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Zelphur (Episode 1)
And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man. Genesis 39:2 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good. Genesis 50:20 1 Mama always told me and my brothers and sisters whenever we were disgruntled about something, “You never know, God may have placed you here for such a time as this.” I often wondered what that meant; when would this ‘time as this’ come for me? I overheard her telling my older brothers once, “Always think of how you can make a difference. Ask yourself each day, what can I do to help? That will be your time.” Well, as a child, I often looked for my time; it never seemed to come, but it did come in a most unusual way. My father, Jedediah (Papa) Wilkinson, was the son of immigrants from the small island of Jamaica. Grandfather Wilkinson came to America on a farming contract. Grandfather Wilkinson worked so well and honestly that his boss helped him get his permanent visa and filed for his wife and children to take up permanent residence in America. That’s how Papa ended up here on American soil. The world opened up to him then, and he took advantage of any opportunity he could. Grandfather started his own construction company—Wilkinson’s Construction Company—which, after his death, he passed on to Papa. “Of all my sons, Jedediah, you and your brother, Jeb, have proven yourselves.” (Papa had three brothers and two sisters.) “I give you full control because you’re the oldest. I only ask that whatever money you make, promise me you’ll give back to God ten percent as tithe and it wouldn’t hurt to add at least another five percent as a love gift.” Papa kept that promise until the day of his death, and because of that, God blessed the construction business. In fact, God sent more customers his way than he could sometimes handle. Papa met Mama at a family get together. His sister was getting married and they were throwing a big celebration party for the couple. Mama was his sister’s best friend and maid-of-honor at her wedding. Papa and Mama soon tied the knot themselves, and seven children were the product of that God-blessed union: Greg, Walter, Rheba, then me—Zelphur, next Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba. Kimba is my baby sister, who, for some reason, we all thought was going to be a boy, and certainly not the last child. But God had other plans. Mama had two miscarriages after that; sadly, she died giving birth to a stillborn. That last pregnancy had been a difficult one, and it was as though she knew she would not make it. Her last marching orders to us children after lining us up around her bed a week before her death was: “Always ask yourself, what can I do to make a difference?” She made each of us promise we would finish college “by any means necessary,” and that we would love God with all our hearts. When Mama died, I was thirteen years old. Papa remarried within a year’s time. I believe he felt he needed a female adult to take care of household things and us children more than he needed a companion. Although no one could replace Mama, our new mother, Ms. Betty, as we called her, became a dear friend to us. She was from a well-to-do family, kind of high class, prim and proper, and she stressed education above anything else, along with a love for God, building Godly character, integrity, and honesty—things that Mama instilled in us before her departure. Sadly, God took Ms. Betty home after loaning her to us for four years. By then, I was a freshman (18 years old) in college. Papa wanted to marry again “for the sake of the younger children: Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba,” but we were strongly against it this time. “Papa, God will take care of us. He always has.” Then Greg who always had to add some humor to all we did, said: “Papa, she may die too.” Wilkinson’s Construction flourished. Papa employed Walter full time, at least until he decided whether or not to go on to graduate school. Greg was already working in the business. Papa was constantly having problems with Greg and Walter. Greg was irresponsible, immature, and seemed to pick his way through whatever task was given to him. He was unsure of himself and seemed to become even more so after Mama’s death. “Son,” Papa was always telling him, “wherever you are in life, be all there. Whatever task you are engaged in put all your mind to it. Try to be like your brother, Zelphur.” Papa had been dealing with Greg about his work ethic since he was a teenager. Papa even limited him as far as having a steady female friend telling him, “Son, a serious female friend leads to marriage, which leads to children, which requires maturity and responsibility and so far, you are lacking in both. I want to turn this business completely over to you to run, but as of now, I can’t. God would not be pleased with me if I did.” Walter had his issues, too. He was like a wave of the sea; one day he would work well, another day he produced sloppy work. “Walter,” Papa would often tell him, “you have to be consistent. You have to produce the same quality work all the time. Customers won’t know what to expect from you. Inconsistency will ruin the business, son. Your brother, Zelphur, produces the same quality work