This essay is dedicated to Bryan Place neighbor, Marylou Stuart.
I died yesterday over at Baylor Jack’s. My old, 4 chamber pump blew out, with only a million miles on the clock! The young preacher gave a warm and loving sermon, almost as if he knew me, downtown at St. Jude’s Chapel, where he slipped a small card into my folded hands, closing the casket and shipping me back east to our family plot for burial.
But, this tale is not about me, but, rather, a remarkable little boy about 6 years old I met in Exall Park. I was resting, as was my custom, on a bench one cool, early spring Sunday morning, when I became aware of a little boy wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt with a clip-on bowtie dangling from one clip, chinos, new sneakers, and a small fanny pack, playing with 2 toy cars, in a bare spot in the grass.
“Hello, young man, and how are you this fine Sunday morning?”
He replied, “Fine and dandy, sir.”
Then, said my newest friend, “Can you help me find my momma, please?”
“I would if I knew what she looked like.” And he produced an old, faded, passport-like photo of an unkempt woman from his fanny pack. Her hair ashen, and a vacant stare in her eyes, with a background wall of numbers and horizontal lines, which I recognized as a police mug shot. She was 5 feet, 4 inches tall.
“This is my momma and I can’t find her. She took me out yesterday to get new duds at the Goodwill store to go to meet Jesus. It was my birthday.”
“Yesterday?” I asked.
“Yes, momma wanted me to look nice when we met him. Then she cried a lot and told me to stay right here till she came back.”
Stunned, I asked where his dad was and he told me, “Poppa died last year, down in Huntsville, and now I can’t find momma, and I’m scared.”
I took his hand and we started walking slowly, looking for “momma.” It seemed like an eternity; we passed a little chicken joint and I asked if he was hungry.
“What’s your favorite meal?” said I, and he said, “Chicken wings, dumplings and gravy.”
We ordered and he asked to use the toilet. While he was gone, I picked up a copy of The Dallas Morning News that someone had left in the booth. A small, mug shot photo of a young woman, accompanied by a short article grabbed me by the throat. Then I learned his mom had a name, a police record, and was a widow of a man executed last year at Huntsville. No address, no known relatives, homeless, a suicide.
My new friend appeared, drying his hands on a paper towel, proudly announcing, “Momma always had me wash my hands after using the toilet.”
He tore into the wings and gravy and then told me his name—”Ennis Aloysius Zachery, but everyone calls me ‘EAZ’.”
I hid the newspaper which had already told me his last name, what happened to his poppa, his momma and their family name.
Still hungry, he asked if he could pay for his own food, showing me 15 or 20 wrinkled up, old dollar bills his momma had stuffed in his fanny pack before she had changed her mind about EAZ meeting Jesus. His favorite was chocolate and we both had a dish as my mind raced at Mach 4 as to what to do next. We finished, I paid, and told EAZ that he could buy next time. We left, he holding my hand, sort of leading me, down Live Oak Street to the expressway underpass, where he and his momma sometimes slept. Passing out from under the cooling shadow of the overhead highways, we wandered into downtown, turned onto Main Street towards St. Jude’s Chapel where I knew the priest, Father Ravi. He had just finished Sunday services and we softly spoke of EAZ. The priest had seen him and his momma before. She frequently used the church washroom to bathe, change clothes and use the facilities.
We agreed on what to do with EAZ; I wrote a check for the balance of my checking account made out to “F.B.O” EAZ to help give him a better start at a decent childhood. Twenty plus years passed, much too quickly; the priest was transferred and I lost track of EAZ.
Oh, and the card the young priest slipped in my clasped hands? It was a simple business type card engraved, “Father Ennis A. Zachery, O.P.”—on the back was scrawled, “Sorry I was so late in finding you. I have loved you always.”