Monthly Archives: March 2013

Prayer for My Hemorrhoids

Church in Baldwyn, MississippiWhen I was a boy, I attended a small country Methodist church less than a quarter-mile from my home.  It was a good church, a loving church that viewed all its members as equals, par for the course in the rural outskirts of Mississippi forty years ago.  This sense of blanket equality, however, routinely inspired our preacher – Iuka native W. T. Dexter – to call on a diverse and unique group of individuals to lead in prayer when we opened and closed our services.  We might hear the soft, almost inaudible words of the shyest young mother on the planet.  We might hear the studied and sincere words of some great future preacher, just a boy back then.  We might hear one of our church pillars pray fire and brimstone down and wrap it up by speaking in tongues (I’m serious).  Looking back, I think Bro. Dexter may have entertained himself with his choices and our reactions to them, at least a little bit, but I surely don’t begrudge a preacher who’s doing the Lord’s work a chance to smile on occasion.

One of the faithful that made Brother Dexter’s prayer roster, and therefore had opportunity to offer up public petition to the Lord on a regular basis, was Mrs. Della Norton, a pleasant, gray-haired grandmother who, when I was 10, I thought to be 90 years old.  She was probably around 55.

Now, Miss Della was “pure country.”  Not being a part of the refined, big-city jet set from Baldwyn, our nearest metropolis, she had no pretensions, and when she prayed she did not sugar-coat what she said.  If Brother Cyrus had been drinking too much, she prayed that Brother Cyrus would stop drinking so much.  If Sister Effie Sue had been fighting the temptation of reading trashy novels, and Miss Della knew about it, she would publically ask for that temptation to be lifted from the so-afflicted Effie Sue.  As you might imagine, even in a church of pure-country equals, this practice caused more than a little squirming.  And to heap coals onto the heads of those who would rather that Miss Della had not been called on to pray in the first place, she would pray for a long, long time.

At Sunday dinner on more than one occasion it was suggested by the less-reverent in our clan that Miss Della might be happier with some other, more expressive denomination, to the absolute horror of my grandfather.  Papa would have accepted the Pope into our little Methodist congregation if the Holy Father would have helped him sweep off the front steps before folks starting getting there on Sunday mornings.  To suggest that a single member in our 60-person body might be better served in another congregation was heresy to a church builder like my grandfather.  When we hit 100 in attendance one Easter you would have thought we had just won the Super Bowl and Papa had thrown the winning touchdown pass as time expired.  Ultimately, he declared Miss Della’s prayers off-limits for Sunday-dinner discussion, and we sat quietly eating our creamed potatoes that had cooled about 10 minutes longer than we would have liked.

Miss Della’s prayer history reached its pinnacle, in my mind, one fall Sunday morning.  My younger brother Clay and I were sitting with our grandparents about three pews from the back on the left-hand side of the church, and Miss Della was across the aisle a row or two closer to the front.  As the invitation ended that morning, Miss Della was called on to close out our service, and I could have sworn that I heard a slight sigh escape my grandmother’s lips.  Thank goodness, Papa was hard of hearing.  My brother propped his folded arms on the pew in front of us and laid his head down.  We were still standing at the 8-minute mark – through prayers for the nation, our leaders, our pastor, each community that encircled our church, the sick and bereaved, and so forth – when Miss Della moved outside the box.

“And, Dear Lord, please be with my mother. She has been suffering so with her hemorrhoids.”

My brother’s head popped up, and several people cleared their throats, including my mother who was on the row in front of us.

Della continued, “Suffering so’s she can’t even sit down. Lord, bless her and heal her of this affliction.  We know that You can touch her and make her well, and ease her from the pain and embarrassment of these awful hemorrhoids.”

Clay was chuckling.  I’m not sure he even knew what a hemorrhoid was.  I know I didn’t, but I had seen a remedy for it advertised on TV.  I felt my grandmother began to shake just a little.  I looked up at her, her head still down in prayer, eyes closed, but her teeth were showing. Was she smiling?

