Marceline Baldwin Meets Jim Jones

by Annie Dawid

(This story is a chapter of Mrs. Jim Jones: One Possible Biography, a novella by Annie Dawid. Chapter 2, Long Before Jonestown: Indianapolis, 1956, was previously published in the 2017 edition of the jonestown report.

(Annie Dawid is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her complete collection of articles for this site may be found here. She can be reached at annie@anniedawid.com.)

Mercy Hospital
Richmond, Indiana
1949

The Negro child had a nasty cough, which turned out to be pneumonia, and only Marceline wanted to hold her. “Aren’t you the sweetest thing?” Marceline murmured into the baby’s burning ear as she carried her up from emergency to pediatrics. “Aren’t you the prettiest little girl?” The infant, whose nametag read Baby Doe, had been left in the lobby, wrapped in a white blanket, clean but many times mended in crazy quilt style, the intricate cross-hatch testifying to the sewer’s skill. Whoever left her there had bathed and powdered the child and folded a change of clothing into the blanket, which was promptly tossed into the trash by the receptionist who found her, Mary Margaret. Because the other nurses were pretending to be busy around the emergency room desk, Marceline ran to rescue the girl from Mary Margaret, who was holding the infant as far away from her as possible, breath held.

“Come here, sweetie. Let’s get your temperature and see if we can cool you down.” Always, Marceline had loved the warmth of babies, though this one was clearly feverish; she relished their fresh smell and cooing. “You little darling; we’re going to get you all fixed up,” she whispered, passing the cluster of nurses, all of them older by a least a decade. Did Marceline hear a muttered “Nigger Lover” as she went by? After three years at Mercy, first as a student nurse, and now officially three months as R.N., Marceline Baldwin, 22 years old, could verify the lack of merciful behavior at this institution, whose mission was to succor the poor and destitute of central Indiana.

“I’m going to call you Cinnamon, because that’s what your skin reminds me of,” said Marceline as she weighed and measured the baby, then took its temperature with a rectal thermometer, which caused the child a fit of coughing which metamorphosed into full-on screaming. One hundred and six degrees. “Let’s get her into a lukewarm bath,” Marceline called to one of the aides on the children’s floor. “Then Doctor Witherspoon can look her over.”

A young blonde in a pink nurse’s assistant smock backed away. “But Nurse Chatfeld just asked me to help her get a patient out of bed.”

“I’ll do it,” came a male voice, and a very young man, still a teenager, whom Marceline had never seen before, walked before her into the bathing area, opening the door and turning on the water before lifting the baby tenderly from her arms. “Nurse Baldwin, you adjust the temperature. I wouldn’t want to get it wrong and burn her.”

To the baby he said, in a playful voice, “Now you’re one hot little girl, aren’t you? We’re gonna get you cooled down first thing.”

While she checked the water, the boy tickled the baby’s toes. He was white, like Marceline, but his hair and eyes shone brilliant black; he seemed exotic to her, not only in his unusual appearance but due to his apparent indifference or even attraction to the baby’s skin color.

“Are you new, Mr….” She paused.

“I’m Jim. Jim Jones. Just started this morning.” He smiled at her over the basin, both of them with their hands on the child, he cupping the girl’s head gently in his large palm, she splashing water over the baby’s belly. At the moment Marceline was thinking that this boy would make a good dad someday, she looked up into Jim’s eyes. He seemed to be studying her face, which she both liked and found unsettling. “You like children, don’t you?”

Her pale skin reddened and she made herself look back at the baby. “I do. Yes.”

“Do you have any?”

“No!” She could feel her cheeks heating up, and wondered if Jim had intentionally brushed his fingertips on hers as he grazed a washcloth over the girl’s toes. “I mean I’m not married.”

“Not yet, but you will be. Soon, I think.” His laughter, deep and self-assured, forced Marceline to look back into his dark eyes. Was he making fun of her?  “I like children too. Like this one.” He smiled at Cinnamon. “You are a beautiful girl. Yes you are.” The baby opened her huge eyes and coughed, spitting water into Jim’s face.

Marceline tensed.

Jim laughed again, wiping his chin on his shoulder. “That’s okay, little one. Spit out that nasty old mucus!” Suddenly, he shook his head, water droplets spraying everywhere. “What time do you take your lunch?”

“I, I usually meet my mother for lunch in the cafeteria. She works in bookkeeping.”

His smile vanished, Jim looked as if he might cry, all swagger and confidence evaporated.

“Oh, why don’t you join us,” Marceline said reflexively.  “Please.”

Across his face a wave passed, restoring him. “What time?”

