By J. Stephen Rhodes
Some family members said I gave her the name because I could
not pronounce grandmother. Others contended the name originated because
she talked like a Mynah bird–her name was pronounced the same way.
Mina taught me to play Scrabble: how to hit triple letters with a “j”
or “x,” how to stretch to make a double word, and how to add an “s”
or “d” to the end of a word in order to start a new word perpendicular
to the first. If I was stumped, she asked: “Do you have an ‘n’ or an
‘e’? Can you build a four letter word above the ‘d’ to reach the triple
word score? Surely you can make a verb in the past tense. A noun? ‘Hand?’
One time I extended “woo” into “wooer” to reach a triple word score.
She giggled trying to pronounce it. In subsequent games she asked me
if I was going to try to play “wooer” again.
When people ask me who the major influences are in my religious development,
I mention Mina first. She knew instinctively that Dr. King was right,
even though she was raised in the early nineteen hundreds in south Georgia.
She said, “You can do a lot worse than learn to live by the Golden Rule.”
She acted as if she could read God’s mind. “God plays no favorites,”
she said. “Don’t you know God weeps for those poor people in the housing
projects?” She told me once that she had dreamed of being a missionary
to Africa when she was a little girl.
When I decided to go to seminary, it was as if I were doing part of
it to fulfill her calling. Much of my work has been mission-oriented
– working with kids on the streets of inner-city Atlanta, with the rural
poor, and teaching seminarians about community outreach.
The day I was ordained as a minister, my mother gave me the bible Mina
had given to her as a confirmation gift. Mina’s inscription to her read
“Recompense no man evil for evil. If it be possible as much as lieth
in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:17-18) She
wrote these words when lynchings were still happening in Georgia and
Hitler and Mussolini were coming into their own. I come from a family
On the day before she died, I visited Mina in the hospital. As soon
as I walked in her room, she said, “Oh, Steve, I just took the most
wonderful trip before you walked in. I went on a helicopter ride–you
know how I’ve always wanted to. We went way up in the air, so high the
trees looked like blades of grass. I could see cities and towns way
far off. I had the best time.”
When I had arrived at the emergency room a few days before, the nurses
told me that she was resting in a darkened X-Ray room. I went to the
door and asked, “Mina, are you in there?” to no answer. I spoke again,
louder, adding, “It’s Steve. Do you remember me?”
She answered, “Steve? Of course I remember you. I loved you before you
Stephen Rhodes lives
on a farm in Berea, Kentucky with his wife, Ann. His essays have appeared
in Gettysburg Review, Snowy Egret, and Christian Century;
his poetry in Shenandoah, Karamu, and Apalachee Review.
He is currently working on a memoir, with special attention to the relationship
between self-esteem and service.
photo by Dinty W. Moore