“And Lord, bless each one of us that we don’t have to suffer these hemorrhoids ourselves in the future.  Dear Lord, you know there are many of us here – under the sound of my voice – that have had our own bouts with these devils.  Me, Mama, Sister Effie Sue…”

Many knuckles grew white, tightly gripping the backs of the pews, as Miss Della’s roll call of the proctologically-infirmed continued.

“… So many others, Lord!  We ask You now, ‘Have mercy.  Keep us safe from them, Lord.’  Amen.”

And it was over.  God bless Miss Della.  On that fall Sunday morning she accomplished something that few preachers ever achieve.  She sent an entire congregation home with the biggest smiles on their faces that I have ever had the pleasure to see leaving a church.  Brother Dexter even laughed out loud a few times when he would shake the hands of his closest companions as they departed that morning, including my grandfather.  And Papa laughed, too.

If there’s a moral to this story, I guess it’s this:  If you ever feel the urge to ask for prayer for your hemorrhoids, just do as the Lord leads you.  “All things work together for good for those that love the Lord.”  God bless Miss Della.

 

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This is NOT Hooterville!! Or Is It?

The note read “This is not Hooterville!! You are illegally parked! Try to do better!! Or you will get a ticket!”

Denny Keaton, a project manager with Triathlon Industries, the world leader in waste handling systems, stood on the sidewalk in front of our Main Street office holding a folded scrap of paper he had just removed from his windshield. And he had an uncomfortable look on his face.

Keaton, along with Triathlon field service manager Tommy Hunt, had wheeled into Baldwyn in their company Ford F250 two hours before lunch to discuss a large recycling facility set to break ground in Madison, Wisconsin, later in the month. The two gentlemen were considering our company, Quail Ridge Engineering, as a potential vendor for the twenty-eight conveyors and the many tons of structural steel fabrication the job would require. It was a plum project.

When Keaton and Hunt had reached our town earlier that Wednesday morning, they had gotten turned around, being in an unfamiliar setting and all, and with the absence of numbers on many buildings, including mine, when the pair finally did find us, they parked on the south side of the street going the wrong way.

We rolled out the red carpet, and ushered our guests into 112 West Main for two hours of heavy sales persuasion. We hoped to convince the Triathlon reps that we were the ONLY titans of industry in this hemisphere capable of handling their vital project, and following a spot-on performance carefully designed to make us (QRE) look as big and capable as possible, we broke for lunch – our treat, of course, at Omar’s in Frankstown, a rustic local favorite just north of Baldwyn. The visiting captains of the garbage industry tossed their briefcases into their truck on the south side of Main, and it was there that Mr. Keaton received his welcome letter from the anonymous poet laureate of the Baldwyn chamber of commerce. Our QRE lunch contingent stood unaware across the street, prepped and waiting for the journey to Frankstown and food.

Denny Keaton crossed back to us with the hand-written note. “This is not Hooterville,” he read, holding the paper over for Tommy Hunt to see. “Well, I guess somebody didn’t like our parking.” My mind raced for something to say, but I came up empty. All QRE employees fixed their eyes on Denny and Tommy for their reaction, and we held our collective breath. At last Denny chuckled, and we exhaled and joined in. And we all had an even bigger laugh about the whole thing over a plate lunch of hamburger steaks and hash brown casserole a few minutes later. And we got the order.

All’s well that ends well, I guess. Still, I couldn’t help but think this little act of constructive criticism by Baldwyn’s concerned citizenry might have turned our deal sour had it not been for the good-naturedness of this particular duo of customers. A couple years now have passed, and we’ve done many more jobs for Triathlon since that day. Even so, Denny Keaton still brings up his note whenever he comes over, but he does make sure he parks on the right side of the street if at all possible.

