When I was a little boy in the 1950s, I lived with my grandparents, Miz Lena and Adrian, on their farm in Middle Tennessee.
To my way of thinking, heaven gives an extra helping of good life to people in the country. God recognizes their hard work and laborious dedication to the land he created. The subtlety of the Almighty's reciprocal gifts can only be fully appreciated if one just takes the time and knows what to look for.
Miz Lena's housekeeper, Elizabeth, was the first to point that out to me. She was a plump black lady with an ever-present, understanding smile and smooth hands. Back in those days, a black lady worked very hard, made very little money and could only hope that her children would have a better life than she.
When your life is about making it from paycheck to paycheck, you give thanks for anything extra. Elizabeth was one of those people. She spent time to explain to me what was important and what to look for. She called them "Da Lord's hidden treasures."
She and I would sit out back on the picnic table just a few steps from the screen porch of the "big house." The table had been bought new. It started out redwood-colored. Over the years, it faded to a smooth grapevine gray and parch-ironed by the sun.
Elizabeth would be snapping green beans or peeling potatoes and answer, as best she could, my multitude of questions. Elizabeth, with her head down and into her work, raised her hand with her pointing finger toward the sky and responded to one question at a time.
When she held her hand up, that was the time for me to listen. Her outlook on life was always poetically interesting. Somehow, God was in all her answers.
I remember asking her what was her favorite color. She was particularly fond of bright colors. Her favorite was pink. Bright pink. However, she was quick to point out that the Lord had given us a palette of colors, all of which were meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
Elizabeth stopped what she was doing and looked across at me, smiled real big and asked me what my favorite color was. I told her green. It still is.
She said, "Well, Sweet Child, you is truly a lucky little boy. Da Lord have give you a whole world of greens. Dat's God's favorite color, too. Da' green you sees out there coverin' da' fields. Da tops of all da' trees. Sometime, he make it green and den it turn to red or yellow. Like yo' grand mama's roses or when it git cold and da' trees turn. And he give you yo' green eyes just like yo' mama's. Da' Lord sho' do love you. You sho' is a lucky little boy."
I loved her heart. Elizabeth made me feel good to be me.
She told me about blue waters and the yellow sun — the two most important components and colors of life. She said, "Mix 'em together, and you is right back at green! When you has faith and think like dis' here, Child, it easier fo' yuh to finds da' Lord's hidden treasures. God have thought of everything."
I can't say that I completely grasped her meaning, but it did make me think about how closely associated things of true importance are. I still think that way. It could be that there is a third dimension that materializes if we just keep our eyes peeled. Elizabeth seemed to have cracked the barrier. She saw the world through much different eyes than most.
It was probably due to her eternal faith in God and her big heart. Elizabeth, like most black people back then, felt that the Lord had a special reward waiting for her in heaven in return for the suffering she endured. It wasn't easy for a black woman in the South in the '50s.
I was trying to figure out how long it would take me to count a million dollars. I asked Elizabeth.
Way back, there was a TV show called "The Millionaire." The concept of the show was that a rich old guy, who you never saw on screen, would select somebody he'd read about in the paper who looked like they could use some help. The old man's valet, Mike, would deliver a million bucks to that person, and the show would begin.
Frankly, most of the recipients didn't fare well. Seemed like the money, nine times out of 10, caused them more trouble than what it was worth. They either blew it, or somebody cheated them out of it. Looking back, I now realize the show was meant to remind us all that money doesn't buy happiness. That's when broadcasters were much more responsible to their audience.
As a kid, however, I walked away thinking about how many bicycles and swimming pools with high diving boards I could buy with a cool million. Or a house with an indoor pool in the living room. And, best of all, I figured I probably wouldn't have to go to school anymore.
Every once in a while, someone would knock on the front door and I'd make a mad dash to answer it, thinking maybe, just maybe, Mike, in a suit and tie, would be standing there with a check in his hand. He'd say, "Hello, I'm looking for Mr. Butch Stamps." Opening the door and seeing the little fellow from the dry cleaners was disappointing.
Elizabeth asked me why I wanted to know about counting to a million. I told her I planned on becoming a millionaire. I imagined having a vault like Donald Duck's rich uncle. I saw myself jumping around and throwing money in the air. I'd be rich!
Elizabeth cracked up laughing. Then she held up her hand. She said, "Sweet Child, don't nobody need all dat money. Da Lord have made us all rich. Can't nobody buy da air dat dey breathe. It be another one of da' Lord's hidden treasures. When it come to yo' end of life, you be willin' to give up all dat money fo' you to be able to breathe some mo' fresh air. Da' Lord have thought of everything." That one has stayed with me.
The best she had to offer was what I got anytime I asked her a question. Every time that I thought I'd discovered another of God's hidden jewels, I'd run back in the house and tell her. Like water or flowers or a baby rabbit I'd found out in the bushes. She'd smile and remind me that those were treasures unhidden and for everyone to enjoy.
Through the years, Elizabeth and I discussed all sorts of treasures that God had hidden from plain sight, ones that those with faith had a better chance of seeing. Our last discussion pertaining to the Lord's hidden treasures was when I was in my early 20s and just out of the Marine Corps and had moved back to Tennessee.
She and I were catching up. We laughed and cried. She was getting old. I reminded her of what she had told me and how it had stuck with me. I told her how much she had meant to me when I was a child. I could tell it touched her heart. Her eyes filled up.
She patted my hand and told me, "Sweet Child, da' Lord have put some of his hidden treasures inside yo' self. You look inside and finds 'em. The sooner you finds 'em, the sooner you is gonna be happy. And den you finds out how much da Lord care about you. Like I say, da' Lord have thought of everything."
Sometimes, without her realizing it, Elizabeth was downright profound.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tennessee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.