Ms. Mabel

The very first person I knew, or thought I knew was “ crazy “ was Ms. Mabel. She lived in the last house on the block right before the bumpy road. She was light skinned as they would say; with good hair. Ms. Mabel always wore her hair pulled back and in a ball; held perfectly together by two thick black bobby-pins. For a woman of age she was neither fair nor pretty; she just was. Rumors about her killing the family dog and burying him in the backyard next to the mulberry bush was well known by all the neighborhood kids. She chopped his head off with a shiny new axe. Her husband, Uncle Bud, found her wandering the city streets dressed in a white slip dripping in blood. I avoided her at any cost; as a eleven year old child that was not hard to do.


The only time any of us neighborhood kids would go anywhere near Ms.Mabel was on Halloween. Her and Uncle Bud gave out the best candy than anyone else for miles. But, you would have to go inside the house to get it! That’s when I got close enough to her to look her in the eyes. Ms.Mabel’s eyes were slightly slanted and full of sadness. I suppose it was because her and Uncle Bud were childless and giving out treats were the only time you saw children inside their house. Everyone knew she was “ loony as a bird,” but you’d better never let Uncle Bud hear you say that! Besides it would be well worth it later on that night when I’m enjoying every chocolate bar known to mankind courteous of of you know who?


I share this story because none of us kids ( including me) ever witnessed any of that type of behavior from her.They were simply rumors and hearsay, but I believed every single word of it! No one ever corrected me; not my parents, not my friends parents’, not Pastor Adams, not anyone, because nobody talked about it way back then (and not much now) I don’t think it even bothered me. I just kept avoiding her except on Halloween of course.




I never once thought about how she must have felt; sitting in the pews every first Sunday, amongst the uncomfortable stares and childish laughter. Rarely, would I acknowledge her presence or return her smile.Why should I, if no one else did? Until I become a Ms. Mabel myself (never doubt that God has a sense of humor)! Oh but the life experience I had no idea I would learn because of Ms. Mabel’s grace and God’s mercy! But, I got the lesson. It took me nearly 50 years, and the encounter with some baby Sparrows to open my understanding. Stigma is nothing new. We know as believers that there is nothing new under the sun. Its’ been around a long time...and I’ve been both a victim, and the victimizer.



It has been nearly five decades since than. I’ve thought about her especially these past few years. Time has its’ way of forgetting faces, places, and things... but not feelings..regrets... should of’s and could of’s, the what if’s? It is with that remorse and need for personal forgiveness that I welcome you to Ms.Mabel sparrows ...in honor of the first person I knew that or thought I knew was ”crazy.” Oh how wrong I was..sorry Ms.Mabel


Valerie Burnett, 1968


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