I’ve thought about the note many times. Frankly, I can’t help but think about it because I kept it, and I pinned it on my office wall – to remind me every Monday through Friday that “This is not Hooterville!!” But I must tell you, in spite of that daily reminder, and after much consideration, I have ultimately reached a conclusion that is contrary to the one our anonymous writer settled on two years previous, and my new conclusion is this: “Baldwyn IS, in fact, Hooterville.”

Unlike our vigilante meter maid, I do NOT view “Hooterville,” the fictitious town of Green Acres and Petticoat Junction fame, negatively. No, very much the opposite, I believe historic Hooterville, nestled somewhere out there between Bugtussle and Pixley, to be a place worth emulating. People liked each other in Hooterville. There was no rat race in Hooterville. The citizens of Hooterville lived at a slower pace, and their dramas didn’t involve violence or crime. Crawdads were the only things smoked in Hooterville, and the closest thing to a bad guy to be found was the peddler Mr. Haney, who admittedly would occasionally pull a fast one over on city slicker-turned-farmer Oliver Douglas. But even the shifty Haney would reveal a heart of gold when push finally came to shove.

Most everyone exceeded expectations in Hooterville. There was a certain purity of spirit that seemed to produce happy endings for the supposedly clueless Lisa Douglas, no matter what natural laws stacked up against her. Even Petticoat Junction’s slothful Uncle Joe Carson, quintessential doofus/handyman Eb Dawson, and Hooterville’s greatest overachiever, the pig Arnold Ziffel– not a boorish cad but a literal barnyard swine – all consistently conquered whatever problems arose with basic, common sense wisdom. People, and pigs, in Hooterville knew that to be honest and to work hard and to give their best was a good and correct way to live life, even if they occasionally, rarely, fell short of the bar.

In the final analysis, the writer of my customer’s note simply missed the mark. Baldwyn IS Hooterville! And in that very fact lies a key to our success, now and in the future. You see, even city slickers need to work with people they can count on, people they can trust, whether they park on the wrong side of the street or not– the city slickers, I mean, not us. We just park in the middle.

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Technological Limitations of Church Choir Members and Other Old People

When you reach a certain age, you should just avoid new technology. To me, there’s something very wrong with an octogenarian TWEETING the outcome of their latest trip to “THE RIVER,” which is code for “Tunica Casinos” amongst the retired set in Mississippi’s Bible Belt. Can’t we just grow old with dignity and grace? Why must we subject ourselves to the ridicule that comes from our fumbling attempts at conquering the latest gadget? Passing through middle age, we become the master of so many things – house payments, odd jobs, selecting the best routes to anywhere, NFL play calling. Must we continue to put ourselves out there with the other rats in the race and wobbly peddle life’s next bicycle? Frankly, I don’t know what the “iCloud” is, and I am sincerely hoping that I won’t be forced to find out.

To be sure, our children consider our involvement in the latest tech craze as falling somewhere between hilarious and embarrassingly pathetic. A friend of my 18-year-old son told me the other day that he was going to wake up the next morning and tag me in a “tweet” that said, “Good Morning World! LOL!!!!!” And then he was going to put a smiley face and a smiley-winky face at the end of it. And I don’t know how to prevent that from happening! Even at a young 48, I find myself hoping that I will not be forced into his Twitter-world or Instagram or Pinterest or whatever’s next. I’m already shaken and disturbed by the fact that I catch myself being interested in how many “likes” I get on my latest Facebook post.

To let you know how bad it can get when people from my generation or older feel compelled by peer pressure to move beyond their well-seasoned areas of expertise, I will recount an actual event that I witnessed just over a month ago. Some of the names have been changed to protect generational honor and my personal safety, but the identities of the primary protagonists – Kenneth Webb, Jonathan Hancock and me – may as well be revealed here and now.

