The Offering Plate

In my little blogging world one random idea often leads to another, and soon a theme emerges. After I posted “Choosing My Religion” on Monday, a piece prompted by a sun beam shining through clouds on a stormy day, the feedback I received here and on Facebook dredged up some long buried church-related memories.

As I recounted in “Choosing My Religion” I grew up attending three varieties of Protestant churches: Pentecostal, Primitive Baptist, and Southern Baptist. While the three were quite different in terms of worship volume and decorum, ranging from the jubilant, yet often apocalyptic tone of the Pentecostals to the solemn certainty of the Primitive Baptists, they all three shared one thing in common–the offering plate.

At some point in every service the preacher would intone an offertory prayer and the choir and/or the congregation would commence singing an offertory hymn while the deacons passed the plates. There was a rhythm to the plate passing and an order to it that made this one of my favorite parts of the service.

A person sitting on the end of an aisle would take the plate from the deacon in one hand, deposit money with his or her free hand and then pass the plate on to the next person and so on until the plate was handed to another deacon at the end of the pew. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

No matter which church I happened to be attending on any given Sunday I always had a bit of money to contribute, either from my own allowance or from one of the adults in my life. Usually I had a quarter, sometimes only a nickel, but occasionally I was able to give a whole dollar. Those were proud days indeed, although, we were taught that excessive pride was a sin, so I squelched the chest puffing and smile that went with placing a buck in the bucket.

One Sunday when I was five or so I was with my Grandma and Grandpa Hall at their little Pentecostal Church in Floydada, Texas. Just before the service started my bladder told me urgently that I needed to potty. My no-nonsense Grandma took me firmly by the hand and marched me back to the ladies’ room, accompanying me inside so as to hurry me up. I might have had a reputation for lollygagging, and she was having none of that on her watch.

I placed the two quarters I had for the offering plate on the back of the toilet, did my business, and went to flush, accidentally knocking my money into the toilet. Thankfully I hadn’t pressed the handle, so a tsk-tsking Grandma had me pull a handful of toilet paper off the roll to keep my hands dry while I retrieved the coins, all the time trying to get me to hurry.

When I bent to pick up the coins with one hand using the toilet paper as a shield, I leveraged my free hand on the side of the toilet and accidentally pushed the handle, flushing the quarters. I started crying, but Grandma Hall got tickled. This stern woman laughed as she dried my tears. She laughed until tears of her own rolled down her cheeks.

I washed my hands and walked solemnly back to my seat, chagrined at having nothing for the offering plate that week. Seeing my Grandma laugh that hard, though, more than compensated for the lack of funds. It’s still one of my best memories of her.

Peace, people.

Snapshot #207

I took a few photos at Tallahassee Nursery’s “Summer Sips” event on Wednesday evening. Here’s one of my favorites from the night:

I call it “Big Bad Bromeliad.”

That reminded me of my favorite childhood song, “Big Bad John,” the heart wrenching story of a miner who sacrifices himself to save his co-workers during a mine collapse. Yes, that’s the kind of tale that appealed to me as a child.

Jimmy Dean, famous for his sausages, sang “Big Bad John.” He was practically a hometown boy, having grown up in Plainview, Texas, just 30 miles or so from my own home town of Floydada.

I believe that’s a young Jimmy Dean in the photo below, but Pinterest couldn’t differentiate between Jimmy Dean of sausage fame, and actor James Dean.

I know for certain that it’s Jimmy Dean sausage pictured here, though.

As far as I know James Dean didn’t deal in pork products as a sideline, nor did he sing.

He could have, though. He was just that cool.

Without further ado (or a decent segue, for that matter) here’s Jimmy Dean, singing, “Big Bad John.”

https://g.co/kgs/b8nuxi

Peace, people.

Umbrella Geography

As I drove through a pop up thunderstorm on my way into Tallahassee yesterday I glanced over to make sure my umbrella was tucked into its appropriate spot in the catch-all pocket of the passenger seat door. Sure enough, there it was just waiting to provide an invaluable service. And if it hadn’t been there I knew there was another umbrella in the pocket behind my seat.

Studly Doright and I keep two umbrellas in each of our vehicles, plus spares in the house for visitors and one in his shop. We are a proud, multi-umbrella household.

For most of my life I didn’t even own such a device. I thought they were pretty when characters on tv and in movies unfurled their umbrellas to stroll through a gentle rainfall. In theory I knew they could be useful, but I grew up in the dusty Texas panhandle where most days it was too dry to whistle.

Unless one is an umbrella fetishist there is absolutely no use for an umbrella in places that might get rain three times a year. And when it does rain in Floydada, or Claude, Texas, the howling winds generally render an umbrella useless.

When our daughter was small she desperately wanted a colorful raincoat with matching galoshes and umbrella. We were barely living paycheck to paycheck back then, so something the child might get to use once in her life wasn’t high on my list of priorities. But she’d have been adorable in matching rain gear. Damned poverty.

