Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Christmas Story, Chapter 5, James Briscoe
The following is Chapter 5 of A Christmas Story by Mike Furches. You can see the preceding prologue and Chapters in the archives or links section of this page. This story is copyrighted by Mike Furches and intent to publish in book form in 2015. This is the variation prior to final edit prior to publication.

By Mike Furches
2 Years Earlier
James loved fried chicken, while KFC was his favorite it was rare that he got to eat it because of its cost. When the family wanted chicken or he had enough money to buy something for his brothers and sister, it was usually Church's Chicken. It was pretty good and a lot cheaper than KFC. Despite the rarity of eating KFC, here he was, standing in line on a Wednesday night to order 4 KFC Chicken Fried Steak specials and to get an 8 piece bucket. With the coupon he had he could get everything for less than a $20 bill.  
This was a typical night, his mother Jeanette had not been home for a week. She had issues with drugs, crack and meth especially and for all practical purposes, she was seldom at home and when she was at home there were more problems than not. James knew he was responsible for raising his brothers and sister. He never knew who his father was and it was likely that each of his siblings had a different father. His mother Jeanette at one time had been a very attractive woman. She was tall with milk chocolate colored skin. She was in good shape, not from exercise unless you counted walking the streets exercise but it was from her natural genetics. That made it easier for her to turn tricks as a prostitute so she could buy her drugs. Since James had turned 12, (he was 14 now) her appearance had gone down hill. Her hair was thinning and her teeth had deteriorated. As a result, she didn't smile as much and her income from prostitution had gone down drastically which meant she had to do even more dehumanizing things.
James had two younger brothers, Charlie, was 10 and of average build for his age. Buddy had just turned 9 and was a little heavy for his age, he wasn't fat per say, but he clearly wasn't an athlete by definition or appearance. While the other boys took joy in playing outside, Buddy was content to play video games. Then there was James sister Barb, an unexpected come along who had recently turned 5. James was pretty certain that Barb's birth father was a white man because of the her abnormally light skin. She looked more like a Mexican or Italian than she did black and outside of the summer months, she looked more Caucasian. This didn't matter to the boys, despite some of the strange looks they got at times. James had been questioned as to why the boys were hanging around this white girl when going to a restaurant or play ground with his siblings. His friends in Turley and his distant family later realized and understood that despite the actions of his mother, James had done a good job with his brothers and sister.
There were times in the past when his grandparents were there to help raise the children. They died in a car accident shortly after Barb was born but they had already instilled the values on the importance of family to James.
James' grandparents took James and the other children to church when they were younger and prior to their death. It was clear to James that church was important to his grandparents but he had experienced and felt a sense of hypocrisy regarding the church after the were killed on their way back from visiting family in Dallas. James couldn't forget the looks and stares of the church members when they brought food and so called well wishes to the house after the funeral. They would stare at his mother, knowing what she did and James still recalled the whispers. He had heard of how the church was to love, he even saw that example in his grandparents but it didn't take long before he realized after his grandparents death, that the church and the people in the it would conveniently disappear from the life of the Briscoe's when they needed them the most. It was when James needed the help from the church the most that he was judged by many of those in the church or, as he later said, he was judged for the actions of his mother. It was so easy to look down on someone while at the same time ignoring the needs of the innocents, especially, the children.
Many of those around James thought his mother was taking care of the children but shortly after the death of his grandparent his mother became more absent from the home, leaving James at a very young age to care for his siblings. James had tried to make friends in the community with those who were decent kids, staying out of trouble but most of them due to the needs of he and his brothers and sister stayed away. It was the friends who were used to taking advantage of others due to their own needs that James started hanging around. They would come to the house which was small and dingy to camp out and escape their own home situations. At least James had access to his moms food stamps and kept food in the house. The family also had state assistance due to the 4 children all of which were minors. James had learned to balance what they had, making sure that not only would there be a couch for his friends to sleep on, there would be something in the fridge to eat. In all of this though, James still took the time to look after his brothers and sister.
