The Jeffery Conversion and Old Man Johnson’s Mower
By Dan Blankenship
“So you wanna do it?” Kyle Moore asked Lenny Walker for the third time in the span of only a few minutes. The two twelve-year-olds were leaning up against the burnt out shell of a 1989 Chevy Caprice in a waterlogged field directly behind the Piggly Wiggly. That’s a grocery store, for you Northern Folks.
“I dunno. What kinda lawn mower you say he’s got in his shed?” Lenny replied, eyeing the ground for a rock to throw at a robin he had just watched land on a stump. Lenny liked to throw rocks at living things, especially when his mama wasn’t around to yell at him for it.
“It’s a John Deere – one of those big-uns, with all the extras. We could get at least 500 for it if we took it down to Gunnersville. Ain’t nobody even gonna ask where we got it neither,” Kyle replied, happy as hillbilly with a refrigerator full of Budweiser that he had finally got Lenny to respond.
Lenny leaned forward and grabbed a good sized chunk of asphalt to launch at the unsuspecting robin. “Old man Johnson has a lock on his shed.”
“We’ll cut it.”
“You got bolt cutters?” Lenny asked, just before side-pitching the chunk at the robin.
“Na, but we could steal us a pair from the hardware store,” replied Kyle, smiling a bit as the robin flew away unscathed.
“I think bolt cutters are kinda big to sneak out the hardware store with.”
Kyle smiled even bigger. “Yeah, they would be kina hard to hide. But I know someone who can pick any lock ya put in front of him.”
“Jeffery ain’t gonna do it for us, Kyle.”
“Why you say that?”
“Jeffery done found Jeeeezus.”
“Huh, whatchya’ mean.”
“I mean, Pastor March done talked Jeffery into changing.”
Kyle straightened his stance and moved in front of Lenny. “Changing? How’s Jeffery changing?”
Lenny sighed and looked around for another chunk of asphalt to hold onto in case the robin returned. “He don’t do stuff no more.”
“Don’t do stuff? Like what kinda stuff?”
“Just stuff, you know.”
“No, I don’t know. What kinda stuff dudn’t Jeffery do no more?”
“Stuff like what I’m doin’ right now, throwin’ rocks at birds; and stuff like you’re talkin’ bout doin’, stealing old man Johnson’s lawn mower. Jeffery don’t do things like that no more. He’s more into helping his dad work on cars, working down at the church, or studyin’ things on the computer.”
“So he’s a sissy now, huh? That’s how he changed?”
“Jeffery ain’t no sissy, Kyle. I don’t like you callin’ him that neither.”
“Yeah, well, if he’s one of the Jesus freaks now, and he thinks he’s too good to hang out with us, then he’s a sissy.”
“That’s what I don’t get, Kyle.”
“What don’t you get?”
“Just cause Jeffery don’t wanna steal things, throw rocks at birds, or hang out with you, you think he’s a sissy? Why’s that make him a sissy? Why I bet he could whoop you in a fair fight if he wanted to.”
“Yeah, well, if he’s wanna them Jesus freaks now, I bet he wouldn’t fight me anyhow. And why you stickin’ up for him? You and me been hangin’ out a lot longer than he’s even lived here.”
“I ain’t stickin’ up for him, Kyle. I’m just wondering what so wrong about trying to be a better person. Jeffery acting differently shouldn’t be worryin’ you so much. So he ain’t gonna help you steal old man Johnson’s mower. Maybe you ain’t got no business stealing it no way, anymore that I should be tryin’ to hit that robin with a rock.”
Suddenly, Kyle looked as though Lenny had just leveled him with a rock. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing from his best friend. “I notice you keep sayin’ I’m stealin’ old man Johnson’s mower. I though we was gonna do it together. Ain’t that what we agreed to?”
“No, Kyle, I didn’t agree to anything. I didn’t even answer you the first two times you brought it up. I was busy thinkin’ about how much stuff we done that God wouldn’t be happy with. You ever think about that, Kyle? You ever wonder if maybe we ought to live differently? Change like Jeffery?”
“No, Lenny, I don’t think ‘bout that stuff. I think you’re becoming a sissy just like Jeffery. A Jesus freak, that’s what you are.” Kyle was red with anger. Lenny had never talked this way before. He could always count on Lenny to accompany him on any adventure, be it shoplifting, smash and grab, or dine and dash. He was furious with Jeffery for having this influence on his best friend.
“Look, Kyle, I’m sorry. I’m not sayin’ you’re a bad person. It’s just that I think some of the things we do, well they ain’t things we should be doin’. I never thought much about it before. I just did them. But now I can see that some of the stuff we do hurts other folks. I know I wouldn’t want to own a home and have some kid throw a rock through my window just for fun.”
“Hey, Lenny, save it. You don’t wanna hang out with me, fine. You think it’s wrong to have little bit of fun now and then, then you just find a new best friend.” And with that, Kyle turned and began to walk away.
Lenny watched Kyle walk through the muddy field, not even sure where his former friend was headed. Lenny wondered who would become his new best friend. He knew one thing, he had to find a new best friend that was the exact opposite of Kyle. He had to find a best friend who would always clearly understand the difference between right and wrong. Lenny wanted a best friend he could always count on. As Lenny walked away, the robin safely lighted on a different stump less than two feet from Lenny’s path.
An hour later, Pastor March was exiting the front door of his church when a young boy crashed into him. “Why, Lenny Walker, where are you going in such a hurry?”
“I…I…I’m looking for a new best friend, Pastor.”
“Well, Lenny, there’s no one in the church right now. I’m heading home for lunch. If you come back tonight…”
Lenny wouldn’t let the pastor finish his words. “No, Pastor, you don’t understand. My new best friend, he’s in the church. I mean…well…he’s not just in the church…”
A smile came over Pastor March’s face as he realized what Lenny was trying to say. “I’ll leave the sanctuary open, Lenny. Please feel free to chat with your new best friend as long as you need to. You might have a visitor stop in a little while. Old man Johnson is coming by to cut the grass with his new mower. If he sees the sanctuary is open, he’ll probably come in to say a few words to his best friend too.”
As the pastor drove away and Lenny walked up to the altar, a robin landed on the front porch railing just outside the main entrance to the church. I’m not sure if it was the same robin that was behind the Piggly Wiggly, but it could have been.