HELLO AMERICA!—It was a dance of the macabre. A troupe of actors trapped in a beautiful, yet dark, beaten civilization. I emerged from its womb as the moon hid behind threatening cumulus cloud, spitting its deadly semen on everything that lay beneath it. The music it produced conjured up rhythms which challenged the very existence of all who dared to listen.

Even during the night, the dance of manipulation and horror continued to rage on and on. This was ‘Green Tree Hollow.’ I was entangled in its arms of pus, strangled by characters who were damned in a war with the dragons of unrequited hunger for sex, witchcraft and the misguided, twisted hunt for love.

The Hollow pronounced as the ‘Holler’ was almost a replica of ‘Catfish Row’ in George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. However, those who inhabited the long queue of houses flanking one side of the main highway were not just Black people but Italians, Jews, and Greeks. They all lived side by side but had a clear view of who they were, where they had to be and what they had to do for survival.

On the opposite side of this highway loomed a ghost-like convent that stood tall on a hill as if to establish its spiritual superiority. I had been told by several of the adults, that nuns were different from ordinary people. They possessed a special, spiritual power. I rationalized that this must be true, otherwise, why would they be dressed in all-black and huddled together in that place on the hill? My curiosity got the better of me.

So when two of the nuns visited our hour and my mother asked me to fetch some water from the stream that was piped in below our house, I decided this was the perfect time to find out how different the nuns really were from the rest of us. When filling up the bucket, I urinated in the water. When mother poured their water, the nuns began to sip. One of them exclaimed, “Oh, my god! This is the worst-tasting water I’ve ever had. It’s terrible.”

Of course, mother apologized profusely and offered to get another bucket herself, but they both decided it wasn’t necessary. Mother gave me an accusing glare, one that said, “You did it. I know you did. You’re going to get, you devil!” In contrast to the nunnery, a small boxlike Baptist church made its presence known by pointing it’s very timid-looking steeple finger upward on an opposing hill.

This was the location of the ministry of Reverend Smith, a small, thin preacher who delivered his sermons in an extremely high voice resembling a chicken in labor. At times it was frightening. The minister’s wife, Fanny, was a chatterbox. She was known for her outrageous hats composed of fruits, feathers and, as a signature note, a flaming bird. Anyone sitting behind her had difficulty seeing what was going on in the pulpit. Not only that, but her bottom was so big she took up two seats. Fanny never missed an opportunity to feel the spirit when the choir performed. She was the first to jump up and shout, “Yes, my Jesus…hear our prayer…forgive our sins!”

Without fail, right in the middle of her emotional appeal, she would let loose with a grandiose fart, one that nearly gassed the entire church. The women, who always carried fans, began swishing them frantically. The deacons, obviously quite used to the routine, rushed to any window still shut and opened it wide. It was quite a sight.