A little girl with a curl and a braid or two Ms. Charlie did have. Refined as Thine singing sweet music into the souls of many she would become. Now may her story be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.
“It’s not what you’re called, but what you answer to.” This from the man Charlie admired most, her father. Carpentry was his trade, but wisdom was his trademark as he built and equipped saints for generations to come. And Charlie would be among those saints.
One of five daughters, she learned well from her daddy. He not only lived large in her eyes, but gave her a blue-print from which she could launch with stability.
She recalls an episode clarifying his quiet strength. “One day while I was in junior high, one of my teachers asked me a question. The teacher called me Charmaine, and I did not respond. To the principal’s office I was sent. My name is Charlie, so I didn’t respond! Once in the office, the principal called my father in to have a little meeting of the minds.”
“He could not afford to leave work, but in he came! I just said, ‘Daddy, my name isn’t Charmaine, it’s Charlie.’” (And why wouldn’t a girl want to take on the name of her father whom she admired greatly? How could anyone argue not only the logic but the heart from whence it came?)
Upon hearing her side of the story, “Daddy told me to go on back to class. To this day I know not what he said, but from then on, every one of my teachers called me Charlie!”
Back-tracking further, Charlie recalls that all seemed well, until it wasn’t. This man, her father whom she loved, decided to join “The Black Steel Worker’s Union” in Burmington, AL where they lived. The knocking upon the front door pounded in sync with the beat of her heart the night the Ku Klux Klan decided to make one more great divide in a nation marked by their remarks. “You have 24 hours to get your black ass out of town.”
“Daddy’s response to us came quickly, ‘A dead father is no father at all,’ and soon he was not only packed but on his way out, leaving us all behind.”
In the mind of a little girl, the back story matters and piecing it together throughout the years has been a journey. After he’d been gone a short while, Charlie remembers what happened next.
“With tags pinned to the clothing of five little people, and tickets reading Trenton, NJ, we soon arrived at our destination by train.” Never mind they were going away from one by the name of mama, all would soon be in the arms of the man Charlie missed most, her daddy, and every mile traveled to get there would be worth it.
Joy is an odd word to use for such a time as this. Who would think that something so tumultuous as the uprooting of a family could bring about such a thing? But it did. Generations to come would know joy even though the deposit of faith went only as far as dropping them off at church for Sunday School. Even that would be enough to plant a seed or two. Faith as big as a mustard seed would begin to not only sprout but grow.
Charlie’s life offers not only insight but hope which can and does bridge divides. She offers forgiveness to those who have offended and trespassed as demonstrated through authenticated actions of a life well rooted in the love of Christ Jesus.
Charlie recalls, “Mama was not on that train, which meant all five little girls would eventually be in the hands of a stepmom who had no emotional ties to any of us.” And it showed.
“Placing us by day in a cellar so as not to be a bother was one way she demonstrated her lack of interest in us.”
However, what is it Charlie remembers? “I never had an empty stomach. I was never thirsty, and although I didn’t have the best clothes, I never went without food. For that I am grateful!”
However, there were times of testing.
I suppose a yanking is better than a spanking but when it’s done by the root of braided hair, it was felt. “There had to have been a knock or two around because there were bruises a time or two along the way. If memory serves, a voice came from down deep and I announced definitively one day, that it would stop or else! And for some reason, to my surprise, I was never touched again.”
Tenacity and bravery describes the actions taken that day which would equip Charlie for all that was yet to come. Nothing goes to waste with the equipping of saints upon this earth. Courage and fortitude were lessons learned, often in not such preferable ways.
Strength has a way of lying in wait for such a time as this and truth be told, it was the strength of her daddy that seemed to bubble up just in the nick of time this time! Or was it her Heavenly Father who’d planted faith in Sunday School? Perhaps the latter was beginning to grow, perhaps the latter.
“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6). Amen. To be continued.
Kathleen Kjolhaug lives on the family homestead outside of Clearbrook with her husband Pete. She enjoys writing about family life and brings humor into the sacred moments of everyday living.
Theology in the Trenches appears in several local newspapers throughout Minnesota. Kathleen can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org