FIRST PERSON | Ronald Hobbs
Aunt Beebee — Bertha — and I were no kin at all. She was “that nice old colored woman” who worked at the Donut Hole. Her niece, Bettye, called her Aunt Beebee. It caught on with us regulars. The joint must have served 500 cups of joe a day and a couple of thousand donuts. But for all of the in-and-outers, only a few of us knew her secret name.
Bettye was 300 pounds of a scorching-tongued negress who worked graveyard. There was no need for a bouncer at the Donut Hole on her shift. Besides, in the back room the bakers, Buck and Chuck, packed some serious heat.
We came bleary-eyed and loud after the clubs closed. It was sugar time. Sugar and caffeine not so discreetly spiked with Korbel brandy. Bettye fussed over us like we were her own children, as if we were the little crosses, cable cars and bridges on her charm bracelet.
Aunt Beebee came on at 6, and after her soon followed the morning people. The newspaper readers and the cigarette smokers and the shift-changers throughout the city. Aunt Beebee wasn’t a small woman either, but she was a willow next to Bettye. I’ve seen love before; I’ve seen deception and bloody skulls on sidewalks — but I never saw a love like this one between the two of them. They even fussed at each other with love.
“Where’s the napkins at, bitch?”
“Find ’em your own fuckin’ self, I’m outta here, old lady!”
“Who you calling old lady, Miss Fat Ass! You coming for Earl’s gumbo tonight?”
“I made a sweet potato pie. What time?”
On one of those long weekend holidays, it was about 4 in the afternoon, there was nobody but me and Aunt Beebee in the Donut Hole. She brought over an apple fritter, broke it in half and we sat there together twisting off nibbles and licking the sugar off our fingers.
“Know what I believe?” Beebee more said than asked. “I b’leeve like the Jehovah Witness people, you got to call God by his right name or he can’t hear a word you’re saying. I’ve tried. I even sent a $5 seed of faith to Reverend Ike. It’s been two weeks now and I ain’t seen a god damned nickel.”
Outside, old Mr. Jessee had just put his ’62 Impala in park and turned off the key. The old junker chug-a-chugged until it died. Now we were three people picking at an apple fritter and licking our fingers.
“Mr. Jessee,” I asked, “if the Lord needed $20 would you give it him?”
“Hell’s bells, if the Lord needed 20 I’d give him 40, no questions asked.”
“He needs it, Mr. Jessee. Put the money in my hand and He will show you not one, but three miracles, three blessings in real time. Someone has planted a seed of faith and you have been chosen to raise that seed up and bring it to blossom!”
Mr. Jessee suffered over that. He squinched up his eyes and made a funny mouth. He scratched his nappy hair. He wiped the crumbs of sugar on his pants. Then he reached into his pocket and gave me $40. I wadded the bills up into a little ball and held it to Aunt Beebee’s open hand. “Jehovah God!” she shouted, “Thank you, Jesus! Hallelujah!”
Mr. Jessee shook his head. “You never know. You just never know how you might be a part of the mysterious workin’s of the Lord.”