How many umbrellas do you own? Is the number directly related to where you live? I considered making the claim that I could tell where respondents reside by the number of umbrellas they owned, but decided I’d just be guessing. I’m no umbrella soothsayer, after all.

Peace, people.

A Week of Loss

Earlier this week my mother-in-law, Saint Helen, called to let us know that her beloved brother-in-law, our Uncle Junior, had passed away. Junior was one of the best men I ever met. He always had a smile and a story to tell. Every Sunday he’d call Saint Helen and they’d share their week’s adventures. Even in his last years Junior would be out on his large property in Oklahoma tending to chores that would be daunting to much younger men. He was quite a man.

I also lost a friend I met in a Facebook group of political progressives, and while we never met face to face, Thom’s death hit me hard. He was a retired Methodist minister who lived a life of service to others. His heart was huge and his sense of humor kept us all on our toes. He shared his beautifully written prayers with us along with his calming and deep wisdom. Even in his last days he was posting puns on Facebook to cheer us up. The world has lost a great man.

Then just this morning I learned that a friend from my hometown was hit by a car and killed. I hadn’t seen Roy in years, but he was like a big brother to me when I was in high school. He had a big personality and an even bigger heart. I’m so sad for his family and for all who knew him. Another good guy gone.

Life is short. Hug your loved ones, cherish your friends.

Peace, people.

How Saving My Brother Resulted in My Burps Smelling Like Peppermint

My brothers and I were free range children, left to our own devices in the town of Floydada, Texas, over the three long months of every summer. As the oldest, I was placed in an undeserved position of authority while both of our parents worked full time jobs. I’m still amazed that brothers K and B will still talk to me after the horrible and random punishments I inflicted on them.

In my more self-forgiving moments I imagine that my poor efforts at babysitting equipped them both with survival tools far beyond what two small town boys might’ve gained otherwise. I mean, we had no cougars or grizzly bears to challenge their respective skill sets back in the 60’s. I was the next best thing.

I did teach them how to escape the lava that unexpectedly bubbled up in the living room from time to time. By carefully leaping from couch to chair to chair and back again we could keep our feet from becoming molten stubs. It was imaginary lava, but still. And I taught them how to scavenge for loose change in between the couch cushions and inside dresser drawers so we could walk to the drugstore downtown and each have a “baby” Coke on a scorching hot afternoon, so I wasn’t all bad.

Over the years both brothers have forgiven me for my cruelties, or at least they don’t mention them every time we’re together anymore. Instead we have edifying conversations. Just a week ago brother K and I were discussing our respective irritable bowel syndrome issues. He recommended a product called “Heather’s Tummy Tamers” with the caveat that they’ll make my burps smell like peppermint.

I ordered a bottle and indeed, my belches, along with other expressions of gas and bodily emissions, now have the distinct odor of peppermint. But they work beautifully on alleviating gas and acid reflux. I’m so glad I never actually tossed him into the lava.

Peace, people.

Swing into Spring

In my junior year of school at Floydada High, I took Distributive Education (DECA) classes. Even though I planned on attending college, I needed to earn some money, and these courses allowed me to work for a couple of hours each afternoon. In retrospect I wish I’d gone the purely academic route, but I didn’t have a great deal of career guidance coming my way. In the end it all worked out okay, I suppose.

DECA was interesting, though. We learned a variety of things about working in retail businesses, including how to display goods and market them to the consumer. Our teacher, Mr. S, was rather limited in his understanding of marketing strategies, but that didn’t keep him from trying. I remember one lesson in which we were to come up with an advertising slogan to promote a product.

The only slogan Mr. S could come up with as an example was “Swing into Spring!” Given that we lived in the Texas panhandle this sounded a great deal more like “Swang into Sprang,” and every time he said it I’d dissolve in a fit of giggles.

Mr. S was not amused. In fact, he threatened to send me to the office if I couldn’t stop laughing. Of course that made it worse, and I ended up trying to explain to the principal that I wasn’t being disrespectful to Mr. S. Apparently the principal wasn’t amused either, but rather than calling my parents to report my transgression he allowed me to stay in his office until it was time for me to report to my DECA related job, the better to compose myself before I found myself in the presence of Mr. S again. As punishments went, it was pretty sweet.

Ironically, just a few short days after my trip to the principal’s office I received a note to call my mom during DECA class. We didn’t have cell phones, kiddies. This was back in the dark ages. The only phone available to students was in the main office.

All the way there I imagined I could hear the other shoe dropping. Somehow, I figured Mom had learned of my previous transgression and was going to read me the riot act followed by a few weeks of grounding. I’d had a feeling I’d gotten off too lightly from the start.

Instead Mom had called to tell me that my dad had been offered a job in another town and that we’d be moving before school’s end. I was supposed to begin wrapping things up. Man, how I wished she’d been calling to ground me instead.

I returned to class sobbing. My friends gathered ’round to console me, but I could tell Mr. S was feeling pretty smug–he figured I’d gotten further punishment, as well. He looked a little less smug as my story unfolded, but was probably relieved that I’d be out of his hair.

