By Clarene Evans
"Ought not to mess with us old folk!"
Today is my birthday and I am 63 years old. I tell you that because I am proud to be alive and healthy and constantly in a state of euphoria. It is so good to be a part of this universe. I have finally come to realize that being a part means that I am integrated into the whole and thus have to contribute to its well being. In other words, I have to somehow give back as much to this universe as I take away and the only way I know how to do that is through my writing.
I get calls each week about someone or some sentence in my column that has touched someone in a way and that makes all my efforts worthwhile. Just when I think I will turn the column over to a younger, savvier person, someone makes my days with a word of encouragement and keeps me going on- Just last week I got the nicest call from a lady in Booneville. I've never met her but she is a sister to a girl I went to high school with, Buddy Miller. Carolyn Miller said she had been meaning to call me for a while but could not find my phone number. She tracked me down through one of my children. She told me how much she enjoyed the column and her mother could no longer read but looked forward each week to getting the paper so she could read the Ramblings to her. Others have said the same thing so here it is, write it down, 662-397-1276. Call me with your comments or complaints. The latter will probably be ignored but the comments will be appreciated.
I was recently asked how many stories I had left in me and I answered them by saying, "I have as many stories left in me as I have days left on this planet." They walked away not having a clue what I was really talking about and I decided not to try and explain. Miss Helen Keller once said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Thank you. Miss Keller because that's the way I have felt my entire life. Every day is a story in itself; you just have to take the time to listen and I listen, for in the listening, I've found a wealth of stories. Each person I come in contact with has a story; a story worth telling. I always see the humor or the sadness in each situation I find myself but, I just choose to write about the humorous ones. Today's story is no different.
Early on in my life I found that being the clown had its advantages. You could hide your sorrow or disappointments behind the facade of a clown's face. Making people laugh made me feel better about myself so I made them laugh in any venue it took, often at my own expense. The First Baptist Church in Baldwyn was the first place I ever felt completely accepted for who I was. The church family there quickly became my family and I loved being there at every opportunity I could squeeze in. I was in Sunday School on Sunday mornings and Training Union on Sunday nights, G. A.'s (girls auxiliary) during the week, participated in Bible Drills, went to Bible School in the summers, attended each revival service nightly during the spring and fall revivals, went to choir practice and eventually was even allowed to join the adult choir when I turned 15. I had found a home -a home away from Mama's house.
Growing up at First Baptist was not all about just attending 'this' or participating in "that', it was a place where fellowship abounded. Baptist folks like to eat and can put on a spread like you've never seen. I suppose all churches are like that but I only went to FBC and to a kid who had witnessed her mother praying on her knees that she could feed her children the next day, it was a virtual smorgasbord in the making for me.
I remember one particular Sunday Morning just after Mrs. Shellnut had dismissed us from Sunday School that a bunch of us were gathered outside the building under the big magnolia tree and someone was talking about this old man who had just passed by on his way over to the church building. He was a regular to the back row of seats under the balcony. Those were coveted seats and somehow none of us kids ever got to sit back there. I suppose someone had decided years before that the back rows under the balcony were taboo for kids (it was the perfect place to give birth to mischief).
One of those pews was always occupied by a man named Brooks Prather, the same ol' man us kids were talking about after Sunday School that Sunday. Mr. Brooks was a grouchy old bachelor who walked with a cane and pretty much kept to himself, or at least that's the way I remember him. All of us were a little bit scared of him or at least scared of his wrath that we might incur if we got in his way. Of course his being aloof only made us want to antagonize him all the more. After a brief discussion, we decided that this was the day we would play a little trick on him and quite possible rattle his chains a little. One of us would march in and sit down in his place under the balcony and make him sit somewhere else.
Everyone turned and looked at me and of course I volunteered immediately. Big mistake! We all ran past him and scooted up the steps of the church and waited in the hallway that led to the east door at the back of the sanctuary. I peeped inside to make sure he had not sat down yet and he had not. All those steps, leading up to the front church door, had impeded his arrival somewhat. I eased inside and quickly plopped myself down on his designated pew. The others took a seat on the back row so that they wouldn't miss the fireworks that were sure to follow when Mr. Brooks came in and found me in his spot. They were not disappointed!
He walked up to the end of the pew and cleared his throat. I just sat there. He boomed, "That's my seat you're in, young lady." I didn't budge. Moments passed and he finally gave out the long breath he had been holding in and reached out with his cane and rapped me right on the shin. "I said that's my pew." He lashed out at me with his cane. Oh, those back row Baptists! Whoops of laughter broke out and every head in the entire congregation turned to see what the commotion was all about. I jumped up and hopped outside and ran straight into my Mama. She took one look at me and the bump rising up on my shin and asked what I had gotten into now. When I told her, she made me go back inside and apologize to Mr. Brooks.
He just stood up and replied, "It's alright this time, better never happen again. These young'uns gotta learn you just ought not to mess with us old folk!"
Photo of Mr. Prather courtesy of John Olan Cunningham