“Preacher, when’re you gonna listen without telling the sun he shines too bright? When are you gonna listen, boy? You can talk from here to Palm Sunday until someone asks ya for the truth. Then you become mute like a reverse miracle. Shut up, sometimes, will ya? Can’t hear a tornado moan without seeing the end of days. Preacher, you better not part your lips while I’m talkin’ to ya, now. Sit back and listen. I’ma tell you why you was born Preacher Adams. I’ma tell you so you can finally hear the wind rustling the leaves around you. I’ma tell you so you stop and think for once. Stop and collect YOURSELF. Not ten percent of the world around you. I’ma tell you why your Grandma Adams named you Preacher.
“Listen now, when Grandma Adams was first born her mama named her Psalm McEvers. Remember why she named her Psalm? I told you once before…you don’t do ya? That’s cuz you were too busy talking about rainbows being figments of the human imagination just because we don’t see them all the time, or something outlandish like that. I remember, you said something about ‘human beings needing to see beauty to combat all the ugly we imagine inside ourselves. So we make up rainbows to keep living,’ you said.
“That’s why you didn’t hear me tell you about the origins of Grandma Adams’ name. That’s why I have you sitting here shutmouthed and still. And if I see that view-from-the-mountain look you get when you ain’t listening, I’ma throw one of these peeled potatoes at your forehead. If ya think I’m playing you just try me.
“Now, Grandma Adams’ mama just loved dressing up on Sundays for Palm Sunday. Ever since she was a little girl. She’d almost wet herself as she dreamed about the uniformity of all the different people coming together; singing songs and running through the pews as if they just heard tell of a homeless man walking ’round in a 3 piece suit. So she named your Grandma, ‘Psalm’, after her favorite book in the Good Book. Everybody thinks she mispelled “palm”. But no, she just wanted to remember how on those Sundays, in her finest clothes, the world made a little sense. The world looked the way it should to her. Remember that church always wore white on Palm Sunday. Even the preachers. And for some reason, bless her heart, she always thought she was dark skinned–”
“Well, I heard she thought she was black– Oops! I’m sorry, PaPa. I didn’t mean to say nothin’.
PaPa chuckles. “I know you just couldn’t help yourself. And you’re right. She thought she, and everyone around her, was black as Stacy Adams. Though, most of the people in our family and at her church were brown skinned on up to white. Hmm…always thought it was odd that there weren’t many dark skinned folks at that church. Anyways. See, you got me talkin’ instead of saying what you need to hear. Mind it this time or you gonna have wet potato peels on your head.”
Preacher laughs. “Yessir.”
“Grandma Adams’ mama always made me scratch my beard about one peculiar thing or another. But she loved seeing that black and white. Especially on this one preacher the pastor always let give the benediction, but poor brother never did have a sermon. He was the only dark skinned man there. She saw him and everybody else in all that white. She thought she was as black as that preacher who never preached. But she wasn’t. I don’t know if something was the matter with her vision…
“Then the McEvers moved near to Eden, North Carolina. I can never remember the name of the actual town…hmmm.
“Anyhow, Grandma Adams’ mama never saw all that white again on Palm Sunday. The new church just dressed in whatever fashion made them content. But she remembered all that white on her skin. She remembered all that white on that preacher on those special Sundays. She remembered the joy she felt when everything looked the way she could understand. So she named her daughter ‘Psalm’. You remember now, Preacher?”
“I sure do. She didn’t misspell her daughter’s name. She meant to name her Psalm, so she could remember the Sundays when the world was small enough to hold in her palms.”
“That’s right. So words do go in and not just out, huh? Now, you got to really listen, Preacher. See, when your daddy told Grandma Adams he got somebody pregnant she told him to “Treat that woman like he meant to get her with child.” Your daddy listened. You don’t seem to have taken after him that way. At least not yet. Though you can be taught, I see. That’s good.