He really was just a kid, Marceline thought, and her half-conscious daydream of running her fingertips down his shoulder, feeling his skin on her skin, faded. He reminded her of a young cousin, also named Jim, who did poorly in school and often came to her home seeking comfort and guidance from her family, as his own parents were preoccupied with money troubles and argued constantly. Jimmy Baldwin was a sweetie, tortured by acne and the girls in his class, bullied by boys for his frailty and apparent effeminacy.

“Twelve-thirty.” She checked her watch. “I’ll meet you there.”

“How ‘bout we go down together?”

How quickly he wanted to know her! She wasn’t used to it. From high school she’d gone straight to nursing college, where every student was female, and, as a minister’s daughter, her earlier life had been unpleasantly free of male attention. No boy in her father’s congregation dared ask her out, and at the neighborhood public school she had a reputation for primness, which she had done nothing to deserve. “Polly Prude! Polly Prude!” High school boys would taunt her as she walked by the drugstore on Second Street. Designated a prude solely because she was the minister’s daughter, Marceline, who loved her parents and respected her father’s work, often wished she could be more “normal,” having the experiences her girlfriends did with necking in the back seats of cars. Her friend Sally told her every detail of every kiss and caress, every hand down her skirt, which Sally seemed to love. “It’s embarrassing sometimes,” she’d confessed one night at a sleepover at the Baldwin’s during their last semester in high school. “I get wet, you know, all over my underpants. Soaking! As if I’d showered in my clothes. It feels so good, and I want to do more, you know? More than just kiss and let Michael touch my breasts. But I know I shouldn’t!”

Marceline wanted Sally to do more, whatever “more” consisted of, so that Sally could tell her all about it. Marceline remembered when she used to touch herself, at 12 and 13, all the time, whenever she thought no one was looking, rubbing her pubic bone against the wall, the door edge, tucking her fingers inside her and then smelling them, finding the odor alien but interesting, unlike any other scent. Her mother walked in on her one day in the bathtub, while Marceline was exploring her vagina with both hands, and made her promise not to do it anymore, saying all those good feelings were supposed to wait until God had found her a husband.

Because Marceline had promised, she stopped.

Somehow she managed to turn 22 without any man ever finding the courage to “lay a finger” or anything else upon her body. As Marceline looked for Jim by the pediatrics desk at 12:25, she met his eyes staring her down as he walked toward her, his smile radiant with what she thought might be attraction, even desire.

He patted her shoulder. “Hi there. I’m sure hungry. What about you?”

His touch reverberated down her arm and into her belly, connecting to her groin with a pleasing shock. Flushing, she mumbled that she was, and then that she wasn’t. He took her arm – he was so very bold! – and part of her liked his boldness, and part of her feared it, but in an exhilarating way.

At lunch, Mrs. Baldwin quizzed Jim about his life, pleased to learn he was interested in medicine, surprised he was still in high school. “And yet you seem so sure of yourself and what you want.” She looked sideways at her daughter. “Most people go through some changes before settling down.”

“Ma’am, I know I want to help people. If not as a doctor, then it’ll be something else. I’ve been helping people my whole life already. Animals too.”

Marceline nodded. She looked from Jim, with his rich self-confidence, to her mother, the preacher’s wife, and knew already that Minister and Mrs. Baldwin would disapprove of Jim, his clear and perhaps cocky sense of knowing just what he was about.

“Well, whatever you decide, you have a lot of schooling ahead. Marcie’s already spent four years at nursing college. If you decide on medicine, that’s easily ten years before you get your M.D.”

Jim’s face fell. “Ten years! I can’t wait that long!”

Marceline smiled. He was impetuous, her Jim. She knew he would be her Jim, whether her parents liked him or not. He had so much energy! And, unlike her father, the quiet Methodist rule-follower, she imagined Jim would make his own rules.

“There are lots of ways to help people, of course,” said Mrs. Baldwin, a petite woman who wiped her lips with a napkin after each bite of her egg salad sandwich. “You’re already doing that here, in the hospital. And although bookkeeping has no great merit on its own, I try to do my work so that people’s bills are as manageable as they can be – while being fair to the hospital, of course.” Her gray-blond hair in a neat bun perched high on her head, Mrs. Baldwin looked around the cafeteria to check if anyone was listening.

“You’ve got a bit of the Samaritan in you, I see.” Jim said loudly, winking at Marceline.

“Well, of course; it’s part of our creed, to help others.”

“And what church do you belong to?”

“Methodist,” said Marceline, her first entry in the conversation. “My father has the ministry at First Methodist on the East Side.”

“Have you ever been to a Methodist service, Jim?” asked Mrs. Baldwin. “What church did you attend growing up?”

