Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Day I Saw Jesus

When I was a small child and lived in Roseland I saw Jesus Christ driving a tractor down the road one day, followed by children and dogs.
I swear.
He was a dark-haired man and his hair and beard were so long that the only thing I had to compare him to were pictures of Jesus Christ I'd seen in the Bible. This was in the early sixties and men did not have long hair. Never. Ever. I mean, when the Beatles arrived on the scene, years later, they almost brought the world to a complete stop with their collar-brushing locks, but this man on the tractor had hair down past his shoulders and his beard never stopped.
It had to be Jesus.
I ran screaming into the house for my mother. My religious knowledge was slim but I was quite certain that the appearance of Jesus was a sign of some great importance and I needed an adult to be aware of the situation.
Turned out it wasn't Jesus at all. It was a man named Chester who had lived in the woods in a shack he'd built since he'd been (as the story went) a child.
My fears were calmed but I remained fascinated with Chester. He lived alone with his dog and I saw him off and on throughout the years when he'd come to "town" to buy Cokes and Moonpies to supplement his diet which was probably heavily fish and squirrel-based. My grandfather hired him once to clean up the construction site after he'd had our house built and I watched Chester share his soda and Moonpie with his dog. A sip for him, a sip for the dog. A bite for him, a bite for the dog. I'd never seen a dog drink from a bottle. I didn't know they could.
Sometimes Chester would come to the door with a big bundle of turnip greens to sell. Granny always bought them and I always felt as if we'd been visited by a celebrity. He was just so odd, so different from anyone I'd ever seen, much less met. I don't think I ever talked to him. I was too afraid. I didn't really like the turnip greens so much, cooked with the peeled and diced white turnips, but I ate them because Chester had grown them. They were a sort of holy food, grown by a Jesus man who walked or drove a tractor down the dirt roads of the tiny village where I lived, trailed by dogs and children, always barefoot.
I still think about Chester now and then, especially when I cook turnips, which I now like a lot. I grow them myself and I wonder what ever happened to Chester. Joy Holtzclaw, the proprietor of the tiny story where Chester bought his Moonpies and we kids bought our popsickles, said that he'd moved to South America because Roseland had gotten too big with too many people and that he'd died of starvation.
This did not seem likely for a man who'd lived off the land his entire life, but perhaps it's true. Looking back, it seems likely he suffered from some mental illness, schizophrenia, perhaps. He did not need people and he did not like them, I think, preferring the company of his dog, the sounds of the woods and the wind to the sound of human voices.
To me, a child then, he was a most romantic figure, resembling someone who had lived long, long before. If not Jesus, then some contemporary of Jesus. I really had no real frame of reference besides what I saw in the Bible or the art book my mother had with famous paintings from the old masters.
And I'm not sure why I'm thinking of Chester today, but I am. Perhaps it's because I made some soup last night with turnips and their greens in it. It was good soup.
But perhaps I'm thinking about Chester because I, too, so often feel outside of society, a loner, someone who never has fit in and doesn't know whether she wants to or not, but who seems to have lost whatever skills she may have had in order to do that. To be a member of a club, a part of a cause, a regular human with a regular haircut, regular clothes, a job, a mission, a purpose beyond scratching something out of the dirt (or scratching words out of the air) always yearning for something...what?
I don't want to be Chester, as fascinating as he was.
I know I need to stay engaged. I need to be part of my community (what community is that?) and I need to step outside of myself and not to run away to parts unknown where I might find myself without the knowledge to keep myself alive. No man is an island; no woman is either and even Thoreau didn't hang out at that pond for too long.
And I wish I had something funny to end with here today, something that would say, "Hey! Just kidding! I'm not really crazy."
And I don't think I'm really crazy. I was last year for awhile but now I'm just a little bit crazy. I don't hear voices. I am not walking around in a panic.
I'm just wondering how to slip back into society now that I don't have children around to force me into it. Kids will keep you engaged whether it's with other mothers at karate or with the folks at the PTA.
I have play rehearsal tonight and that's good. I'm going to take Kathleen some turnips. I'm going to remember I do have friends and that occasionally I do leave my tiny circle of safeness to be a part of something else.
That will be good.
Because some days (today, for instance) I feel like I know a little too well what happened to Chester. He didn't die from a lack of food. He died, I think, starving for what we all need, which is to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to love others and to be loved by others.
Which is perhaps, what Jesus was saying, although if so, that message got a bit twisted over the years.
And that's it. I have no sweet ending, I have no wit or wisdom. Just that sometimes you think you see Jesus but really, it's just a crazy man who is afraid of people who eventually dies from loneliness.
Which is a message worth thinking about, even if it didn't come from Jesus but from Chester, who grew turnip greens and lived alone.


