A Grand Lady

Grandmother Linda Wynder fights to shelter the children -- those on the street and those in her family -- from the evils of the 'desert.'

April 09, 2001|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

At the Sunday service of Shining Star Baptist Church, Linda Wynder sits in the midst of her flock of grandchildren, sheltering two of the youngest in her lap like a Mother Courage of East Baltimore.

She's dressed in a red chiffon Sunday suit, and she's a responsive listener when the Rev. Tolliver Perkins preaches from the Book of Zechariah on the day of small things. He has a crisp, powerful pulpit style that appeals to Wynder.

"Each of us need, from time to time, to have someone to encourage us on our journey," the preacher says. "The road is rough enough. The hills are already difficult enough without somebody else throwing rocks in your path."

There have been plenty of rocks in Linda Wynder's path.

She's a uniquely strong, smart, tenacious woman with a wide, pleasant face who wears her hair in little braids in church on this Sunday. She radiates an encompassing warmth, and she meets life with an ironic good humor. She's involved with a whole range of community activities, prompted often by her love of children, all children, not just her kin.

She's a childcare supervisor at the Dayspring Program for recovering drug addicts. She's involved with the Eastside community policing program. She is a volunteer at lunch at William Paca Elementary School. She helps at the church's soup kitchen. She just took part in a weeklong program searching for ways churches can reach street corner kids in East Baltimore. She's 55 years old, and she's a single grandmother raising 11 grandchildren.

Nine are spread out in three of the red-cushioned oak pews in Rev. Perkins' church. Two of her boys are not here today. They're both 15.

Michael Wynder is the youngest son of her older daughter. Calvin Demetrius Harper is the oldest son of her younger daughter. Michael is delightful, and Calvin is troubling. She loves them equally.

"Mikey went to his wrestling match," she says. "He's going to Virginia. He's been doing some real good stuff. But when he's not with his wrestling match, he's here.

"Calvin is still out there. He's determined. But I talked to him this morning," Wynder says. "[He] just left out the door to go stand on the corner. We're losing him to the street. And I'm trying hard to keep him from the street, but they're winning. The street is winning."

She talks of "out there," "outside," "the street" as a dangerous, threatening wasteland." `Outside' is a desert ... a great big desert," she says. "No flowers - and every now and then you might see a bug. A great big desolate desert. Hot in the morning and cold in the evening.

"With a bunch of footsteps of children, just being lost, wandering around, with nothing to do. That's how I see outside."

Calvin is outside.

So her problem becomes: "Then how do you control a 15-year-old? What do you say?"

She was confronted with the mystery of that age at the last edge of childhood when Calvin was almost engulfed by that desert "out there."

Calvin was shot twice about a month ago in a sudden burst of street violence. He and a friend were in the grocery store at Orleans Street and Lakewood Avenue, about 50 feet from her front door, when five guys came in and pulled a gun. The buddy "went running."

"They shot [Calvin] in the head, which he said he didn't feel," Wynder says. "He got out and ran up the street and he slipped going in the alley I have across from my house. He was screaming and as he was screaming, he fell."

She points her hand down like a pistol aimed at the floor.

"My son said the boys were standing over him, just shooting at him like that, in his back. He got up though. The bullet was that much from his spine."

She measures maybe a quarter-inch between her thumb and forefinger. Calvin staggered into the house and collapsed in a chair.

Calvin spent about a week and a half in Johns Hopkins Hospital. They took out the bullet near his spine. The bullet in his head was too dangerous to attempt to remove. They left it where it was.

He told police a stranger in a hooded sweatshirt shot him. He told his grandmother the shooters wanted revenge for something that his buddy did a couple years ago. He stands silent when a visitor to his house asks him what happened. He's a big, good-looking kid, 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds in his parka and baseball cap.

"When he was born, he was a big old strong boy. I watched him come out," the grandmother says. "He was my first grandson.

"When he got shot, he said, `Grandma, why did the boy had to shoot me? I don't play guns.' I said `I know, Calvin, but sometimes that's how people do. Play with the guns. They wanted to hurt you.'

"He's doing good. I think he's still in trouble out there because he's hanging. But he's beginning to talk to me. He's coming in early. He's maintaining with the rules of the house."

"I just let him know I'm ready to battle. I'm not leaving him to the streets," Wynder says.

Now Michael Wynder, also 15, the son of her older daughter, he's "an achiever."

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