Jim shook his head. “My family didn’t belong to any, so I did my own exploring. Tried out all of them in Lynn. The neighbor across the street, Mrs. Kennedy, she took me to her church plenty of times, the Nazarenes. I liked their services. And the Pentecostals, too. So exciting! Not like those sleeping congregations where no one says anything with any passion, or that’s what it seemed like to me.”

Mrs. Baldwin pushed her tray away. “Pastor Baldwin and I have never been to a Pentecostal service. It’s possible you’ll find my husband’s sermons a little too… perhaps too tame for your taste.” She bit her lip. “Don’t they speak in tongues?”

Jim grinned. “You don’t like that idea.” He smiled at Marceline, as if they were already conspiring. Before Mrs. Baldwin could reply, he added, ”You’d be amazed at the spirit you find in those churches. I’m kind of a preacher myself – not like your husband, of course – but I’ve preached to the kids in my neighborhood since I was a kid. I can tell when people are listening and when they’re pretending. And boy, those folks drooling and babbling aren’t pretending anything! You have to see it to understand.”

Marceline worried that Jim had gone too far. She wanted her mother to like Jim, even in his rebelliousness. Marceline believed Jim would transcend the orderly life of her parents, and bring her with him.

“You know,” she said, looking at her watch, “I wish we could keep talking, but I have to relieve Betty upstairs, so she can take a late lunch.” To her relief, Jim rose and extended his hand to her mother.

“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Baldwin. And I hope to hear your husband’s service very soon. Maybe this weekend?”

Mrs. Baldwin smoothed her hair, an unreadable expression on her face, lips pursed. “That would be fine, I’m sure. Everyone is welcome at our church.” She turned her cheek for Marceline to kiss. “Honey, I’m going to get some coffee and sit a little longer.”

Leaning down, Marceline pressed her lips to her mother’s cool skin, feeling somehow older than she had yesterday at their post-lunch ritual. “Don’t rush, Mother. I’ll see you later.”

Again, Jim rested his hand lightly on Marceline’s shoulder, making sure her mother saw. “Goodbye Mrs. Baldwin. See you Sunday.”

On their way back, Jim kept touching Marceline’s elbow, opening doors, flashing his wide, powerful grin. “I like your mother,” he said. “I think she likes me too.”

Marceline laughed. “Oh, you don’t know my mother. She’s hard to gauge sometimes.”

“I bet she gives all your boyfriends a hard time. But that’s okay. She should,” Jim whispered in her ear,  “You’re a treasure.”

Shaking her head, Marceline turned away. “There’s Betty, waiting for me. See you later, Jim.”

All afternoon, Marceline was proud of herself for not obeying her first impulse, which was always to be honest, to tell Jim she’d never had a boyfriend, not ever. But she remembered from Sally, who was now married with two children and pregnant, that one had to hold oneself aloof, even if one didn’t want to.

“And who’s that young man?” asked Betty, a motherly woman in her sixties who kept tabs on staff social relations. “I never saw him before.”

“He’s new.” She flushed.

“I see.” Betty grinned. “Isn’t he a little young for you? I mean, he’s awfully handsome, but handsome can be dangerous.”

“He’s only four years younger!” Marceline retorted, then wished she hadn’t.

Betty blinked. “I think I see clearly what’s what, Miss Baldwin. You’re both very young people, you know. Don’t be rash.” Smiling, Betty took her purse and left.

Marceline wondered what Betty meant by dangerous, and if she would dare to ask her tomorrow. But all this is silly, she told herself, as she commenced the afternoon’s tasks. It was just this morning she’d met him, this Jim Jones who reminded her in his earnestness of her young cousin, though he looked nothing like the homely, sad Jimmy she’d always loved and felt a little sorry for. “Concentrate on your work,” she told herself. “And don’t be ridiculous, getting all excited about some kid.”

Still, she couldn’t scrape him from her consciousness. When she went to check on Cinnamon, she was gratified to find her resting, fever lower; Marceline couldn’t let go of the image of Jim holding this brown-skinned baby, his kindness to a sick child. Sweetness filled her as she held the sleeping Cinnamon, swaying and humming. Perhaps one day she would have a baby herself, a girl like this one. She played with the infant’s dark curls and thought instantly of Jim’s thick black hair, which he wore longer in the back than most men, and how she’d wanted to touch it. She still did. The warmth she felt now wasn’t centered in her groin but farther up, a place which sometimes revealed itself in church when her father quoted from the Psalms, or when she read something profound. The place where her spirit resided, she thought, though it didn’t dwell in any physical place, really, but was lodged somewhere between her heart and mind, partaking of both. She remembered when Sally insisted she read Wuthering Heights, which Sally was finishing for the third time.