I sing tenor in the choir at the First Baptist Church. Although absences occasionally place a different fellow member at my sides there in third row of the choir loft, usually I have Jonathon Hancock, a high school junior, at my right and Kenneth Webb, a near-60 businessman, on my left. Even after our song service ends each Sunday morning, the choir continues to sit behind our pastor, who stands in the pulpit at the front of the congregation. When our preacher cites the scripture that will be the basis of the day’s sermon, the proper response from both congregation and choir is to follow along in our personal Bibles that we are to have at the ready. But technology has extended its insidious tentacles even into our church services. Currently, members of First Baptist have several options to satisfy their “following-along” requirement.

Certainly, we can take our own Bibles and turn to the book, chapter and verse that our pastor has announced. However, for choir members in my age group, that option is not as simple as it might seem. The size Bible I can read without the aid of reading glasses would require wooden poles and handlers to carry it to my spot in the choir loft – Ark of the Covenant-style – and there are no pockets for glasses in choir robes. The First Baptist Church choir tries to maintain a sense of decorum as we perform our musical selections each week, and any up-and-down scramble – for glasses under our seats, big Bibles, small Bibles, music, or whatever – tends to make us look like a robed version of Whack-a-Mole.

Whether my reasoning is sound or not, I am not sure, but I typically choose Option #2. I follow the pastor’s verses on THE BIG SCREENS. A few years ago to keep up with … well, I don’t know who … we installed two huge projection screens on the high walls at each side of our sanctuary (that’s the church auditorium for my apostate readers) and, since the choir faces the other way, we also put a big-screen TV on the front rail of the balcony at the back of the church. So for the 63.4% of the time that the verses on the screens ACTUALLY match what the preacher is reading, hundreds of angelic faces turn heavenward to see the verses as they are projected and advanced by the junior high boys who have agreed to go into the no-win, pressure cooker of church media operation.

The third choice – one that is more and more frequently selected by church members of all ages – is to follow the scriptures as they are read on an “electronic reader.” Nooks, Kindles, iPads and other small book-like electronic devices all have the ability to display the Bible quickly, any verse and chapter, and importantly for those of us past 40, at any font size necessary. Of course now when a preacher, as he waits for his congregation to find the chapter and verse to which he has pointed them, uses the old line, “I love to hear the pages of those Bibles turning,” he has unwittingly uttered a generationally divisive statement. “Discriminatory,” those under 30 might say. Sister Seniority, large-print Bible in hand, looks over the top of her glasses at her niece, who has flipped out her iPhone, through the same facial expression that she would have if her niece had shimmied down the pew in a skirt that was 6 inches too short.

The preacher said, “Turn to Acts, Chapter 4, verses 21 and 22.” I looked up at the big screen, Jonathan whipped out his iPhone, and Kenneth reached for his Kindle Fire. At my right, Jonathan tapped a time or two and rotated his phone 90 degrees counter-clockwise. I just kept looking up. And on the left, Kenneth flipped open the black leather case that held his Kindle which he had placed in his lap. Immediately, just as the pastor began reading the verses, the theme music from Donkey Kong – as loud as could possibly be generated by a 6-inch square of metal and silicone less than ¼” thick – blared from Kenneth’s Kindle. Ken would later attribute his misfortune to “The Mark of Cain,” not Adam’s son, but Kane Morris, Kenneth’s 3 year-old grandson, who had the night before been engrossed in barrel jumping and gorilla-hammering as “Mario” on the classic video game which Kenneth had so unfortunately loaded on his Kindle.

Had I been wearing my reading glasses, they would have been uselessly fogged over from the sweat and heat that Kenneth instantaneously generated. If the preacher heard the music, to his credit, he showed no sign. Kenneth’s hands and fingers moved over every button on the Kindle so fast that all I could really see was a flesh-colored ball mixed with black leather streaks hovering above Kenneth’s knees. DC Comic’s The Flash came to mind. His efforts availeth him not … “dee du da li da du dee” … over and over again, the music played on.

