We're All Sinners
Crystal was born again at a county fair in New Hampshire when she was
ten and baptized in the pastor's pool a year later. Tom had paid $50
for a booth at the fair and unloaded boxes of tracts from his pick-up
truck, along with a plastic folding table and metal folding chairs. A
banner hung from the top of the tent: Jesus Loves You! He called out to
people passing by, arms full of cheap, oversized stuffed animals that
would litter the town dump in six months time. He invited people to sit
down, held their sticky cotton-candy hands, and prayed. Most people
walked by, avoiding eye contact. A few shouted obscenities or silently
flipped the bird.
"Are you a sinner?" he asked nobody in particular. Crystal, whose
mother was collecting tickets at the teacups ride, stopped when she
heard the question. Are you a sinner? Crystal had just been on the
teacups five times in a row; the ground was not quite level surface
after all that spinning.
Crystal had never been to church before. Most Sunday mornings her
mother, Brenda, was either not home yet or not awake. Saturday nights
meant parties and men. They lived in a doublewide mobile home at
Eagle's Nest Estates, on the north side of town. Crystal's father was
long-gone but he still sent his $200 court-ordered child support every
month. The return address fluctuated: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida.
Brenda had been a beauty when she was a teenager; she was even voted
Homecoming Queen her senior year. Every October, the King and Queen led
the homecoming parade, riding in the first float, waving to the crowd
and tossing candy to the children. The parade started in the parking
lot of the printing company, wound down Main Street, looped around the
town common, and ended at the high school.
"Are you going to heaven when you die?" Tom asked, looking at Crystal.
She glanced over her shoulder and saw a group of teenage boys walking
by, loudly sipping on giant-sized soft drinks.
Tom motioned her over to the booth. He asked her name and invited her
to sit down in one of the metal chairs. He asked her again if she was
going to heaven.
"I don't know," she said. "How can I tell?"
"Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?"
Crystal shook her head. He told her if she was saved, she would be born
again into the family of God and she would have two families: her
family here on earth and her spiritual family in heaven. He asked her
if she was a sinner. She thought of all the empty beer cans that
littered the kitchen counter, the joints she found in the ashtray by
her mother's mattress, the men pulling on their jeans as they walked
past her bedroom door, followed by the sound of the front door opening
and closing. But she wasn't like that. Behind her back, grown-ups
whispered to each other that she was turning out to be a good girl,
despite her circumstances.
Crystal said no, she was not a sinner. Tom smiled and took her hand in
"We're all sinners," he said. "We're all children of God." Had she ever
lied, he asked? Had she ever stolen anything? Been jealous of someone
else? Had she ever dishonored her parents?
Crystal could hear the music from the teacups behind her. It came to a
stop as the ride ended. "I'm going to barf!" someone shouted. She
thought she better get back to her mother and pulled her hand away from
his. She stood, kicking up a small puff of dirt from the ground.
"I gotta go."
"Wait!" Tom said. He pressed a small booklet into her hands. "Don't
forget: Jesus loves you!"
"What are you doing over there?" her mother asked.
"I don't know. I thought they had free candy."
Crystal got back in line for the teacups. She spun around and around
until the fair was a giant blur. Then she walked around the animal
pavilions. She stared at the 318-pound pig with nine suckling babies, a
tenth one trying to push his way in, unsuccessfully. She wandered
through the poultry barn, where she held a tiny chick. She fed handfuls
of pellets to the goats. She bought an Italian sausage for dinner and
ate by herself, while the sky dimmed. When the lights flickered on
throughout the fairgrounds, she went back to the teacups and her
mother. She got the car keys and sat in the backseat, reading the book
Tom had given her and tracing the cross on the cover with her fingers,
until it was time to go home.
The next day Brenda swapped places with the ticket collector at the
carousel, because Crystal was tired of riding the teacups. When Brenda
wasn't looking, Crystal wandered off and loitered near Tom's booth,
pretending she was interested in the beeswax soaps and lotions at the
Bee's Knees table. She wondered if he'd call out to her again and he
She squeezed some beeswax lotion onto her hands from a sample tube and
went over to see Tom. Today he really did have candy. Had he heard her?
Or had God spoken to him?
"Crystal! I'm so glad you came back. I wanted to apologize for
yesterday. I think I might have frightened you."
She told Tom that she wasn't scared; she just wasn't sure how a kid
could be a sinner. He said everyone was a sinner from the moment they
"Even babies?" she asked.
"Yes, even babies," he said.
She wanted to tell him that she'd thought about his questions all night
and was worried now, both for herself and her mother. She had lied
before, of course. And she cheated last week on a math test, looking at
her neighbor's paper.
"I want to go to heaven," she said. "I want to be saved."
"Good," he said. "Let's start there."
Shasta Grant has work in Corium, WhiskeyPaper, The Journal Compressed Creative Arts
Detail of painting on main page: from "The Order of Birds," by Georges Braque (1953).
W i g l e a f