“It’s so amazing, this incredible love they have for each other, even when they’re not together – even when she’s dead!”

“Don’t give away the plot,” protested Marceline. They were 16 then, and she was shocked by the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy; he was uncouth and violent, but there was something compelling about him. Something powerful made Marceline root for him in his quest to win the girl’s heart, and against Edgar, who, despite his gentleness and apparent love for Cathy, appeared lifeless by comparison. Marceline remembered how she’d felt as a teenager reading that Victorian novel, how she’d wished for a love like that in her own life but doubted such a connection with a man was possible.

At dinner, her mother told her father about the new male orderly, and his interest in hearing Pastor Baldwin on Sunday.

“What’s he like?” asked Laura, Marceline’s younger sister, who was already engaged, terribly romantic and eager to see her big sister in love. “What’s he look like?”

Marceline’s father blinked. “Well, Marcie? Aren’t you going to tell us? Laura and I are curious.”

Marceline looked to her mother for help. Mrs. Baldwin shook her head. “You tell them. I’m wondering how you’ll describe him.”

Suddenly her soup, Campbell’s tomato, seemed especially interesting. She didn’t like this feeling of being observed as if she were a cellular organism being prodded under glass, the slightest movement provoking her observer’s delight.

“You’re blushing!” shouted Laura, pleased with herself. “Come on, Sensible Sister! Tell us already.”

Laura was the pretty one, the boy magnet, as her parents called her. She wasn’t interested in going to college or having any kind of career beyond being a wife. When she’d read Wuthering Heights, at Marceline’s urging, Heathcliff disgusted her. “What a beast!” she’d said. “I can’t believe Cathy or any girl would want to be within a hundred yards of that guy. He’s awful!”

“Well, he’s got nice eyes,” Marceline said finally, more to her soup than her sister. “Big and dark.”

“And a good head of hair, too,” added Mrs. Baldwin. “I wonder what kind of blood he’s got in him – Black Irish, maybe?”

Marceline shrugged. What did it matter? “I have no idea. He was born in Indiana, like me.”

“Tell them when!” Her mother insisted. Marceline knew that her teasing was not malicious, but she couldn’t help defending herself, wanting to protect Jim.

“What? Is he an old man or something?” Laura asked.

“No. He’s younger than me, that’s all.”

“He’s still in high school!’ announced Mrs. Baldwin triumphantly, and everyone laughed except Marceline. She looked around the room, its well-appointed oak furniture and graceful pewter chandelier over the dining room table. They weren’t rich, but they were … tasteful, Marceline thought. It was hard to breathe.

“All right, Mother. You’ve had your joke. So, he’s 18. We all were, once. Laura’s only 19, for goodness sake. Why hold his age against him? I think he’s pretty mature, really. I mean, he cares about the world, which you don’t find in too many people that age.” She glared at her sister, who was winking at her mother and didn’t profit from Marceline’s jibe.

Mr. Baldwin sighed. “Okay everyone. Let’s stop making Marcie uncomfortable. I’m sorry, honey. It’s just that we’ve never seen you excited about a boy before. I don’t know about your mother, but I’m pleased for you that you’ve met someone you like.”

“I’m sure he’s a fine young man,” said Mrs. Baldwin. “He’s just a kid, that’s all, and impetuous. But that’s all right. I think his heart’s in the right place.”

Marceline excused herself and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Sometimes living with her family was a comfort; other times, like now, she wished she were independent enough to have her own apartment, or to share with another nurse. Her sister would go from father to husband; no doubt her parents expected the same of Marceline. While lying on her bed, wondering if she had enough money to rent a place, the phone rang. Usually it was for her father, and her mother always answered. But when she heard her mother calling, “Marcie! Telephone for you!” she knew exactly who it was.

Their heavy black phone rested on the kitchen counter, and she was thankful that her mother left the dishes to give Marceline privacy.

“Marceline? It’s Jim.”

“I knew it would be you,” she whispered, smiling into the phone.

“You did? How?”

“Just knew.”

“I was thinking about you, so I thought I’d call. Actually, I can’t stop thinking about you.” He laughed. “I’ve never felt like this before.”

Breathing in, she felt lightheaded. She wanted to say she felt the same but didn’t dare, and waited.

“Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“You know, after one day at Mercy Hospital, I felt like most of the people who work there don’t like Negroes. You were the only person I saw being nice to a colored patient.”

