The cool cat, bird dog, James Dean wanna-be posing behind my mother thinks he has it made in the shade. The photo is dated “Mar 1954.” My mom first wrote “My boyfriend and I” on the back, but then, a few years later, after she married my father in 1956, “Clarice Younger and Randle Poss.”
Randle is confident, cavalier and cocky enough not to wear socks. He puts one foot on the bumper to say that his car, like he himself, is greased lightning and a bad boy. This car — which probably has a hip name like Thunderbird or Fury — has been to the drive-in theater more than once.
He’s trying to get close to my mom, but she’s not having it. My prim, proper mother is smiling, but she is clearly uncomfortable with how he’s leaning in.
Poor Randle doesn’t know that this moment is as close as he will ever get to real happiness, but it was not meant to be. Boss Poss was a speed bump for my mom. She never talked about it, but I could see that he was mom’s flirtation with the wild side. She knew he was no good, but she thought she could make him good. Then one Saturday night she saw a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve, a beer bottle rolled out from under the front seat of his car, or he suggested they play a little back seat bingo. Mom broke up with him immediately.
I imagined that Randle never found his way to the straight and narrow. He had a chance for real goodness and missed it. My mom dodged the bullet and went to Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth to continue her path to sainthood.
When I first stole this photograph from my mom’s photo album, it was about the inevitability of my existence. This picture was proof that mom was meant to be with dad and not some rebel without a cause.
My 89-year-old vaccinated mother is now in a rehab center dealing with complications from COVID. She is a thousand miles away and not much fun on the phone since she left her hearing aids at home for safe-keeping. I have been sending pictures and writing letters.
When I came across the “My boyfriend and I” photo a few days ago, I Googled Randle to find out if he ended up crashing his T-bird on a dirt road. I learned that Rev. Randle Poss died in 2019. His obituary says, “He served the Lord faithfully as a Minister of the Gospel for over 60 years.”
After he and mom broke up — I am no longer certain who did the breaking — he went to New Orleans Baptist Seminary. He served four years in the Navy during the Korean War. In 1963, “Bro. Poss began a ministry that would affect the lives of hundreds of people. For 32 years he served not only the people of First Baptist Church in Maben, Mississippi, but the entire community.” He and Gloria, his wife of 53 years, had a son, a daughter, six grandchildren — including one named Brett — and four great-grandchildren.
“What used to be an amusing picture is now a close call. My existence was not inevitable.”
How did my mom let Randle get away? He was the sweetest man in the world. What used to be an amusing picture is now a close call. My existence was not inevitable. I didn’t have to be here. I am happy with the way it turned out — as are Randle and Gloria’s progeny — but it is disconcerting to realize that we are the result of chance.
The odds against our existence are astronomical. According to Ali Binazir, your mother has 100,000 eggs in her lifetime, and your dad makes 4 trillion sperm during the years you could have been born. That makes the odds of you 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000 — but that number does not consider the odds of every one of your ancestors living long enough to reproduce. You are the result of an unbroken linage that makes your odds of being 1 in 10 with 45,000 zeroes after it. The odds that you exist at all are basically zero.
Every once in a while, we need to remember that we did not have to be, because it can be reassuring. Whatever troubles we have are as accidental as we are. None of our frustrations were inevitable.
Our existence is gravy. As Clarence the Angel says in It’s a Wonderful Life: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Like George Bailey, we live in gratitude, because we are delightful coincidences. We didn’t have to be here, and yet, against all odds, here we are. The only way to live honestly is with astonishment at our own existence. Odds are Randle understood that.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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