I started ninth grade in a small high school about 125 miles away from Davie County.
In the middle of the tenth grade, our new consolidated high school was ready for occupancy, so we were thrust into a much bigger building with more students and with former rivals in sports. These two towns had previously been at odds with each other, but the new school seemed to make this situation much calmer.
We had more opportunities, with science labs, an auditorium, a bigger marching band, and a chorus. I really enjoyed the chorus and the director, a man with a kind heart and a great appreciation for music.
This was back in the days when you could sing religious music at a public school, and one of the songs he chose was “There is a Balm in Gilead.” He told us the background of the song and why this is a special spiritual. He explained that it was a “Negro spiritual.” This was before integration, so it was an important lesson for us to learn about sharing music and learning about other cultures.
He said that he wanted a girl to sing the verses and that the rest of us would sing the chorus. The girl he chose was Wilma. We couldn’t believe our ears. She could barely talk above a whisper, she was very shy because she had a crippled hand and an awkward way of walking, and she would embarrass us all by not giving a splendid performance.
But sing, she did, in her little high-pitched voice. We decided that it was OK. But we wondered why he had not chosen someone who could sing better.
Luckily, I have mellowed since then, and I realize what a terrific decision this teacher made. This was probably the only moment of glory this girl had in her entire life, and perhaps helped her to feel better about herself. This time period was especially callous in cruelty jokes. Thank goodness, that is a thing of the past.
If anybody ever needed a balm, Wilma did. Hopefully, this balm of Gilead strengthened her, and I eventually realized that everybody needs a chance to bloom.
CLICK HERE for other stories and poems by Marie Craig.