“Your daddy treated your mama so good she let him name you. Unheard of ‘mongst most peole, I reckon…
“Well, on the day you was born, Grandma Adams’ randomly called your daddy and told him your mama was gonna have you a little earlier than expected. He laughed. Woo, your daddy laughed! At first. Then he remembered he was talkin’ to Psalm, Grandma Adams, and he drove all the way to your mama’s house and woke up her whole family. Heh hehheh heh! Booooy, they looked at him like he had swallowed an egg without breaking the shell! But then, your mama started having birthing pains. They scrambled to that hospital, then. Sho did. Your mama was so grateful. She had a name all picked out but she told your daddy that he could name you. Her parents almost needed a doctor themselves but they recovered well. Once they thought about it…
“Your daddy was so flustered. Lawd have mercy! He just blurted out something. And he said “Preacher!” Your mama never batted an eye. She said, “Then his name is Preacher. Preacher McEvers-Adams.”
“Your mama’s parents, your other grandparents, they were so mad. Before they stormed out, they asked him why that name of all names. And, listen now, he said, “Because Grandma Adams knew my son was gonna be born as black as the preacher my great grandmama saw on Palm Sundays. She knew he was gonna be a reason to see rainbows. Even if they are shades of imaginary black skin and white cloth. She told me all this the other day. Before she called me to get your daughter to the hospital. And then I see him, my son. And he’s just as black as the man my mama fell in love with as a child. Before she moved near Eden somewhere. That preacher looked the way she saw herself. Though she was the same complexion as me. And my Grandma Adams never knew her mama. She just knew her mama named her after the world being small enough to hold in her palm on the few days life made sense in her world of black and white. So I named him Preacher because if it weren’t for my grandma telling me to treat your daughter like I intended to get her pregnant, I would have treated her like I treated all the other women I had sex with. Then I wouldn’t love your daughter. I wouldn’t be able to name my son.”
“Preacher, them white folks ran out of that hospital room as if they’d screamed “nigger” at a Black Panther protest. And I still don’t quite understand what made them leave so ruffled. Your daddy, remember they used to call him Snake, just told the truth. Snake just told the truth. And that’s why you don’t see your other grandparents. They moved far away from Eden as they could. Moved way out of North Carolina running from the truth: Snake never intended to impregnate their daughter, your mama. And they saw their baby girl so taken with Snake that she let him name her child, their grandchild, ‘Preacher’. And your daddy never intended to get her pregnant. But he treated her like he did and she fell in love with him. Yeah, boy, your mama, Biddy-Ann…she loved your daddy. And if it won’t for Grandma Adams he would have lived up to his forbidden name. Grandma told him not to be a snake. She told him to be a man.”
“I get it PaPa. And that’s how Grandma Adams named me Preacher Adams. Cuz I’m the rainbow she imagined her mother saw when she fell in love as a child.”
“That’s right. And, like your daddy, Grandma Adams don’t want you to live up to your name. She wants you to shine through it. She wants you to imagine rainbows, Preacher. But she also wants you to speak the truth.”
“Yessir. Grandma wants me to be like my daddy. She wants me to act against my name. She don’t want me to be like a preacher, always talking and making sense, but never listening. Never truly standing shutmouthed before God because they proud. They gloat in being chosen. In answering “the call”. In being given a name, like “preacher”, and living up to the name. Instead of being silent. Changing the world for little girls who can see love in black skin. Even in a congregation of white. Great great Grandma McEvers never knew that preacher’s name. But seeing him gave her so much joy. Causing her to see black, PaPa, when she didn’t have to. Ma McEvers wasn’t crazy. She didn’t have bad sight. She saw black and white and both colors worked together to make her world make sense. You’re saying I shouldn’t be ashamed of my name, PaPa. I should be like my father. I should listen. Especially to the people who love me enough to tell me the story of how I got my name.”
“You sho is sharp, boy. Just like your Grandma Adams…”