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Green Wheat Fields (1890), an oil-on-canvas rendering by the Dutch Vincent Van Gogh has inspired me, this month’s offering from my kitchen calendar; it is one of many wheat fields that Van Gogh painted during his short life, the later ones reflecting his revolutionary use of color, brushstrokes loaded with thick pigments, and the dynamic in-breaking of life into the ordinary. The viewer cannot not be involved.

Van Gogh’s lifelong obsession was to use his painting as a vehicle to unite the world of sense data, his spirituality, and his evolving art. To approach this monumental task, he relied upon the direction he received from his unconscious. So fierce was his output that people viewed him as mad. Abysmal self-care practices, depression, and drinking eventually led to psychiatric placements at St. Remy and at Auberge Ravoux where he continued painting through his open window.

But why paint numerous wheat fields, in all conditions—a whole series of them? you may ask, even two months before his death from the effects of an unsuccessful self-inflicted gunshot wound?

Life-long studies of scripture had opened Van Gogh to its psychic feeding. Through them, he grasped the metaphor of wheat as representing humanity’s cycles of life and death: a celebration of life and its diminishment, an example found in Jesus’s parable of The Sower (Mark 4:3-8).

I imagine Van Gogh muttering, “The next painting must work. I’m getting close.” But it never happened. Too painful to paint the critical canvas with its inspiring legacy for humanity, he chose to look elsewhere, in death. However, his legacy lives after him, even on kitchen calendars around the world.

“That will be nine dollars and twenty-six cents with tax,” the saleslady said as she huddled in her sweater, its nappy edges covering her chapped knuckles. On the counter between us lay the coveted gray faux leather wallet, with plastic sleeves for pictures and a brass key chain on its side. Classmates in my new school had similar wallets; owning one would draw their friendship, so I had hoped.

Suddenly, my face blanched, my knees buckled. In my mittened hand, I clutched nine dollars and my ten-cent carfare home. I did not know about the tax. On a previous trip downtown, I’d noticed the wallet displayed in the store window of Three Sisters, checked its price, stole nine dollars from the pouch Dad had left for Mother’s household expenses, and planned my return to the store.

The saleslady caught my disappointment and thanked me for returning the wallet to the display shelf with the others. Still dismayed, I elbowed my way through other customers; their noise was deafening as I set down the wallet. But I could not leave. I had come so far and sorely needed my classmates’ attention on Monday when I climbed aboard the school bus. That was the way it was supposed to work.

It happened so fast: flash-flames scorched my body as I slipped the coveted wallet under my arm, buttoned my coat, and threaded my way to the door. I knew I was stealing, but it didn’t matter.

The following Monday morning, seated on the bus, I purposely placed the wallet on top of my books, but no one noticed.

Perhaps eleven years old at the time, I learned how easy it was steal, of little matter the guilt and shame. That I had sinned flew in the face of assuaging my emotional pain.

With this story, I plan to blog more on the topic, sin, so unpopular, in common parlance, yet so divisive of wholeness.

Greed has horrific expressions but none so despicable as found in the novel Before We Were Yours (2017) written by Lisa Wingate, based upon an actual child trafficking case that continued, undetected, for three decades, until its exposé in 1950.  

The abuse took place at one of the boarding homes of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, Tennessee; its director, Georgia Tann. Widely touted as the Mother of orphans and unwanted children—even drawing the notice of Eleanor Roosevelt—she was far from that—cunning, manipulative, and money-hungry. Her accomplices were ever on the lookout for stray, unwanted children; lovely ones were ripe for adoption with lucrative fees.

The story stood by itself until the author fleshed it out with Depression-era river-rats snatched from a houseboat moored at Mud Island near the Mississippi River. Only after having been subdued and driven to Memphis were the Foss kids locked inside the sprawling white-columned home, in great disrepair, and forced to comply with the mean-spirited staff, including the sexually abusive janitor, and stinking accommodations. 

Suspense glistens on every page of this novel, Before We Were Yours. Seasonal changes, so integral to the plot, waft authentic colors, smells, and sounds into the southern panorama. Silence has never been more silent, nor sinister. Only an intrepid heart can follow the abrupt emotional and physical changes as the Fosses work out their destiny; their cat-and mouse stratagems with their jailers left me breathless.

Never having been involved with a child-victim of trafficking, I was deeply moved by Lisa Wingate’s brilliant handling of this material. Before We Were Yours is a must read.

Available on Amazon

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