most of the time. He may fail every now and then because he is not perfect, but I can always depend on him. I want to be able to depend on you as well.” I helped out in the business also, even though Papa made sure I devoted ample amount of time to my college studies as he did all of us children. Why does Papa have to always put me in the mix when he corrects my older brothers? I did not like that and neither did Greg or Walter. After a while they were getting curt with me, ignoring me, and making smart remarks towards me outside of Papa’s hearing, of course. They would say things like: “You think you’re better than us, huh, Papa’s pet?” “Don’t you get the big head, college boy.” They hated it when Papa asked me for a report of what took place on the job those hours I was there, especially about their behavior while on the job. They also hated it when he asked for my advice on any matter. 2 Our family continued like this for another three years. Papa would daily impart to us his words of wisdom emphasizing loving and being obedient to God, helping others, and looking out for each other. “I want you to practice the fruit of the Spirit always: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith in God, humility and temperance or self-control and moderation in all you do.” Papa had a freak accident one day. It should not have happened. He was on the roof of a house instructing Greg. He, somehow, missed his step and fell to the ground. He severely injured his spinal cord which left him paralyzed from the waist down and mentally disoriented at times. This greatly disturbed the family. Under Uncle Jeb’s leading we decided to keep him home and tend to him as best we could with the help of a home nurse. Uncle Jeb, Papa’s brother and right hand man, oversaw the business as best he could. He could only do so much because physically he had lost the use of his right side from a gunshot wound to the head. Even though the bullet was still lodged in his head, he was still very sharp mentally. You’d think Greg and Walter would get themselves together after Papa’s tragic accident, but they got worse. On top of that, Rheba decided she wanted to go off to modeling school. “I’ll only be gone a year and then I’ll be back. This is something I’ve always wanted. Besides, there is nothing I can really do for Papa.” “Rheba, you’re the oldest girl. We need you here,” I said to her in an attempt to get her to change her mind. “Can’t you go to modeling school closer to home and commute each day?” “Listen, Zelphur, I know this may not be the perfect time, but if I don’t go now, I’ll never go. I’ve been saving the money Papa’s been paying me for helping to keep the books and I have enough to pay for a full year up-front. I’ll be back before you know it.” It was a sad day when she left. I believe she was tired of seeing Papa in a wheelchair most of the time or laying down and could not handle his deteriorating condition anymore. I believe she felt helpless and needed a break from it all. If this was the case, I don’t hold it against her for leaving us. Walter, unknown to anyone, had started drinking and gambling. The stench on his breath the Saturday he came stumbling through the front door at three in the morning was overpowering. I had been up studying for my finals before graduation. “Where have you been, Walter?” I asked. His response almost threw me off my feet. “You’re not my daddy, boy! I’m a grown man. I do as I please, Papa’s pet! Now move your butt out of my way before you get run over.” t uh “You’ve been drinking, Walter. You better get that smell off your breath before you face Papa in the morning and before church. He would be greatly disappointed.” “Oh, shut up!” I moved out of his way and as he stumbled on to his room, I picked up a bit of paper that had fallen out of his back pocket. It was tickets to the horse racing tracks in the next city. I assumed he had been gambling. Greg’s behavior was no better. He started to disrespect Uncle Jeb by talking back, behavior that he did not display when Papa was in good health and when he was around Papa. Maybe he was blaming himself for Papa’s accident. At 23 years of age, he decided to pick up smoking and drinking. He must have been sneaking and doing it all along. All attempts by Uncle Jeb to convince him to stop, fell on deaf ears. I tried to convince him to put away the smoking and drinking, but that, too, fell on deaf ears. “Greg, you know Papa and Mama would not want you to smoke nor touch alcohol of any kind. You never did that before, so why now? What kind of Christian are you?” I asked. “A Christian who is tired of playing Christian. I want to be me—not what Papa and Mama want me to be,” Greg replied. “But they have not been telling you to do anything wrong, Greg—just to love God and live for Him. What’s so wrong about that?” I asked. “I, little brother, want to experience life out there. This has been too confining, too sheltered.” “Yes, and for our own good. What example are you setting for Clarissa, Trevor, and Kimba?” I asked. “It’s only a matter of time, Zelphur,” Greg said, “before you start doing your thing. Right now, you be the example setter.” “No, Greg. I aim to keep the promise we all made to Mama before she died, and live up to Papa’s expectations of us.”