Jeremy finally speaks*
Sacred Heart Sourthern Missions/Sacred Heart League
By Julie Rattey
|Help From The Sacred Heart Southern Missions
The story of the Sacred Heart Southern Missions began in 1942 with the arrival of the first priest of the Sacred Heart in Mississippi. Over the intervening years, what started as one small parish church expanded to include nine parishes and two mission churches, a pastoral services office, eight social service offices, a thrift store, an economic alternatives ministry, several food pantries, a volunteer office, two elementary schools, a housing office, and a low-income housing neighborhood. These ministries are carried out across the nine northern counties of Mississippi, a service area of over 4,000 square miles.
The majority of SHSM services are offered at no cost, thanks in part to the Sacred Heart League — the group’s primary fund-raising organization — as well as grants and donations. To learn more about how you can help families like Jeremy’s, call 800-232-9079 or visit www.shl.org.
Rosiella released her viselike grip on the chair and found that her hands still ached. Darned arthritis. Her hands curled slightly, as though remembering in perpetuity the sturdy hold on the hoe, or the way to pluck fluffy, white cotton from the boll. Having spent all her life on a cotton plantation here in the Mississippi Delta, she could have measured out her years by her hands — how in the plump, small hands of a child the tools first felt strange and heavy, then, as she grew into a strong woman, how they felt as fitted to her palms as a pair of long-worn shoes to familiar feet. Since the plantation had been sold, and all the workers turned off the land on which they had first learned to walk, what remained now was an empty purse — she had never been paid Social Security while she worked, so there was none to receive now — along with limbs that seemed eternally trapped in the ache of exertion, and the memory of the hot breath of afternoon sun bearing down on her bent back.
Rosiella’s eyes flicked open as a board creaked in the abandoned sharecropper’s home that had become the family’s own. Standing in the doorway were Jeremy, 4, and his younger cousin Jesse. The boys’ shirts were wrinkled from napping and their faces flushed from the heat. Jeremy, who since birth had not been able to speak an intelligible word, a condition the family had been able neither to understand nor remedy, mimed reeling in a catch with a fishing rod.
“Not now, Honey,” Rosiella said. “Your mother and Aunt Martha will be back soon.” Jeremy frowned, but only for a moment. There would be time for fishing later.
“Let’s play outside,” Jesse said. Jeremy voiced a garbled assent and the boys walked out into the sunshine.
Rosiella’s eyes followed them out the door. Something had to be done about Jeremy; signs were his only means of communication. Something was definitely wrong. Rosiella wiped sweat wearily from her forehead. Maybe the girls would come back with some good news. Maybe someone at the center could help them support themselves, and then maybe something could be done to help Jeremy. Dear Lord, she prayed, your hands are much stronger than mine. Please use them to help my family.
These dispirited thoughts carried Helen all the way to the door of the office. When she stepped inside, Helen expected Sister Janice to greet her with a smile and then a sad little shake of the head, the usual indication that the fight was still ongoing. But this time, Sister Janice rushed to her side, holding up a rectangular piece of paper with both hands in flushed pleasure.
“It came today!” she said. Her voice trembled with excitement.
It only took a moment for Helen to register that the paper Sister Janice held before her was a disability check made out to Rosiella. The next moment, the two women were hugging and laughing, delirious with delight. Jeremy laughed too. Something was about to change.
It was the first morning of summer vacation, and Jeremy, now 8, and his younger cousin Jesse were fishing to their heart’s content. Rosiella sat nearby, watching the two boys with a sense of peace she hadn’t felt in years.
“Got one!” Jesse reeled in his line and displayed the gleaming fish on the end.
“Told you I would be first,” he grinned superiorly.
Jeremy, who was feeling mischievous, gave the catch an appraising look.
“Looks more like bait,” he sniffed. “Let me know when you catch a real fish.”
Jesse scowled. “You sure should be president, like you’re always talking about,” he said. “You’re sure bossy enough.”
Jeremy gave his cousin a light, good-natured shove. “You can be V.P.,” he said. “I’ll need a righthand man.”
Rosiella smiled in bemusement. “Looks like you boys have your work cut out for you.”
“Oh, Jeremy can do it,” Jesse piped up admiringly. “He’s smart. He got on the honor roll this year.”
Rosiella stared. “Are you telling me the truth, Jesse?” she said suspiciously. She knew Jeremy’s performance in school had improved dramatically since the therapist had worked wonders on what was discovered to be a speech impediment, but honor roll?
“The report card should be showing up sometime soon,” Jeremy said shyly, half turning to her from his fishing perch, “along with a letter.”
Next thing he knew, Rosiella was planting a big kiss on his cheek. “Hey!” he cried. But he was grinning.
“Come sit here, Grandma,” he said, patting the spot next to him. “Just you wait and see. We’re going to catch us a big one.” CD