The car rolled to a stop in front a two story house.
“Here we are Mom.”
The gray haired woman in the passenger seat peered out the window. The house did not hold as much interest for her as the oak tree in the yard.
“Look at that cool tree house!” shouted one of the boys in the backseat.
Josephine was amazed at how well it had held up. Many years had passed since she had seen it, but she still thought about the man who had saved her life that day.
“The man who lived here protected me, which was a dangerous thing to do in my day.”
“Why?” said the other young boy.
“In the fifties, whites and blacks did not socialize together. We are here because I thought that you should know the story of this tree house. It is a part of our family heritage.”
Josephine lifted a knurled finger to the window. She shuttered at the memories of that day, but smiled at the woman she had become because of it.
She remembered the ache in her calves as she ran full stride down the street in the direction of Shantytown where she lived. Her chest burned with each breath. Their taunts and foul language could still be heard behind her. Tears flew from her eyes as she fought the urge to give in to the pain.
“I saw this house when I turned the corner. I crawled through a hole in the fence, scurried up the old oak, and into that tree house. My heart beat so loudly I thought they would hear it and find me.”
“I ended up walking home alone. At the corner, this group of white boys started calling me names. When I ignored them they began to chase me.”
Josephine remembered staying in that tree house until afternoon turned into dusk.
“I heard a noise on the ladder leading to the tree house. I slid into the corner. When the door swung open, a man appeared. He said his name was James Hadley, the new minister at the Methodist church. He reached out to me, but I was scared. He was a minister but also a white man.”
“What did you do, Mom?”
“I did nothing. He climbed into the tree house and sat next to me. He said that if I wouldn’t come out, he’d just have to come in. He asked me why I was hiding and I told him.”
Josephine remembered their conversation:
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Jo…Jo…Josephine. Are you going to hurt me?”
“No Josephine, I want to help you.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do and it’s what Jesus would do. You do know about Jesus?”
“I know about him, but why would he care about me?”
“You are his child Josephine and he loves you.”
“If he loves me, why do people who look like you dislike people who look like me?”
“There is evil in this world Josephine and we must all do our best to fight it like Jesus did.”
“What did he do?” Josephine asked.
“He died on a tree to save us all.”
Josephine wiped a tear from her cheek. “Let me tell you how God works children. My brother, your uncle and great uncle, had been lynched in Shantytown the year before. Our parents weren’t home when the mob came through burning and shouting. He went out so they wouldn’t find me. I could never look at a tree after that or pray to God, but there I was—saved by a tree house.”
“But Mom, you are active in saving the environment and you’ve always shown love to everyone regardless of their race.”
“Mr. Hadley told me that my brother gave up his life for me that night because he must have understood the sacrifice of our Savior on a tree long ago. We prayed in that tree house—for my brother, my soul, and people everywhere who hated because of skin color.”
“Where is he now?”
“He died about five years ago from cancer. I and his children were with him when he passed on. Because of him, they became active in the fight for better race relations. So you see we all must do our part to extinguish the evil in this world by spreading the gospel of the Jesus tree—the cross of Christ. I can love others today because Mr. Hadley shared its wisdom.”
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