It wasn’t any wonder that we couldn’t keep a preacher at our church for more than a few years at a time. We had old preachers that nobody else wanted, and young ones that nobody knew if they wanted yet or not. It must have been a frustration to write a sermon each week and try to shepherd a flock who was more in need of a good sheep dog than a good shepherd. There might have been about 110 people sittin in the congregation on a good day, but there weren’t more than thirty or so different families represented. Most of us were related somehow either by blood or by marriage, but not by both as some folks like to suggest. If there was one thing we country folks were, it was moral. Mostly. And if there was one book we could all agree on it was the Bible… at least the main parts.
I could tell that Mr. Campbell loved women… really he just loved all people, but he was especially flirty with girls. He wasn’t particular though. They could be cute or ugly… they could be two or a hundred and two.He made everybody feel special. I, like everybody else, loved Mr. Campbell right back. He was always in a fine mood after his Sunday mornin during service nap, and he would always come up and give me a hug.
“How’s my girlfriend? My goodness, Katie, if you don’t get prettier everyday. Your Daddy’s gonna have to get himself a stick to beat those boys off!”
Mr. Campbell didn’t ever say much, but the words he did say were so sweet that he had himself a bunch of girls that had a crush on him even though he was better than middle-aged and married with a pew full of children. But the way that he would tell me that I was pretty always made me believe it.
People at my church were so friendly. I had been to the big Methodist church downtown a few times with my cousin Cynthia, and the people at her church barely even gave each other the time of day. At my church we spoke so much small talk to each other that Preacher had a hard time gettin us to settle down so that he could start the service. Another thing I found peculiar about the church where Cynthia went was how they said The Lord’s Prayer. We Presbyterians were supposed to forgive our debtors but the Methodists were supposed to forgive their trespassers. When I was little I thought and I thought on that and I came to the conclusion that people in town were a whole lot richer than us folks in the country. Their houses were nicer and most the women wore pretty jewelry and fancy hats, sometimes even on weekdays. It seemed like the men had nice shoes and suits and buggies too. The town-folk were always the first ones to get cars or any other newfangled thing. I decided that because they had all those nice and expensive things, that they must not like people comin on their property for fear that somebody would take it away from them…so they were extra focused on trespassers.
Out in the country we didn’t have that many nice or expensive things to worry about. We loved it when a visitor would show up. We would treat anybody that came by like they were our favorite Aunt or Uncle or Cousin. Usually if they had the time we would invite them in or at least to sit on the porch… and we would always offer them a refreshment. We would sit and talk, and then when it was time for them to go they would stand and talk some more, and then thirty or forty minutes later we would all walk to the door or down to the road with them and talk for a little bit longer. A Southern “goodbye” from start to finish can last a good hour or maybe even two.
Although we owned land and Granddaddy said that owning land was better than having money. I figured that we must be pretty bad off if we had to constantly be praying to God to forgive us from our debts.
“Why would a prayer that Jesus taught be said in different ways by different people? Isn’t it the same prayer?”
“That’s the problem with people and the Bible. God said it, but people heard it…so that right there could be the cause of the mix up. We all know that MEN don’t usually hear what they are told…they hear what they want, or they hear what they think you said, or they don’t listen at all.” Momma said that in response to my question…and then walked away. She didn’t really answer what I had asked. I think that she might have been frustrated with Daddy on that day. But I did hear her. And knew what she meant about people hearing what they want to hear.
I was wrong about what I heard sometimes too, and those words in “The Lord’s Prayer” were weighing on me. I knew they didn’t mean what I thought, so I asked Granddaddy about it, and he said he believed that “debts and trespasses” meant any old thing that was bad or hurtful that people do to each other. Even though I realized that I had been wrong, it always stayed with me that many city folks seemed less trusting and were somehow scared and suspicious of strangers. They were always going here and there and probably weren’t home enough to have many visitors unless they were expected. And I didn’t understand why was it that regardless if they were gone or at home, city folks would lock their houses up tight. They locked everybody out and they locked themselves in. I heard Granddaddy say lots of times, “There ain’t no such a thing as a stranger. There’s only other brothers and sisters that we haven’t met yet.” He also used to say, “If you don’t go and see who has come to your door, you might just miss Opportunity knocking”. I loved my family and was always happy to meet some relative that I didn’t know… and I sure as heck didn’t want to miss out on any happy chance that might come my way. I was always looking out for whoever or whatever was supposed to come my way…
Granddaddy and Grandma would say that it didn’t matter if you lived in the country or the city, that there are good people and bad people wherever you go. You’ll find what you are looking for.
“People will surprise you” Grandma assured. “If people know that you believe in them, then they’re gonna bend over backward and just about kill themselves to prove you right. If you always expect a person to give you their best, then more often than not they will give you better.” I wish she could have warned me that there might be a few exceptions to that rule… and if I did ever run into one of those kinds, I should cut my losses quickly and move on… but I believe in people. One of my biggest weaknesses, or strengths… depending on how a person looked at it…is that I want to believe until the bitter end. I want desperately to believe that any and everyone has the ability to be redeemed no matter what.