Mrs. Mundy watched her son Jake hang a block of home made suet in the sweet gum tree that shaded their faded clapboard house. She loved making food for the wild birds. They entertained her with their songs and antics.
She squinted against the early autumn sun and spied a figure walking up the lane, kicking up dust.
Jake ran up onto the weathered porch where his mother stood. “Ma, Billy’s a comin’. You know he don’t like me none. He said he was gonna beat me up sooner or later.”
Mrs. Mundy folded her arms. “Are you scared?” Jake nodded. “Don’t be. He ain’t gonna bother you. Least ways not while I’m standin’ here.”
Jake stood so close to his mother that his leg brushed hers. His thin eleven year old frame looked even smaller beside his mother’s ample one.
They watched as Billy came closer. He picked something up off the ground, then fished in his back pocket and pulled out a sling shot. A moment later, he aimed up into the tree. A flash of yellow plummeted to the ground, and Billy’s laughter rang out.
Jake almost shouted. “Ma, he shot a warbler.” He wiped away a tear. “Why’d he do that?”
Mrs. Mundy spoke sternly. “He ain’t got nobody to show him what’s right, Son. His pa’s only half raisin’ him, and you know his mama’s been gone for years. I doubt he knows The Lord, either.”
Billy approached them, whistling. “Hey Jake, did you see me shoot that bird?”
“Yeah, but you shouldn’t have done it. That bird didn’t do nothin’ to you.”
“Aww, it’s just a stupid bird.”
Mrs. Mundy took a step forward. “Billy, we like watchin’ the birds. Ain’t no call for you to kill ‘em.”
Billy blinked. “Like I said, it’s just a stupid bird.”
“Come on up here, Billy. I wanna talk to you.”
The boy shrugged and joined them on the porch.
“Billy, what’d you pick up off the ground?”
“Nothin’ but a old sweet gum ball.”
“Well, you see, sweet gum balls are spiny and most people think they’s no good. They fall off the trees and make messes.”
Billy nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah, Pa hates ‘em.”
“Truth is, they do have a use, and it ain’t for sling shot ammo neither. Jake, go pick one up for me.”
Jake returned with a handful of the spiked seed pods. His mother held one up. “They’s lots of baby sweet gum trees in each one of these.”
The boys listened intently. “The real reason for these is to hold seeds. These here is still green, but they’ll turn brown and pop open. When they do that, the seeds will scatter, and make new trees.”
Billy scuffed a worn shoe back and forth. “So?”
“Billy, do you know Jesus?”
“Heard tell of him, but we don’t talk about him at home. Anyways, I thought we’s talkin‘ ‘bout sweet gum balls.”
“Well, I think maybe you’re just like a green sweet gum ball.”
“That’s crazy talk Ms. Mundy.”
“I don’t think it is. See, you just ain’t accepted Jesus yet. When you do, you won’t be able to contain yourself. You’re gonna bust open just like a ripe sweet gum ball and spread gospel seeds everywhere.”
Jake interjected, “Ma’s like that. She’s always tellin’ folks about Jesus.”
His mother nodded. “Jesus loves you and your pa and everybody else, too.”
Billy snickered. “Ain’t nobody that loves everybody.”
“I’m tellin’ you there is.” Her enthusiasm caused her voice to rise slightly. “He loves you so much He died for you. He don’t care what you’ve done neither. Long as you come to Him with a pure heart and ask forgiveness.”
Billy looked at Jake. “So do you know Jesus?”
“Sure. Mama told me about Him years ago.”
“That why you ain’t never in trouble?”
Mrs. Mundy grinned. “Oh he gets in trouble, all right. Knowin’ Jesus don’t make you perfect. It just makes you forgiven.”
Jake tossed the rest of the sweet gum balls back on the ground. “Billy, you wanna come to church with me next Sunday?”
“I’ll think on it. Right now I gotta go. Pa’ll be lookin’ for me.”
He stopped to pick up a sweet gum ball, then faced Mrs. Mundy. “Pa might wanna take another look at this.”
“He just might. Church starts at nine.”
Billy smiled and walked away, tossing a sweet gum ball in the air.
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