This week, I’ve been reading a book I found in the Episcopal Bookstore in Seattle (on my February trek out to Olympia to teach a workshop at St. John’s). I was surprised to see it there, and I hardly cracked it open until the day before yesterday, when I found it was stuck to my hand and wouldn’t let go (you'll see, and I won't even mention the recipes). I was surprised to see Gurdon's name on the book, because he was a mentor of mine when I lived in Ithaca, NY (1978-80). It seems he still is a mentor of mine. Gurdon was a chaplain at Cornell (for 35 years) and is an excellent sculptor. But this writer thing is something I didn’t know about him. I'll bet I can fill all the telephone books in the whole wide world with the things I don't know about people.
Daddy King was Martin Luther King, Sr., and was co-pastor (with his son Martin Luther King, Jr.) of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Gurdon spent a summer with Daddy and Mrs. King in 1961 and lived in their house. There are pages and pages I could quote, but here’s something that reminded me that the most important things in life are peach ice cream, the transformation of people’s hearts, and the protection of the gifts we are given:
“Daddy King came home about 9:30 one hot night, and when he heard the freezer grinding, a big smile broke out on his face. Mrs. King and I lifted the container carefully out of the ice water and brought it over to the sink to wipe it off… He stood nearby with a large bowl, at which point Mrs. King backed away and watched with delight as he plunged his spoon into the ice cream, loading his bowl with a generous heap mixed well with the peaches. “When I eat cream, I eat cream,” he said, as he moved toward his favorite chair.
Just as we turned on the TV, Coretta called on the telephone to ask Mrs. King where she might take the children to have their tonsils removed. Suddenly, Dr. King appeared on the screen. “He’s on the news,” Mrs. King told Coretta in a perfectly natural voice, as if she were describing an everyday occurrence in the home. She hung up the phone and returned to her seat to watch.
Dr. King had been speaking in Jackson. “Freedom is coming.” He said.
“Yes it is,” replied Daddy King, talking to his son as if he were in the chair right next to him. “Boy, they hate that,” he said in a strong voice. “They’d like to get at him, but they can’t because he’s right. They can’t say anything because he is right,” he said looking back at me. “He gets white people mad because he wins people. He can’t help winning. He has won people over since he was a boy.”
“Segregation is dead.” Dr. King went on. “The only question is how expensive will they make the funeral.”
Well, we’ve made the funeral pretty damn expensive so far, and Barack Obama is raising and spending money so fast it’s getting more expensive by the second. I pray every day that his story has a different ending, because it looks like he, too, is right, and can’t help winning people over.
Make sure No Turning Back is in your local library: No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King, by Gurdon Brewster (2007, Orbis Books).
Listen to an Interview with Gurdon on American Public Media. Here's the link: