The Bad Apple
By Crista Darr
Taylor smeared chocolate across his face with the back of his hand. Squinting his eyes, he took a deep breath and let out a howl. He beat his fists against the grocery cart and kicked with more fury than a skillet full of rattlesnakes.
Mama fumbled for another piece of candy and shoved it into his tiny fist. "Terrible, tormenting twos," she said to the frowning onlookers. She chuckled to keep herself from crying.
Taylor grew. Most folks said he needed a knot in his tail. He graduated from stealing cookies to stealing money. Taylor could look Mama square in the eye and tell a hundred lies, smooth as silk. Mama wanted to believe him...so she did.
Daddy called him a bad apple, but he was never home to do much about it. Mama tried. She scolded; she threatened; she cried, but Mama tried. She even got religion, but that didn't help.
Daddy passed in the winter of 1967. I suppose the thought of death put the fear of God in Mama. The next Sunday morning, she ran down the aisle to the altar like a panicked bride. Tripping on her slip, she tumbled to the ground, and crawled the last few steps. What a sight! I thought she was plumb crazy. Taylor looked as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
The change in Mama was about as welcome as an outhouse breeze. Her religion never bothered us, but this was something altogether different. She kept her face buried in that big, black book, buzzing through the pages like a bee in a flowerbed.
Coming up for air, she grabbed Dad's old army knife and headed outdoors. Taylor and I followed close behind. Cutting a thin branch from the old hickory tree, she smoothed the edges with the blade, turned and grinned like a possum. Then she switched both of us on the leg.
"Every day I tell you rascals to make your beds. I'm done talkin'."
We were fit to be tied. I rushed inside to make my bed. Taylor refused. Full of righteous anger, Mama whirled around like a Texas tornado. She got a good grip on Taylor's ear and marched him off to the woodshed.
"Spare the rod; spoil the child," Mama said. "We ain't havin' no more spoiled apples 'round here."
That boy had more ear tugs to the woodshed than you can shake a stick at.
Come hell or high water, Taylor was determined to conquer his new adversary. He tried his best to wear her down, leaving Mama panting like a goat in a pepper patch. Unable to outsmart her, Taylor spent a lot of time warming his nose in the corner.
I used to get jealous hearing Mama pray. Seemed like I was only a second thought, while Taylor's name was always on the tip of her tongue.
He left home at seventeen. He convinced Mama he wasn't doing drugs any more. I think she wanted so badly for the boy to be right, her hope blinded her to the truth. Ah, but that's how moms can be sometimes--even the best of them.
I wiggle in my church pew, amazed at the journey to get here. Taylor's voice echoes like thunder throughout the sanctuary, shaking me from my memories. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."¹
Consistency is a jewel, and Mama's labor of love has produced a fine diamond.
Mama sits in the pew beside me, looking like an angel. Her hair graces her head like a white crown of glory. She turns to look at me, eyes sparkling. There can be no greater joy than what I see written on her face, etched in every well-earned wrinkle.
* * *
"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth."
(3 John 1:4 NKJV)
¹2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)