Dixie’s stomach growled as she drove home from Robbie’s house. She had stopped by after leaving Joe’s to pick up Kenny’s few belongings. Robbie had answered the door. When she saw him it had taken a good bit of self control for Dixie to not to give Robbie a piece of her mind. The hurt she saw in Robbie’s eyes, after telling him about Kenny’s experience that morning, softened her. She could see he was in a difficult spot, caught between loyalty to a friend and the expectations of his parents. She understood completely. After telling Robbie where to find Kenny, in case he wanted to see him, Dixie left quickly.
Now, as she bumped along the country road, she thought over the events of the morning. She needed to make sure she had the facts straight and was ready to face the interrogation of her mother. Mentally she was setting her jaw. It seemed the more involved with Kenny she became the worse the fallout. When she stepped back and looked at things she could recognize her mother’s concern. But after witnessing Kenny’s mistreatment there was no way she was backing down now. Come hell or high water she would stick up for him.
As she drove with her window down the scent of rich delta soil filled her senses. The crisp tang of fall mixed with the dirt and silt from the Mississippi, creating a southern potpourri. She had half a mind to park her truck and spend the afternoon walking down a dusty country road, enjoying nature and forgetting her cares. In a few weeks the sugar maples would catch fire and burn, cooler temperatures would make the days more bearable, and horse apple trees would drop their fruit. But a romp would have to wait.
Dixie’s shoulders were tight from the strain of the morning. She shrugged them up and down in an attempt to loosen the muscles. Pulling into her family’s driveway she noticed her mother’s car wasn’t there. Maybe she would have a chance to slip up stairs and rest before her mother came home. Maybe this whole thing would blow over before it got a chance to blow up. As she slammed the door to her truck and headed up the driveway, her dad came out from the detached garage set towards the back of the yard.
“Dixie, come sit with me for a minute,” he called.
Maybe she wasn’t going to get off that easily. “Okay, Daddy, let me set my stuff down and I’ll be right there.” She opened the back door and dumped her purse and packet of music on the kitchen table before turning back around to head to the garage. The white frame structure housed her dad’s tools and work bench. It was big enough to get a car in to work on but they had never used it for parking their cars. He had a weed eater up on his workbench with the motor taken apart.
She came in and pulled up a stool to his workbench. He kept working.
“Busy morning, Dixie?” He looked up at her face, then back to the task at hand.
She knew he knew. He didn’t seem mad. She hadn’t been worried about his response, but she wanted to feel him out a bit more before spilling the whole story. She trusted her father and would never lie to him. But she couldn’t understand the influence her mother’s opinion had over him, and she knew exactly what her mother’s feelings were on this topic.
“Yeah, actually, it was. Why do you ask, Daddy?” She was going to make him share what he knew first.
“We’ve gotten a couple of phone calls about an incident on Broad Street. Your Mother, of course, is upset about the matter.” He looked up again, “Is Kenny all right?”
Dixie sighed, expelling stress that had been pent up all morning. “He will be. He has a banged up eye and most likely a broken rib, some scrapes and bruises. The bumps will heal, his heart’s going to take a little longer.”
Her dad winced and shook his head. “Did he provoke those boys, Dixie? Or did they attack out of pure hateful, meanness?”
“What do you think, Daddy? You’ve seen Kenny. Does he seem like someone who would antagonize three guys bigger than himself? Unless by provoke you mean being gay. Then, yes, I guess he did.” She had a hard time keeping the bitterness out of her voice on that last sentence. She didn’t mean to disrespect her father, but the injustice rose up in her mouth like bile.
He shook his head again. “I’m sorry to hear that, Dixie. Regardless of our personal feelings about someone’s lifestyle that kind of behavior is unacceptable. Did you report this to the police?”
“No, Daddy. My first thought was for Kenny’s safety. I didn’t actually think the police would be super helpful, I’m sorry to say.”
“I hope you’re wrong, Dixie. It’s probably true of some of the boys, but hopefully not Sheriff Walters. Where’s Kenny now?”
