Avis Collins sets a stack of plates at the end of the food table her mother and others from the church have set up and reaches into the bag for a box of plastic utensils. She took on the task of helping get everything ready for their picnic after her brother and sister, Alfred and Annabelle, disappeared into the park, leaving all the work to her, as usual. Her mother encouraged her to go out and enjoy the nice summer day as well, but Avis isn’t one to idle while there’s work. She put her little brother, Avery, in charge of ice and drinks, but now he’s wandered off somewhere and Avis is mostly working alone, since all the others keep stopping to converse with friends or family. Still, she has a job to do and she’s going to get it done, despite all the distractions, and, hopefully, her parents will see that she, at least, is dedicated to giving her brother a fitting send off.
The occasion is a church-wide celebration of Alfred’s graduation from Georgia State University and acceptance into the Air Force as an Airman First Class. He’s been in the ROTC program at Georgia Tech, and his commander, a veteran and local pilot named Asher, has been encouraging Alfred to enroll in flight training, with an eye toward qualifying for the space program, something Alfred has whole-heartedly embraced. An avid model builder, he has a replica of the Challenger on the dresser in his bedroom, and he’s always talked about emulating Guy Bluford, the first African-American to command a space shuttle mission.
Her father, Aaron Collins, is pastor at the Edgewood African Methodist Episcopal Congregation of Atlanta, and considered a mighty man of God by his parishioners. The congregation numbers around five hundred and fifty members with significant neighborhood outreach, making the Reverend an influential voice in his community. As his oldest daughter, Avis has always been very conscious of her role in the family and community, and she holds herself to a higher standard of decorum than that of her friends and acquaintances. Certain that she’s neither of her parents’ favorite child — Avery gets most of Maxine’s attention, while Annabelle is clearly the apple of Aaron’s eye, while Alfred, the first-born, holds an exalted position — she nevertheless endeavors to be worthy of their praise and attention. Unlike her older brother and younger sister — Annabelle is a high school sophomore and a track star, already being evaluated by colleges — Avis, in her second year at Spelman, doesn’t have any special accomplishments to her name beyond being a good student with perfect attendance at the schools she attended as her father was assigned to various churches around the region. Aaron calls her “the serious one” and her maternal grandmother has always claimed Avis has “an old soul”. She has a tendency to be very conscious of other people’s opinions and tries to keep everyone within the prescribed rules, prompting Alfred to nickname her “Mother Avis”.
In high school, she wasn’t one to date much, but none the less attracted the attention of Wiley Johns, a classmate at Carver High, who also attended her church. Her family got along well with Wiley’s and encouraged Avis to show him more consideration than she usually did. Avis liked Wiley, but she never felt much of a connection with him, despite him always being polite and courteous toward her. She was relieved when he announced plans to attend Howard University, because it meant he’d be leaving Atlanta and she wouldn’t have to deal with him any longer.
“Where did they get off to?” Avis hears Maxine say.
“Oh, they’ll be along sooner or later,” Aaron says. “Probably just having a good time in the park.”
“I’ll go find them,” Avis says, without any prompting from either of her parents. Before Aaron or Maxine can comment, she heads away from the pavilion, in the exact same direction she saw Alfred and Annabelle go earlier, knowing fully well they’re most likely circling back as she starts. She doesn’t really want to find them, but would like some time to herself to stroll around and enjoy the park.
On some level, she knows her parents won’t mind her taking the time, but never feels quite right spending time on herself when there are other responsibilities. She likes to stay busy, and isn’t good at simply “hanging out” and gets self-conscious when she doesn’t have anything to occupy her. Still, she likes getting away from everyone where she doesn’t feel the need to conform to how others think she should act. On her own, she allows herself to relax and take in the sights in the park.