I’ve recently begun listening to country music and there is one song, “Voices” by Chris Young, that always makes me appreciate the positive impact so many folks from North Baltimore made on my life.
“You could say I’m a little bit crazy
You could call me insane
Walkin’ ’round with all these whispers
Runnin’ ’round here in my brain
I just can’t help but hear ’em
Man, I can’t avoid it
I hear voices
I hear voices like
My dad sayin’, ‘Work that job
But don’t work your life away’
And mama tellin’ me to drop some cash
In the offerin’ plate on Sunday.”
Hearing those voices, always draws me back to my carefree childhood in North Baltimore, of bike rides, and wiffleball games, and swimming at the quarry. Our childhood might not have been flashy, but we were sure surrounded by good people.
One of the loudest voices I hear came from Sunday School at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40) I heard that message so early that I can’t recall exactly whose voice it is, but I’m guessing it is a Sunday School teacher like Mabel Dick or the junior choir director, Jesse Hess. Regardless of who said it, I heard it and it remains a driving force in my life. That voice spoke to me when I made a midlife career change to work with nonprofit agencies that feed, shelter, and provide many necessities for the “least of these brothers.”
Another voice that I hear frequently is from my piano teacher, Glenna Andrews. Her voice says that you aren’t likely to get much better at any skill unless you practice. Even though I didn’t always take her advice back then, I did get the message: “Practice makes perfect.”
I learned about forgiveness from my fourth grade teacher, Emma Apple. Over the course of the year, she had confiscated several of my belongings: marbles that fell out of my desk, a squirt gun, click-clack balls, a Super ball, and maybe a few other things. I had written those prized possessions off as long gone when the bell rang on a beautiful June day to mark the end of the school year. As my classmates bolted for the door, Mrs. Apple called me aside to say, “Here, I saved these for you.” I was so happy to have my contraband back and even happier to know she wasn’t even mad that I had brought them to school.
At home, I hear the voice of March Bean, mother of my friend, Ron Bean. March’s voice speaks of hospitality. At March’s house, the door was always open and we were always welcome. We used her restroom, ate her food, and disrupted her day but she was always smiling when we were there. I especially remember when she baked chocolate chip cookies, all of the Beecher Street kids showed up and we gorged ourselves on the first batches of cookies. March just kept baking and smiling until we were all full.
Every day, I hear the voice of junior high English teacher, Jim Dennis, because much of my work is based on writing or editing. Jim’s voice says things like, “Affect is a verb; effect is a noun” or “Who is a subject; whom is an object.” It wasn’t much fun learning it, but I’m sure glad you made me do it. Thanks J.D.
Of course, the North Baltimore voices that I hear the most are those of my parents and grandparents, but their voices are louder because those important life lessons were reaffirmed by an entire village of people. If it takes a village to raise a child, I think we landed in an exceptional village.
“Sometimes I try to ignore ’em
But I thank God for ’em
‘Cause they made me who I am.” ~Chris Young