Today I’ve decided not to feature my own ponderings, but instead one written in the 1980’s by an uncle of mine (from my father’s side of the family), Paul Jr. At that time he was co-writing a weekly column for a small community paper with a very limited readership with his brother Earl. They were having a very good time of whipping up these ruminations from their childhood days on Grandpa’s farm, even though those times had been extremely difficult. And judging from the feedback received each week from people they knew and who in turn knew them, the readers were also enjoying looking back in time along with them.
Neither of these men were trained writers, but they were inveterate storytellers–as were most if not all the members of my father’s family, including my father. Re-reading them all these years later, I can see where my own writing style and sense of humor came from. They called their column “One o’ the Nine” because they came from a family of nine boys, my father being the oldest. They chose not to divulge which of the nine they were, and took great pains to disguise themselves in their column photos. This is one of the few entries in which Paul inadvertently identified himself when he shared the fact that he had become a preacher himself.
I collected as many of the columns as I was privy to, and now that everyone in the stories are long gone I still can’t bear to part with them. I always thought, somewhere in the back of my mind that maybe someday there would be a place for them. I think I’ve found that place here in Wintersong. I will share them here on a regular basis in 2008. Maybe one of these stories will even jog your own memories and connections to a simpler time and place in life. I begin today with a column from November 6, 1986.
THE PREACHER by One o’ the Nine
When I was a boy growing up on the farm in the thirties, we only had church services on the third Sunday of the month at the Baptist Church, and fourth Sunday at the Advent Christian Church. Both churches were about five miles from where we lived, but we almost always went to both churches each month. One of the things I remember most was the preachers.
At the Advent Christian Church, the preacher was an elderly man, but he had a head full of dark brown hair. Most people said it was a wig. Now, when he came to our house to have dinner, the children had to always wait for the adults to eat and we got what was left over. There were many years I thought a chicken was all feet and neck because that’s about all the preacher left for us. After lunch he would always go to one of the bedrooms to take an afternoon nap.
My brother and I were about eight and ten years old. One Sunday we decided to slip into the room and see if the preacher wore a wig. We got caught, but found he truly did wear a wig, and we had to let everyone at school know it.
Another time, at the Baptist church, we had a young preacher who liked to sit and talk to all the ladies, and we called him “sissy.” Once he came to our house for Sunday dinner, and in the afternoon he was looking around the farm. When he went out to look at all the horses, he said “I sure would like some of this horse fertilizer for my flowers.”
Just a week later we were having a Christmas party at the church with a real live Santa Claus. As we were wrapping the small gifts we had for the boy or girl whose name we had drawn in Sunday School, someone asked, “What can we give the preacher?”
My brother said, “He told us he wanted some fertilizer.” Then we began to dare each other. At last one brother got the fertilizer, and I wrapped it in a box with a name tag “to the preacher, from Santa Claus.” Poor Santa didn’t know what it was and delivered it to him as he sat with a group of the ladies. He thought it was a fruit cake wrapped in a box. He shook it, smelled it, then opened it.
He threw it under the seat and hid his face. All of the boys were giggling, but no one knew who did this terrible thing. One week later we had to go to the small town where the preacher lived to pick up peanut seed. As we started to leave town, my daddy asked me if I would like a cold drink. Of course I said yes.
We stopped at the drug store where the preacher worked at the soda fountain. Suddenly my father said, “Preacher, this is the boy who gave you the present.” Needless to say I didn’t enjoy that soda.
I write this to encourage parents with mischievous children. My eight brothers grew up and became very successful and respected Christian business men. Today I am a Baptist preacher. Not one of us has ever been arrested or been in jail, thanks to a mother’s prayers and a daddy’s hickory switch.
Postscript: The only editing I did on this article was the insertion of commas and suitable quotation marks for enhancing style. The actual story is posted exactly as he wrote it. From the progression of the story, it may appear that the preacher/fertilizer incident occurred during boyhood. In fact, the writer was probably an older teenager at the time, since I remember the incident as a small child myself, probably around 4 or 5.
I’m sad to say there were consequences for this practical joke, and prices to be paid. My father, who was known for his practical jokes (though he was older and married with children by this time), got the blame from the preacher for the “gift,” even to the point of mentioning the behavior from the pulpit. There was a big “stink” in the church surrounding the incident that didn’t come from the horse pie.
My father, who had a short fuse of his own, was innocent, and highly resented being forced to shoulder the blame for something he did not do. He dropped out of the church and never returned as a member thereafter. Today he is buried in the churchyard of that very same Baptist church near the front where a huge tree, either an old oak or a red cedar, used to grow.
As for the preacher, he was a namby-pamby sort and very immature at that. I think he was, as many of us tend to be, his own worst enemy. His embarrassment, I suspect, came more from the fact that, as he was investigating the “fruitcake” he thought the gift to be, he inserted his fingers into the box, through the wrapping, to pull out a taste. The horse pie chosen for the fertilizer gift was dried around most of the edge but retained a slight moistness in the center. All I can say now, looking back, is that he probably wouldn’t have been quite as humiliated had he not lifted his finger up toward his nose for a quick sniff and a gingerly lick.