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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 accordingly.

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.