The times are good with Pee Wee
By JAMES STEPHEN BEHRENS
Pee Wee and I work side by side. We wrap and ship bonsai pots from a barn here at the monastery. I am white; Pee Wee is black. We are the about the same age.
One day I asked Pee Wee what it was like growing up here in Georgia. We were stuffing paper into pots to cushion them. He thought and smiled and told me some things. He picked cotton for about a dollar a bag in nearby fields. He was paid by the weight of each bag. He would dampen the cotton with water to make it heavier. He told me that the cotton cut his hands and that he did not ever wear gloves because they would have slowed down the picking too much. He said he picked fast and got used to the cuts. But the sun was real hot, and he said that was bad.
He laughed when he said that he and his friends would run and hide when the school bus full of white kids passed the cotton field, because if they saw him and his friends, the white kids would laugh at the young workers. As I listened, I thought about how I was probably on a beach with my parents and brothers and sisters while a thousand miles away Pee Wee was picking cotton, or running and hiding in a field as the white kids passed.
He had only two sets of clothes: one for work and the other for school and church. He was one of 12 children. His father died when he was 11. He and his sisters and brothers slept on straw covered with cloth until his Mom could afford a real mattress. He told me that looking back, he loved those times. He said they were good days.
He said that racism was not a problem until he went to high school and then he felt its sting from some of the white kids. But he repeatedly mentioned that he and his black friends played with white kids all the time. Those times were good, real good, he said.
He told me that in high school he was good in track. That is easy to see. He is of medium height and there is quickness to him. He is in fine shape.
We have worked together for nearly two years and we talk a lot. We laugh a lot, too.
One week the Georgia lottery drawing pot reached $120 million dollars. I asked Pee Wee if he bought any tickets. He said he and his friends Oscar and Willie bought a bunch of them. Pee Wee told me that if he won he would give a lot of it away. He said he would sneak me a bundle. I told him to call me if he won.
There was no call. The day after the drawing we laughed about hoped-for fortunes that never come. And we then talked about how good it is to have things to look forward to.
Had he won that money, I may not have seen him again. I am sure he would have kept true to his promise to give me some money. But he would have probably moved on from this job, this area. What a loss that would have been to me. He has given me something many folks hope will arrive with winning a lottery.
Pee Wee has the happiness but not the money.
He has been blessed with the choicest pot of the Divine Lottery and has been so true to his promise as a winner. He shares with me from his happiness, from the living gold that he is.
So much that we pin our hopes on is ever elusive: wealth, success, all these things we are told we need to make us complete, fulfilled, satisfied. Many a life is spent chasing after the wrong things.
Grand stuff seems to have come to Pee Wee when he was standing quite still.
It fell into Pee Wees life, and he took it to heart. And like the track star he was, he runs with it, gold spilling from his pockets when he laughs, diamonds swirling in the air all about him when he talks of God, silver in my hand when he takes my hand in his and wishes me well.
Its a hot day. Real hot. But the times are good with Pee Wee. Real good.
Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is email@example.com
National Catholic Reporter, October 13, 2000