Her name was Margie May and for one pure and holy moment in time she was my pearl. My buddy Ricky, at that time the greatest friend of all times, took me to his church group one Sunday night when my parents didn’t feel like taking me into town for my usual church youth group meeting.
Ricky introduced me to Margie. He then went off to be goofy with some of his other pals and I fell into instant conversation with her. To this day I don’t know why. From the age of 7 to 11, four glorious years of male macho development, girls were taboo. But there was something about Margie May.
She was a tomboy with short blond curly hair, bright blue expressive eyes, a smile that never seemed to leave her face and a devastatingly coy way of keeping me close to her. She seemed fascinated by every one of my stories and laughed with a sincerity that sparked within my heart a love and devotion for her that I would not experience again for a long long time.
As we said our good-byes that night I knew that I had found a treasure to be adored and a brand new church group. All I had to do was convince my parents that going with Ricky to Sunday night church would make their lives a whole lot easier.
What I didn’t know was that whatever was happening for me about Margie May on the inside was showing on the outside. And while thoughts of my new girl friend were held secretly in a special place deep inside me, my mother knew. Somehow she knew.
When I suggested Ricky’s church group would benefit everyone, especially my spiritual growth, she smiled and said, “I’ll think about it. Don’t say anything to your dad. I want to talk to him about it first. We’ll think about it.”
Her smile was reassuring and I knew that dad would be for me in this since he didn’t like going into church on Sunday nights.
With these assurances in place I let the memories of Margie May’s laugh, and smile and sparkling eyes linger for hours out of each day.
So occupied was I with my dreams of Margie I failed to notice that my mother was watching me and somehow reading my thoughts. I think my dad began to notice it too and sometimes I could over hear their chuckles after some of their “soft talk.”
I spent each day in the wonder of what it would be like to spend time with Margie. And I think it all would have gone along just fine, but on Wednesday evening, before I could secure a promise to go to Ricky’s church, Margie called my home. Mom picked up the phone, listened and then turned to me. Holding out the receiver she looked at me with the queerest expression on her face I had ever seen. “It’s someone named Margie May, and she wants to speak to you.”
I’m sure my face burned hot. I’m sure my throat, chin and cheeks turned apple red. I could see my mom’s head shaking an emphatic, “no!”
The voice on the line was sweet and exuberant and expectant. Would I come to her party on Saturday afternoon? She just knew we would have a good time. In that moment and for months, maybe even years, I wanted nothing more in the entire universe than to go to Margie’s party.
I longed to see her again, like I had never longed for anything in my life. I had been cruel to dopes that had expressed such feelings when we hung out together and now here I was, one of those dopes. The urge to be with my new friend consumed me. “I’ll ask and call you right back,” I said. But I never did.
My mother’s “no!” rose up from somewhere in her gut. Her eyes seemed on fire, and I had never seen such cruelty in her eyes before. She gave me no reason or assurance that this was just a momentary pause in a possible new friendship. What she said was, “You are to never see or talk to that girl again. Go to your room now.”
My eyes burned. Even before the tears broke out. It was like all the salt in my body mounted an attack on my tear ducts. My sight was blinded by salt and tears. From my room I heard my mom on the telephone talking to a parent at Margie’s home. Her voice was stern and with a few clipped syllables declined the invitation to the party and asked that Margie not call our home again. “Good-bye.”
I couldn’t stand it anymore. Mom had to know how disappointed I was. I ran into the kitchen, balling my head off and screamed: “Why?” With no answer and no mercy she watched me stammer, and whine and cry as though some vital organ was being ripped from my body. I stood before my mother unashamed of my emotion and wrath and poured it all out while she coolly observed my tantrum. Then, mysteriously I was done. I mean not just done with my tantrum. Done with something else. “Dinner will be ready in several minutes,” my mother finally said, “why don’t you go wash up?” We were done.
As the days went by I regained control of my inner most thoughts and feelings. Something dreadful was playing out in real life that could not bear a young boy’s happiness or self expression. I could be happy, glad, or sad, it didn’t matter what, but everything had to appear cool on the outside. With cunning and well executed plans I began to succeed where in the past I had failed.
I still had emotional outbursts but it was more often total war within where my internal secret vaults weren’t yet sturdy enough to contain all evidence of my feelings. But with each battle I was winning the war.
One could hurt me, but I was successfully winning the war to shut off all outward expression of the pains. I could even be happy. But there would never be an outward sign of it again. I created a vault for any real emotion in a tree lined graveyard in my soul.
Through the prosecution of my internal war I also curbed my passions for anything and everything. I no longer cared. I shut myself off from potential friendships. Everything that I cared about in this world became a secret.
In my church, as a twelve year old junior high kid, Mrs. Ballinger was now my Sunday School teacher. Mrs. Ballinger was younger than most of the mom’s at church and wasn’t impressed that there was a heaven and a coming King. Her Bible seemed newer and shinier and matched her purse, lipstick and jewelry.
Her teeth were blessed with a magical florescent glow that matched the shimmer and shine of the string of pearls she wore around her neck. Most of the time in class she would talk to the girls about school, and pop music and parties and other such nonsense. The number of boys in the class dwindled and the number of girls increased. I had nothing to contribute so just listened to the chatter knowing it was the new background music for my life.
Mrs. Ballinger, one Sunday in February 1961, handed her Bible to Linda G. and asked her to read Matthew 13:45. Linda in a clear voice read:
“Again, the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Before a clarification of what the parable meant could be given the girls were soon engrossed in reverent conversation about shopping, dresses and an upcoming wedding.
In my heart and mind I was in the park playing baseball. I didn’t need anyone’s interpretation of that parable. I had met my pearl and I would have given everything for her. Discovering that the Kingdom of Heaven was the true pearl took many lonely years. In fact, it would be a long, horrifyingly long time before I gave up everything of this world to make King Jesus the Lord of my life and obtain my place in the Kingdom of heaven.