes of no action, he went back to bed, and slept until morning. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure if something had really happened, or if he had a vivid dream.

   Later, on his way over to the office, he saw Chuck wandering around, seeming to inspect all the buildings. “I guess it didn’t hit us direct,” Chuck said, “But there must be a tree somewhere pretty close that has a bad headache this morning.”

   “That was a lightning strike? It almost knocked me out of bed!”

   “Yeah, I saw your light go on. I looked around and couldn’t see any flames, so went back to bed. I guess you did, too?”

   “Yeah. I thought for a minute this morning that I might have had a very realistic dream. I didn’t hear any storm – no rain, or wind, or even any more thunder, and the stars were brilliant when I looked out the door.”

   “There was no storm – at least, not close to us – just one little rogue thunder cell that drifted our way to give us one good wallop.”

   “I’ve been in lots of summer thunderstorms in the mountains, but I find these nighttime ones pretty disconcerting.”

   “Yeah, I don’t think you ever get used to them.”


To The Writing It Down Homepage


Leave a Comment: symbios@condortales.com

  

© Sanford Wilbur 2022