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Dump Boy Dump Boy
    by Philip Gulley

    When I was nine, my parents bought a house on the south edge of town on the road to the landfill. A family’s station in life could be measured by its proximity to the dump. We were solid middle class and therefore lived beyond most of the dump’s stench. Two or three days a month we could smell it, just enough to remind us that we were rich enough to avoid the smell most of the time but not wealthy enough to escape it altogether.

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    Down the road from us, dumpward, lived an old woman and two children. No man. Just that woman and those two kids in a dirty white house down a long, gravel thread of a lane. Where house ended and dump began was barely discernible.

    The boy would walk up the road to play with us. When children play, a natural pecking order evolves — an overdog and an underdog. He was the underdog, and we overdogs pointed our barbed arrows of meanness his way. He responded as a cornered dog would, with snarls and bites and lunges, which served to confirm our judgment of him — wild kid, out of control, dump boy.

    When things heated up, powerful and potent weapons were unsheathed: “You better leave me alone, or my dad will get you!” This was a weapon he seemed unable to counter. No elevated retort, no “Oh, yeah? Well I’ll get my dad, and he’ll beat up your dad!” Just silence, a turning away, and a walking dumpward.

    I don’t remember now how the knowledge came to us, but come to us it did — that his father and mother had been killed and the old woman in the dirty white house was his grandma. I do remember that it had no effect on us; the meanness continued. Despite popular thinking, gentleness is not something we are born with; it is something we are taught, and we had not yet learned it.

Gentleness is not something we are born with.
    The lesson came during a basketball game when an elbow was thrown and dump boy charged my brother... fists flying, rage brimming, right at my brother, who lifted not a hand to defend himself. My brother, who just the week before had chased dump boy back home and hurled rocks, now stood stone-still while dump boy battered him. It was an unleashing of fury such as I had never seen, dump boy lashing out at every pain that had ever come his way: the midnight visit of a sheriff’s chaplain who explained that Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t be coming home, the taunts of children who punished him for his grandma’s house, the arrows of meanness which pierce the air and then the soul. Fury raining down. “Hit him, hit him!” we yelled at my brother. But he raised not a hand, and after a time dump boy tired of the easy kill and went home. We assailed my brother with questions, demanding an explanation for his timidity in battle. He mumbled something about not being able to hit a boy who had lost his parents, that he’d been hit enough as it was.

    I did not understand then. And still I struggle with its meaning — how gentleness is never real until fury is aimed our way, how I can be gentle with my infant son but think ill of the eight-item man in the seven-item line at the grocery store. Such little acts turn our hearts from gentleness.

    Jesus knew this, knew it not only in his head, but in his heart — that gentleness, of all the fruits, is the hardest to cultivate. How strong our tendency to return the blow, to hurl the rock, to call the name. Until our hearts are likewise broken. Why is it that gentleness must necessarily spring from rocky soil, from hardship, from ground sowed with tears?

    One day, I prayed to the Lord to teach me gentleness and sat about, waiting for good to happen. Instead, God showed me sorrow, and thus began my education.

    Dump boy moved away the next year. I haven’t seen him since. Don’t even know if he’s alive. I hope his life is sweet, that he married well, that tiny children crowd his lap and call him sweeter names than we did.

From the book Home Town Tales: Recollections of Peace, Love, and Joy by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., used by permission. Also available on audio cassette!

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About the Author...
Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor who ministers in Indianapolis. He is married and has two preschool sons. In addition to pastoring and writing, Gulley enjoys spending Sunday afternoons in his hometown.

Title: "Dump Boy"
Author: Philip Gulley
Publication Date: June 15, 2000



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From the book Home Town Tales: Recollections of Peace, Love, and Joy, by Philip Gulley. © 1999 by Multnomah Pub., Used by permission.
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