The joke was on him, though. In the end my folks arranged for me to live with my maternal grandparents to finish out the school year in Floydada. I still wasn’t happy about leaving my friends and the only schools I’d ever attended in my last year, but it was a workable compromise. Plus, I met Studly Doright in the new town, so that was a positive.

And the next time I got the giggles over “Swang into Sprang” again, Mr. S let it go. I guess he figured I’d had punishment enough.

The Best First

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately for those early days of my relationship with Studly Doright. I don’t know if it’s because we’re both in our sixties now, or because our oldest grandkids are near the ages we were when we first fell in love, but something has me in a mood to reflect on how this whole thing started.

We’d begun dating not long after I moved to Dumas in my senior year of high school. Studly worked as a stocker, keeping groceries lined up on grocery shelves at the local Piggly Wiggly, and as a sacker who efficiently packed shoppers’ purchases into bags and then carried those bags to their cars. My dad was his boss and even before I began dating Studly, Daddy would comment on his superior work ethic.

“That Noyes kid works circles around the rest of my crew,” he’d say. (FYI, Studly Doright sometimes answers to the name David Noyes, but don’t tell anyone.) Coming from my dad that was high praise and most likely impacted my feelings for Studly even before I’d gotten to know him.

Our first date was to the homecoming football game in 1974. I can’t remember who our team, the Dumas Demons, played that night, or even if we won. I just recall how comfortable I was with this boy, and that was not the norm for the awkward kid that was me.

When he walked me to the door after the game and kissed me goodnight I knew I was a goner, so perfect was that kiss. Once inside the little house my family was renting I shut the front door and leaned back against it. My mom had been waiting up for me and gave me this look.

“Oh, Mom,” I said. “I think I’m in love.”

I didn’t say those words to Studly until that Christmas, though, and not until after he’d said them to me first. My family had returned to our hometown of Floydada, Texas, to spend the holidays with family. For nearly a week Studly and I had to endure being apart. I’m sure I mooned around like a lovesick puppy, and from accounts from friends, so did he.

As soon as we were reunited he took me to our favorite parking spot in his ’66 Plymouth. We were a little awkwardly sweet at first. His motorcycle helmet was in the seat beside me, and as a goof I put it on. Underneath the protective layer of that helmet I said, “I missed you a lot.”

Studly replied that he’d missed me, too.

“I might like you a little,” I confessed.

“I think I might love you,” he responded.

“Oh! I love you, too,” I said. We most likely kissed after that. I forget.

We’ve been married more than 41 years now. We’ve had some epic fights over four decades. We’ve hurt each other’s feelings and done incredibly stupid things, but on some level we’re still those two teenagers, sitting in that old blue Plymouth shyly declaring our love for each other. Every single day.

Granddaddy’s Gas Station

I grew up in a Fina gas station owned by my granddaddy. My days smelled of petroleum and cigars,

No wonder I’m a little on edge all of my days. When the world is combustible with the errant flick of an ash,

Everything becomes precious to a precocious five year old. Grandaddy kept candy and red fuses in a glass counter display.

I had the run of the place, but was cautioned about dashing about and around the old pumps, lest someone

Run me over. Pretty heady stuff for a little girl who only wanted to ask, “Premium or Ethyl?” as she washed grimy windshields.

My heart is all tied up in that place. Bound by diligence and the smell of Grandaddy’s Old Spice. The strength of his hugs.

Kindergarten Connection

I was fortunate to have attended kindergarten in the days before it was made mandatory. I’m sure Mrs. Parks, the owner and sole teacher of the school followed a curriculum, but I don’t remember it being a rigorous course of instruction.

My fellow classmates and I played and sang and created small works of art, while learning about the letters of the alphabet and how to count. A few children in the class learned to read that year. I wasn’t one of those children, but I used to tell people that I was. Nothing was forced as kindergarten learning seems to be nowadays.

At the end of that precious year Mrs. Parks directed us in a play to mark our graduation. One of my Floydada friends posted the picture of our class on Facebook this weekend. Weren’t we adorable?

That’s me on the back row. I’m the tall brown haired girl in the pink dress next to the headdress wearing brave and behind the tiny little doll in yellow.

I can still name all but two of my former classmates from the picture. Floydada is a small Texas town and I went to school with most of those pictured until my family moved to Dumas the summer before my senior year of high school. That was a tough move. I thought my world had ended, when it really was just beginning.

There’s really no message in this post, but our youngest granddaughter started kindergarten this year at a small school in Illinois, and I hope her memories of her year will someday be as sweet to her as mine are to me.

This is Harper on Ag day, which she preferred calling “Egg Day.” She’s a great deal sassier than I ever was. Heaven help us all.

Peace, people.

Straight out of Floydada

I’m a native of the tiny Texas panhandle town of Floydada. So was country music artist Don Williams. He’s much better known than I am, and that’s a fact.

Mr. Williams passed away this week. His music, though, will live on. I was a fan of his work, and believe I would have been even if we hadn’t had Floydada in common.

https://youtu.be/4qkoZQRbl3s