I stiffened and faced forward, but I saw peripherally Kenneth’s nervous smile at my left and the sweat beads on his upper lip. Each second that passed seemed like minutes to me. They must have been hours to Kenneth, stuck in a time warp, and he started opening and closing the cover of his Kindle in the vain hope that he could put the thing to sleep. The Sopranos, who sit on the row in front of the tenors, started to squirm, and finally Jonathan leaned forward and looked left down the row toward Ken. I continued to face forward. Jonathan wanted to help and could likely stop the melodious strains of Nintendo’s best, which were now digital background music to our pastor’s reading of Acts 4:21-22, in a matter of seconds. But that would involve my taking hold of the Holy Hand Grenade and passing it to him. Believe me; that was NOT going to happen. Finally, from row two, Toni Soprano, tight-lipped, turned her head completely around, like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, and her (Toni’s) eyes burned a 2nd-degree swath across Kenneth’s forehead. In panic, Kenneth took the last fateful step available to a person of our generation when confronted with a cyber-world gone mad. He raised his rear-end slightly off his padded choir chair, slid his Kindle into the slot, and sat on it.

At this point, I had to turn my head slightly in Kenneth’s direction, just to give him a nod of approval for his quick-thinking. To muffle the sounds of Donkey Kong under his years of experience and his right cheek and thereby allow the undistracted hearing of the Holy text was a stroke of genius. Kenneth, Jonathan and I synchronously sat back in our chairs. A clear sigh of relief issued from Kenneth as the pastor continued … then the “Mario Death Sound” emerged unmistakably from underneath Kenneth and “dee du da li da du dee” began anew, over and over again, only slightly muffled.

Beaten in this battle of man versus machine, Kenneth extracted his Kindle from what he had hoped was its final resting place, opened it and let the music play … until he could finally kill the beast some 90 seconds later. Even though my heart went out to Ken, my chair shook uncontrollably for the full minute and a half. I did not, however, laugh out loud, perhaps restrained by the disgusted and distraught exhalations of the Sopranos, who like their television counterparts, would have been more than happy to have had our entire row “whacked.” Even the basses finally awoke from their slumber and realized something was going on down the row to their right just as the event came to its conclusion.

If the preacher ever heard his scripture-reading theme song, he did not acknowledge it. Following the benediction when Kenneth was brought before the Sanhedrin, he still refused to declare his total future abstinence from the use of technology. Such is the addictive nature of the cyber-beast. When pressed, Ken did say that he would accept rigorous, pre-service quality control procedures in upcoming weeks to avoid a repeat of “The Mark of Cain” debacle. Satisfactory? Sister Seniority and Toni Soprano harrumphed their disapproval. Yet I couldn’t help but to throw my lot back in with Kenneth, especially given the scripture we had just put to music.

Acts 4:21-22: “After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.”

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Pioneering the Family Tree

Booneville, Mississippi, Founders SignTo truly know who you are, you need to know where you came from.

My interest in genealogy started in 1985 when I was a student at Northeast Mississippi Junior College in Booneville.  One of my professors – Ann Cross, I believe – gave her English composition students a choice of topics for a major class project.  One of the choices was to create a “family tree” and to prepare a speech about it for the class.  The investigative nature of that option appealed to me more than any of the other possibilities so I soon began a process of interviewing my living grandparents – Katherine Stephens Richey, Mort Gardner and Delia Mae Rutherford Gardner – along with great uncles and aunts and other relatives who possessed Bibles, and photographs, and documents that might reveal a few generations of ancestors.

A characteristic of mine that is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse is that I generally over-do anything I get involved in.  My family tree project was no exception.  As I began to uncover previously unknown names of great, great grand-parents, it occurred to me that I really did not know why I was here – in Baldwyn, in Mississippi, in the United States even.  So I decided to search out not only my Richey ancestors – which would have easily satisfied the assignment – but ALL my ancestors, in every direction, every branch, as far back as I could go.

I worked for several weeks.  Beyond the interviews with my own family, I pored over compiled genealogies published by others.  I found The History of Prentiss County – a brand new publication at the time – at the George E. Allen Library in Booneville.  This book connected names of my earliest ancestors, hastily scribbled down in conversations with relatives, to hundreds of fully researched Prentiss County family trees.  I expanded the scope of my work from great grandparents to 7th and 8th great grandparents in multiple branches almost immediately.