  1. Isn't it funny how every community has a few 'oddballs?' I think it's ironic that some of the people I was told to 'stay away from' as a child are now my clients. It's an odd dynamic, they remember me as a child, I remember them as *insert inappropriate term here*.
    And then we start rebuilding.

  2. Chester is everywhere; Jesus has left.

  3. You know, "real" society is a complete mystery to me. I see people my age on tv and sometimes just can't even compute that we are the same species. We don't look the same, we don't talk about the same things. Our judgments about what matters and what is acceptable are different. That's why I'm so glad I found the punk scene - it actually makes sense to me.

    "It doesn't matter if I'm wrong or right - where I belong, I'm right."

  4. We had a guy named "Snake" on our block. My Dad hated him. He never mowed the grass but must have been nice, people were always coming an going. One day the police came and took him away. He had a thriving herb business. We loved hiding and peeking in the windows, we got quite an education from old Snake and his cohorts.
    Nice post Sister Moon.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. That deleted one was me...I didn't like some of my typos.

    Does King Love still stand on the corner (on Tennessee street and whatever that road Lake Ella's on... I think) in Tally? Do you, by any chance, know who I am talking about? Just curious. I remember hearing he was a retired Egyptian physician who was manic-depressive. Never knew if that was true or not though.

  7. Sadly, King Love passed away a few years ago.

  8. Rachel- What's funny to me is that no one in Roseland perceived Chester as a threat. No one warned us kids not to go near him. He was just accepted as who he was.

    Magnum- Yeah.

    DTG- I know. But look-you have a community. You've found your community. I am so glad for that.

    Brother B- Snake, huh? Glad you had such an opportunity for further education.

    Nicol- As DTG said, King Love did pass away. But he is not forgotten.

  9. When I was reading this, I kept hearing the Dolly Parton song "Joshua."

  10. I think Chester's message is a pretty good one. It is too bad we are so judgmental as a society just by looking at someone for 2 seconds. Oh one day I hope we just remember we are just human beings first, and not a weirdo or a fat guy or a black lady or etc.
    Hope your play rehearsal goes well

  11. I used to wave and honk at him. He made me smile.

  12. D.G.- I struggle with those same thoughts. I am bufuddled by the "real" society, even though my roommates seem to be living it and I, from an outside view, probably do to. But I feel so wierd hearing about all the frat parties and the way people dress, and all that other bull. It makes me so greatful for my diverse childhood and for SAIL. I never realized how closeminded people in the "real" society seem to be about men wearing skirts and about people with different ideas and ways of expressing themselves. Makes me sad.
    Oh Mama, very nice blog. Sorry about that little tangent. I'd like to hear more about Chester. He seems cool.

  13. This post made me think about King Love, too. He was the Chester of Tallahassee. It always amazes me how EVERYONE remembers him. I bet he'd be happy about that.

  14. What an interesting story. There was an old man in one town I lived in who fascinated me in a similar way. He lived alone, and carved gourds. The gourds were hanging all over his porch and yard. I'd ride my bike past his house and hope to see him out, doing what, I'm not sure.

  15. King Love stole my jacket one day while I passed by going to Grand Central Cafe. Sure, he was nice on the meds or on the downswing of the dose, but once he crashed...

    Let's just say he got to keep that jacket; didn't even fit him!

  16. If you figure out how to slip back into society, please let me know how to do it.

  17. Ginger- I need to go back and listen to that song. I didn't attribute any special spiritual characteristics to Chester. He was just what he was- a loner.

    Mr. Shife- The thing about Chester is that no one in Roseland tried to change him at all. Or even seemed to judge him. This was a long time ago. He was part of the whole gestalt of the community. The river was mucky, Chester was strange.

    HoneyLuna- I'm glad you're glad you were raised the way you were because I can't go back and do it again. I think that's about all I remember of Chester.

    Lora- Isn't it funny how these unusual people make such an impression on us, especially when we're young and trying to figure it all out. As opposed to when we're old and trying to figure it all out, I guess.

    Nicol, Magnum, and Lady Lemon- Yes, I've heard that King Love had his downside. I heard that one time these guys let him come and crash on their sofa and then he refused to leave. Like, for six months or something.
    Oh well. Bless his heart. I wonder where your jacket is, Magnum.

  18. MOB- Yeah, you too, okay? It may just be too damn late for either of us.


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