“I thought the same thing about you!” This was safer than discussing her feelings. “I don’t understand Mercy – they’re so hypocritical, pretending they’re there to help the poor, but when the poor are Negro, they’re not so helpful anymore. I’m glad you noticed it too. My mother thinks I’m too sensitive – she says I’m too quick to judge. But,” she lowered her voice, “my mother has a lot of her own prejudices, too. Though she’d never admit it.”

“We all do though, you know? Raised in the heart of Ku Klux Klan territory. My father was a member.”

Marceline gasped. “You’re kidding!”

“No. I’m not. So I have a lot to atone for in this life, you know what I mean? And he was in the war, I mean the first war, gassing people. He was gassed too, so I guess he got what was coming to him.”

Marceline wanted to defend Jim’s father, for reasons she couldn’t identify, but chose not to. How could Jim speak so harshly of his own parent? “Was he really hurt, then, from the mustard gas? Sometimes we see veterans like that at Mercy – they have so many health problems.”

“My old man was an ass before the war, I’m sure of it. And lazy. My mother always worked. Usually in the factories. I hardly saw her when I was growing up, or that’s what it seemed like. Her family was really poor, and they thought she was coming up in the world by marrying Jim Jones, Senior. But she ended up supporting us all. “

In her parents’ gleaming kitchen in their brick middle-class home, Marceline felt ashamed. When they were children, her mother had always been at home for her and Laura, keeping their nice house very proper and clean, checking to make sure the girls did all their homework and buying new school clothes every fall. She’d had an easy life, not like Jim. “Where are your parents now?”

“My father’s dead. My mother’s still working in the factories. She’s the head of her union. I’m proud of her.”

Marceline had never met a labor organizer. At the hospital, some women had tried to unionize the nurses a few years back, but she hadn’t paid much attention. Most of the women were against it, and the effort failed. Her father often spoke against unions, saying they were infiltrated by Communists, and though the intent of the union was Christian – to make sure everyone was paid equally and worked under reasonable conditions – in practice the unions were corrupt and full of crooks. She wondered if her father had any experience with unions, or if he was merely repeating what the newspapers said.

“I’d like to meet her,” Marceline said.

“You will.” Jim laughed.

Where did he get such confidence, she wondered. She had never felt so sure of herself in all her life. It couldn’t just be that he was a boy – immediately she thought of Jimmy Baldwin for a counter-example – it was a certainty inside him he must have been born with, she concluded.

“I better go now,” she said, though no one was asking to use the phone.

“Okay Marceline. Sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morning. Can we have lunch together again?”

She wondered what her mother would think. If she had a real lunch hour, maybe she and Jim could go someplace besides the hospital cafeteria, but 45 minutes wouldn’t cover the walk to and from the nearest luncheonette, plus eating. “Sure. Good night.” After she hung up, she found Laura waiting on the bottom step.

“So? Did he ask you for a date?” Laura smiled. “You like him! I can see it all over your face. Marcie’s got a date,” she sing-songed. “Marcie’s got a date!”

Flushing, Marceline dodged her sister. “No. I don’t have a date. He just called to say hi; that’s all.”

Lying in bed, waiting for sleep, Marceline kept seeing Jim’s eyes, the way he looked into her, his daring to know her – it was so new. Always, Laura was the one boys were drawn to – she knew how to flirt, how to play those games, while Marceline had never learned.  And Laura was genuinely pretty – sky-blue eyes and thick blonde hair she wore long. But Marceline didn’t begrudge her sister anything; Marceline had always been the plain one, the studious one, the serious one. “Of those Baldwin girls,” the church women would say, “You’d want your son to date Laura, but Marceline to be your daughter-in-law.” Marceline accepted her sister’s ways and felt that she complemented Laura; it would be boring if they were the same. Now, at 22, perhaps she’d found the man who could appreciate her qualities, who could value more than a pretty face and teasing laugh. Up and down her body she let her fingertips travel, feeling the way her nipples pushed at the fabric of her nightgown. Would he touch them? She wanted him to. She thought of Sally and the way her friend had held back when she didn’t want to. They were teenagers, then. Did Marceline have to wait until marriage to do more than kiss? What about Laura? Was she waiting?  Marceline would never ask her sister outright; though she was older by three years, Marceline sometimes felt as if her parents thought Laura was more grown up. Or was that solely since the engagement? Did marriage make you older, and why? Maybe it was sex that made you older.  With Jim’s good looks, he’d probably had plenty of sex before now, despite his youth.

Beneath her nightgown, under her panties, her fingers roamed, testing to see if she felt that wetness Sally had been embarrassed by. Yes.  Would they kiss in the back seat? He didn’t have a car, though, and neither did she. Where would they do their exploring? She couldn’t wait. But she would.

Originally posted on August 14th, 2021.

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