As the time for my class presentation approached, I sketched out all I had gathered on a poster board, making a little drawing of a tree along the family branch lines with colored markers.  I was ready to talk about my most interesting ancestors – about James Richey, who came to America from Ireland in 1849 and had a shoe shop in Baldwyn by 1870; about Jahu Stephens, who at 10 years old hid in his family’s corn crib as Yankee soldiers poked all around him with a pitchfork; and about Alice Rogers Gardner, who had her appendix taken out by R. B. Caldwell when she was 97 and lived ten more years.  On my chart, I had many other names of direct ancestors about whom I knew very little – Alexander Spain, Jasper Rutherford, Charles Wesley Williams, Emily Beall, Sterling Gardner, Jane Blackwood, and on and on.  Obviously, I would not mention those forefathers in my presentation, but they were there and just as much a part of my genetic make-up as James Richey was.  I would return to these other ancestors in the future, I told myself, to see what I could uncover.

The day eventually arrived for my presentation, but a funny thing happened.  They never got around to me.  At the end of class, Ms. Cross re-scheduled my speech for our next session, and I left feeling a little disappointed.  As fate would have it, that same day, as I crossed Highway 45 and headed to Keenum Stadium for football practice, I noticed something – apparently for the first time – something that would radically change my still forthcoming presentation.  Certainly, I had found family trees and history to be quite interesting already, but the level of my interest increased exponentially when I considered a historic marker planted on the side of the road there by the college, a marker that had been in plain sight the entire time I was in school at Northeast.  For some reason, I finally read it.

“Booneville – Site bought by B. B. Boone, C. W. Williams and W. P. Curlee from Chickasaw Le-Ho-Yea.  Named for pioneer R. H. Boone, a descendent of Daniel Boone.  Chartered 1873 and made co. seat of newly formed Prentiss County.”

I saw “C. W. Williams,” and something clicked.  I remembered a name from my poster board – Charles Wesley Williams.  When practice was over, I hustled to the library and thumbed again through The History of Prentiss County.  I learned, and soon verified beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Charles Wesley Williams, my 4th great grandfather, was “C. W. Williams,” and I learned that C.W. was married to Polly Boone, a daughter of Reuben Holman Boone.  It seems I was DIRECTLY descended from the founders of Booneville.

While that fact was interesting enough, surely it goes without saying that the MOST interesting fact was another line from the marker.  I’ll say it anyway – “a descendent of Daniel Boone.”  Kentucky frontiersman “Daniel Boone.”  TV show “Daniel Boone.”  Coonskin cap, rawhide shoe, Fess Parker “Daniel Boone.”  Now THAT is what I was looking for!

But sometimes historic signs don’t always speak absolute truth.  As it turned out, R.H. Boone was NOT a descendent of Daniel Boone, at least not a direct one.  Reuben Boone’s grandfather John WAS a 1st cousin of the famous woodsman and actually lived with Daniel and his parents after his mother died at a young age.  So Daniel Boone is sort of a great uncle or cousin of mine.  Ancestry.com – which was not around in 1985 – says that Daniel Boone is my 1st cousin 9 times removed.  I’ll take it.

My presentation changed before the next class session.  My theme became the coincidental reading of the historic marker after my originally scheduled speech was fortuitously bumped, and the subsequent connecting of the marker’s information with names on my poster board, all the way through to the final revelation that I claimed Daniel Boone as a relative.  It was great day in the genealogical history of Clark Richey, and a much better speech was the result.

I still keep the cracked poster board of my hand-drawn tree above my desk on Main Street, within easy arm’s reach.  Sometimes I roll it out and look at it, even though all the old information is better displayed by the elaborate computer programs I now use.  But to truly know who you are, you need to know where you came from.

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