“He’s with Joe McAllister. The place Kenny has been staying is no longer available, so Joe took him in.”
“I’m glad you took him to Joe, Dixie. That was good thinking. Joe will take care of him.”
“I wish I could have brought him here, Daddy.”
“I know baby girl. I do. But Joe’s was the right choice.”
“Daddy, why is Mother so freaked out by this situation? Does she think I’m intent on making a public spectacle of myself? I didn’t go looking for Kenny. I just met him on accident. And when I went downtown for breakfast with Sadie this morning I had no idea Kenny would be bullied right out on the main street. I didn’t go looking for trouble.” She rubbed her temples. “I was having a really good day. But it happened and there was no way I was going to stand back and let him take a beating.”
Richard took in his daughter, sitting in front of him, her cheeks flushed and hair aflame. He thought she might be the bravest person he knew. “Dixie, it’s my job to teach the word of God without compromise. For people seeking life in Christ, that means explaining what wholeness in Him looks like. Setting aside selfish desires and corrupt living.” He laid down the screwdriver he was holding. “For Kenny that means seeking what God has planned for his sexuality. For all of us it means living with grace and understanding toward one another. I can neither condone Kenny’s lifestyle or those other boys actions. But I can say I am proud of you. You have been unafraid of seeing a person in need and offering friendship. I think that’s the most Christlike thing I’ve witnessed in some time.” He paused, wiped his hands on a dirty rag and leaned back against a shelf. “You have to understand, I’m caught in a tough place. In all my years of ministry I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this. I’m also responsible to care for and protect your mom. Her well-being is my concern. You may not understand why certain things upset her. She’s a complex woman. But I am bound to show her compassion, just as you are to show it to Kenny. Do you understand Dixie?”
“Yes, I think so.” Dixie furled her brow over brooding green eyes. “At least I understand your concern for Mother. But I don’t understand her attitude or behavior. I feel like there’s something I don’t know. Some piece I’m missing in the puzzle. Joe says everyone has a story. He thinks Kenny makes Mother uncomfortable because he reminds her of her own story, something she’s afraid of. I told him that was crazy but he seems to think that’s true.”
“Joe is a wise man. Your Mother’s story is not mine to tell. But I hope you will show compassion to her and bear in mind she has her own struggles.”
Given the strength of her mother’s response to certain people and circumstances Dixie thought she might not want to hear it. “I don’t think I want to know.” She confessed the thought to her dad.
“No, you probably wouldn’t enjoy hearing it. Just cut your Mother some slack. Be patient with her. I know she can be a difficult woman to live with and she rides you hard. She cares about you, though.”
“How do I talk to her about this morning? She’s going to be mad at me, but there is no way I’m backing down for standing up for Kenny.” Dixie’s eyes crackled a challenge.
Her dad reached out an oil stained hand and laid it over top of hers. “Don’t back down, what you did was right. Just be kind in how you say it.”
“But she’s not kind to me!”
“I know, sometimes she’s not. But she’s your Mother, and you need to respect her. And sometimes the bigger person is just the one who’s able to be. Maybe she can’t right now, but I have no doubt you can take the high road. I have every faith in you.”
Dixie was encouraged by her dad’s words, although she wasn’t certain she could live up to them.
Sighing was becoming a habit for her these days. She let her breath out heavily, but it didn’t release the weariness she felt. “Being an adult is harder than I thought it would be. Thanks for understanding, Daddy, and not discouraging me from helping Kenny. I’m going to go eat something and lay down before round two begins.”
As she got up and headed for the door her dad stopped her. “Dixie.” She turned to face him. Even at fifty, with care creasing his face, he was still so handsome. His green eyes still sparkled hope, his hands still fixed things.
“I’ve known since you were a little girl that you were special. You grab hold of life with more passion and conviction than most people know how to live with. Experience is tempering you, God’s word will lead you straight. You have a lot to teach us. But you should know, people who lead the charge never have it easy. Don’t let that discourage you. Just don’t let being right come at the cost of being loving.”
All Dixie could manage was a tentative, “Yes, sir.”