God Don't Like Ugly


To this day I don’t know exactly where Mr. Boatwright came from. He slid into my life one dark miserable day in October 1956, when I was six years old. I arrived home from school and there he was, decked out in a fleecy white suit and a lopsided fedora. He was grinning all over the place as he removed his musty things from a large military bag and placed them on our already cluttered living-room floor. His pointed-toed shoes lined up in our hallway looked like a row of little missiles.

“Who are you?” I asked, eyeing him suspiciously.

He looked about a hundred years old. I stayed close to the door and kept my hand on the doorknob, ready to run if I had to. First, he looked me up and down, bobbing his head like a rooster. A lot of people did that the first time they saw me. I was probably the only first grader in Ohio who weighed almost as much as an adult. Suddenly, and for a brief moment, I suspected and hoped that he was the grandfather I had never met. He was a heavyset man with copper-colored skin and sparkling brown eyes that looked out of place on his wide, flat, heavily lined face. His lips were thin for a Black man. I looked around for Mama. She appeared within seconds with a smile on her face that stretched from one side to the other. She stopped in the middle of the floor and started wiping her flour-covered hands on her crisp white apron. Standing close to the man, I could see that he was not much taller than Mama and she was only five-foot-two.

“Annette, this here is Brother Boatwright. He fixin’ to move in with us,” Mama informed me.

Stunned, I looked from her to him then back to her. “Is this my granddaddy?” I asked. My heart was beating about a mile a minute.

“No.” Mama chuckled. “You ain’t got no grandfolks no more. Brother Boatwright is just another brother in need of a place to live.”

“He’s just a strange man?” I gasped, disappointed. I was the only kid I knew who didn’t have grandparents to visit and expect gifts and money from. I tightened my grip on the doorknob.

“No, he ain’t no strange man!” I could tell that Mama was getting frustrated with me by the way she narrowed her eyes and jerked her head from side to side when she talked. “Him and Reverend Snipes go waaaaaay back,” she told me, waving her hand dramatically. I did not want some strange old man, especially one that might start bossing me around, invading the space I shared with Mama.

“Oh,” I mumbled. I let go of the doorknob and moved closer to Mama. “Is he going to sleep with you like a husband, Mama?” I asked anxiously. I had been praying for Mama to get married again and have a baby sister or brother for me to boss around. I rolled my eyes at the man. The mean look I gave him upset him, and I was glad. A puppy-dog expression replaced his annoying grin, but I didn’t care.

“Don’t you never disrespect Brother Boatwright like that again, Bride of Satan,” Mama hissed. There was a look of embarrassment on her face as she pulled me into a corner. “Sleep with me? Brother Boatwright is a man of God.” Mama turned to the old man with another smile, and continued, “Brother Boatwright, you arrived right on time. I know you know your Bible. You see the mess I got on my hands? This young’n is