It was almost a year later when James started to be influenced to some extent by his friends. He had resorted to shoplifting a few times to make up for things the family needed. As his friends spent more time at his house, eating the food, drinking the milk, using the laundry services, and so forth, there was less for his brothers and sister. James supplemented the needs of his family and his friends had shown him how easy that was to do. After awhile, James confidence grew to the point that he had moved from shoplifting to doing simple breaking and entering robberies to get items that he could sell at local pawn shops or on craigslist to get extra money. He took on this aspect of theft especially during birthdays and Christmas. He seldom used the money from selling the items for anything he wanted outside of an occasional CD but  he didn't want Charlie, Buddy or Barb to go without due to the actions of their mother. The church and family that were so quick to judge had ways they could help, if nothing else by putting them in touch with the local Salvation Army and other groups, but James was convinced that those individuals and church had better things to do for them. He would think they didn't have time for families like his.
James had been recruited by some of the gangs in the area but he was smart enough to stay away from them. He had good friends who were a part of the gangs but as much as they offered a since of family to him, he knew he had flesh and blood family to care for, even if they were his half brothers and sister. While James saw a since of family among his friends in the gangs, he also saw an opportunity for prison and in some cases, death.
James had an issue with drugs, he had seen first hand what they had done to his mother Jeanette. He had tried to smoke but didn't like it and never got into drinking alcohol. He stayed as far away from those aspects of life as he could. He didn't want to sell drugs and he certainly didn't want to use them. For all practical purposes, James was a good kid in a bad environment. He was doing the best he could considering the circumstances he lived in. Of course he also knew those looking in made lots of assumptions, assumptions largely not true based not just on his condition, but his race.
James had seen racism all around him. There were churches that were primarily black or primarily white. North of the Greenwood District in Tulsa was still segregated. Most of the blacks lived up through Greenwood and Turley and most of the whites to the South, into Broken Arrow. There were small communities that were predominantly Caucasian that had been established around the ranching cowboy days in the area, communities like Owasso and Collinsville but as close as they were in proximity, they were a world apart in an understanding of each others culture.
James had seen the church culture around Northeast Oklahoma and Tulsa in particular. Tulsa was after all known as the "Charismania Capital of the World" with Oral Roberts University, Rhema Bible Institute and the teachings of churches like Higher Dimensions and The Christian Victory Center. These churches seemed to be integrated but were filled with people believing in the concepts of being healthy and wealthy. James knew some folks who went to these churches and while they had great programs, they were always soliciting money and seldom if ever actually doing ministry in the areas they reached out to, especially the areas predominantly black. It was convenient and easy to send busses to pick people up but they had never taken the time to get to know the needs of the communities. They didn't know or understand why people became upset when their streets always seemed to be the last to be fixed or when there was a snow or ice storm, why, once again, their community was the last to be served.
There were some predominantly black churches that had done some good things to help their communities, they were rare and James had never been invited to them or knew anyone at those churches, he was too busy caring for his brothers and sister and trying to make it on his own. As a result of his extra curricular activities in life, James was able to go to school at Booker T. Washington but he wasn't doing well as he could have. He didn't time to go to the study groups and other activities at school which would have helped him. While there was help available to meet his needs, he was justifiably afraid. He knew that if he and his family were found out then Family Services would break up the family and they would be separated. James figured it was best to just endure and get by. While he had the potential to do better than just get by, he had little knowledge and no one to help him get to that place or to keep his family together if he did get the help.
As life for James moved on he became more callused at the situations surrounding his on life. The only thing he was sold out to was his brothers and sister. He would do all he could to provide for them and give them as good a life as humanly possible. For others around him whether it be various adult influences that included family, the church and later on, his friends whom he had seen take advantage of him, James became more callused and was going through life giving the appearance to most, that he just didn't care, of course, that was during the public times when others saw him, privately, it was clear, James cared for his family and wanted more for them. He was like many others in his community though, a child raising children. There was a time when parents took care of their children, that moved to a time when grandparents would take care of them. The time was coming, and for many, already here when children were the ones caring for other children, unfortunately for many, losing the opportunity to experience childhood for themselves. James fit into the later category.
This was all two years earlier, while missing out on much of his childhood, he had done the best he could at being a provider, mother, and father for his brothers and sister. On this day,  James lay on his cot at the Juvenile Detention Center thinking about Charlie, Buddy and Barb. He wondered, what would happen as he awaited the trial for the crimes he had just been arrested for.

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