A funny thing happened on the way to Church
When I was a freshman at a small religious school in Henderson, Tennessee,
I and a number of my cohorts would visit small country churches in the
area almost every Sunday. Sometimes I would go with one of the “Preacher
Boys” who had managed to land a job as “preacher of the day.”
He was usually paid for his effort by being allowed to dip into the collection
plate at the end of the service. That might yield as much as $10.00 on
a good day. The real reward was being with good country folks and generally
being invited to “Sunday dinner” with one of the church families.
Since my entire college education was being subsidized by a $200 “grant”
from my folks plus the money I saved while I was in high school, the prospect
of a free meal was not to be taken lightly.
While the meals were not haute cuisine, they were usually nourishing
and invariably included chicken that the day before had been running around
in the back yard. These chickens were either old and slow or somewhat
on the stupid side, which was why they ended up on the kitchen table on
Sunday. One gentleman proudly announced that “This ain’t one
of them store bought chickens that gets his head cut off. No siree. This
chicken just died a natural death last Friday.” It didn’t
taste all that bad. Of course that was an opinion of a kid whose weekly
food budget was approximately $3.00. On another occasion we were eating
at a house that had the most impressive collection of flies flying around—big
honkin flies. (They may have been blue-tail flies, I don’t know.)
All I know is that I have neither before nor since seen that many flies
all in one place. When dessert was served, I complimented our hostess;
“That’s a mighty pretty piece of raisin pie.” “Why,
Brother Don”, she said, “That’s not raisin pie, that’s
custard pie.” I ate it anyway—I ate around the “raisins”.
Like the chicken, it wasn’t all that bad.
In some cases the church services were rewarding beyond their spiritual
value. For instance, one of the highlights of my freshman year occurred
at a small country church about 30 miles outside of town. There was a
very large lady who must have weighed at least 300 pounds sitting in the
second pew right beside a short, very bald man. This guy didn’t
have a hair on his head. I am not disparaging heavy, short, or bald, but
these characteristics are important to the story.
The pastor called the congregation to prayer and the large lady closed
her eyes and bowed her head. The short bald man was overcome with a fit
of piety and decided to kneel on the floor between the pews. He knelt
down, closed his eyes, and laid his bald head on his folded hands on the
edge of the seat. The prayer went on for quite some time. The large lady,
for some reason known only to her, felt the urge to peek—so she
opened one eye just a little bit. In her head-bowed condition, kinda squinting
out of one eye, she saw the bald guy’s head, and was convinced that
her knee was exposed—a definite no no in a rural Tennessee church.
To remedy the situation, she immediately grabbed the hem of her rather
full skirt and slammed it down over the head of the bald guy, who by this
time was close to dozing off. He reacted immediately by jerking upright
and opening his eyes. His befuddled brain had a very hard time processing
the sight before him as he had very limited sightlines. He finally decided
that a serpent of biblical proportions was about to consume him. In his
terror he stood straight up and invoked the Trinity to intercede on his
behalf. The large woman immediately perceived that there was a man under
her skirt (a really big no, no anywhere in rural Tennessee) and reacted
At this point the action is a bit hard to describe because it happened
so fast. It appeared that the large woman took a mighty swing at the offending
malefactor with a purse that was proportional to her size while attempting
to propel herself backward away from her tormentor. The backwards thrust
of a 300-pounder was more than the little pew could handle and it (the
pew) started a slow motion tilt to the rear. As we say in the south, it
tumped right over backwards. The bald guy was struggling mightily but
by now his head was completely entangled in the full skirt and for him
there was no escape. He was dragged forward at the same time the large
woman, the pew, and the other two occupants were falling backward. He
landed on top of the large woman. He actually had no choice in the matter.
I am certain he would have preferred to be doing something else, almost
anything else, like having his wisdom teeth extracted through his ear.
The large woman began to pray loudly as she was lying on her back with
the little guy under her skirt. “Oh God, sweet Jesus, save me from
this demon.” Upon hearing that a demon was somehow involved in his
predicament, the little guy not only began to pray but also began to attack
what he perceived to be the demon serpent.
Although I did not participate, the rest of the congregation sprang into
action and extricated the poor little bald guy from the woman’s
skirt. The little guy stood up, took stock of the situation and promptly
fainted—or fell out, as we used to say in Tennessee.
For my part I couldn’t really help because I was having great difficulty
breathing—hysterical laughter will do that to you. My friend and
I were never invited back to that congregation.