Thursday, January 8, 2009


Billy Ray Barnwell here, I hope you enjoyed reading Chapter 13 as much as I enjoyed writing it, I started not to have a Chapter 13 because some people, not me of course, are superstitious, hotels don’t even have a thirteenth floor except they certainly do, they just call it the fourteenth floor, but I don’t have a superstitious bone in my body except for maybe on that rare occasion when a black cat actually runs across the street in front of my car or somebody spills some salt or breaks a mirror, then for just a teensy-weensy second or two I do get a tad superstitious and a little voice in my head goes “uh-oh,” like something bad could happen, I don’t know what exactly, maybe a whole chapter would just up and disappear, poof, from my book, you know, a ridiculous thought like that, but then my head clears and I get over it and come back to reality, because as the famous president Francis X. Roosevelt said, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, don’t worry, I know it’s Franklin D. and not Francis X., I was just testing to see if you were awake. Anyways, I’m really proud of Chapter 13, I think it contains some of my best work so far.

Well, Mama used to say “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back” so let me just plunge on ahead, because a word to the wise as we all know ought to be sufficient, plus as my friend Harlow Vandervoort whose father attended Cornell University in Ithaca New York always tells me, anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. Just think about that for a few seconds and you will see that it really is true, I mean if something is worth doing at all it’s worth doing period even if you don’t do it well because if you do it poorly at least something worth doing is getting done after a fashion and that is better than not doing it at all, unless of course you are that guy who owned the Tri-State Crematorium outside of Chattanooga Tennessee where they found something like three hundred and thirty-four uncremated bodies stored around on his property, Harlow’s Little Axiom does not apply to you, sir, because you, sir, and I use the term loosely, are what Mrs. Brockett used to call the exception that proves the rule, in your job it was extremely important to do your job very well indeed and now you have a lot of time, twelve years to be exact, to think long and hard about what you did or rather what you didn’t do, well anyways, Harlow Vandervoort still makes a lot of sense to me, but then I’m a deep thinker, not that I think I’m doing this poorly, in fact in my own humble opinion I think it’s right good.

Mama used to say lots of other things too, her sayings were not earthy like my Dad’s but they were every bit as memorable, for example she might say “Faint heart ne’er won fair maid,” or “A soft answer turneth away wrath,” not that a soft answer ever did any good when Dad launched into one of his tirades, or “There but for the grace of God go I,” or “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds,” or my personal favorite, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I swear sometimes she sounded just like a page out of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and how they ever got together is beyond me, Mama and Daddy I mean, not Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, they were such different individuals, he left school after tenth grade and she received her teacher’s certificate from West Chester State College, his father went to work on a bicycle that none of his five boys could touch on penalty of being whipped with a razor strop, her parents owned two or three cars and her father was a gentle soul who never even raised his voice let alone a hand except to play the violin and the clarinet, not at the same time of course, and he also owned a successful real estate and insurance business, he’s the one grandparent I met, I saw him three times, when I was 14, 17, and 27 and he died when I was 29 at the age of 95, I mean he was 95, not that I was 29 and 95 at the same time, well getting back to what I was saying, Dad’s parents stood in lines to get soup and bread during the Great Depression, Mama’s parents put a son through medical school, Dad played lacrosse on the banks of the frozen Mississippi River with Indian kids that he knew in Wisconsin, Mama attended synagogue in a well-to-do suburb of Philadelphia, I mean you can’t make this stuff up, they were as different as night and day, Mama said once that she fell in love with a sailor suit and didn’t realize until later that she didn’t care much for the sailor, so I say again what I said in an earlier chapter, be careful what you pray for because you just may get it.

Speaking of praying, there’s this story Wendy Bagwell used to tell about the time he and the Sunlighters drove their bus all the way from Smyrna to east Tennessee to minister in song at a little church up in the mountains, and after they finished their part of the service they sat down on the front row, partly because it would have been impolite to leave but mainly because the love offering they were going to receive wasn’t going to be collected until the end of the service, well the preacher started in to preaching, and after about twenty minutes of what can only be called very spirited preaching the congregation was beginning to get pretty excited so the preacher reached down and pulled out a wooden box from under the pulpit and the congregation got even more excited and Wendy and the Sunlighters just looked at one another, then the preacher took the top off the box and the congregation began to get wild and Wendy was wishing he had sat on the back row so he could sneak out unnoticed, but there they were on the very front row, so Wendy asked the guy sitting behind him what was in the box and the guy said rattlesnakes and Wendy really wanted to get out of there because he had never been in a snake-handling meeting before and he wasn’t eager to start now, so he turned to one of the Sunlighters and said “Where’s the back door of this church?” and the Sunlighter said to him “Wendy, there’s only one door in this church, the one we came in back yonder in the vestibule, this church doesn’t have a back door” and Wendy said “Reckon where do they want one?” and the only reason he’s not telling that story any more is that he’s dead, not from snakebite, I hasten to add.

Now sir or madam as the case may be, if A you don’t think that story is funny and B you would never say reckon under any circumstances then you are definitely not a true Southerner, you prolly wouldn’t know Patsy Cline from Lulu Roman, you wouldn’t know Dale Earnhardt from Junior Samples, you wouldn’t know Minnie Pearl whose real name was Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon from Billy Ray Cyrus whose real name is Billy Ray Cyrus, in fact I will go further, you wouldn’t know Appomattox from Chickamauga, you wouldn’t know Tammy Faye Bakker from Kathryn Kuhlman, you wouldn’t know scuppernong jelly from muscadine wine, in fact here’s a little test you can take to see just how Southern you are, match the following names:

(1) Sam, Rusty, Howard, and Vestal
(2) Brock, Rose Nell, Mary Thom, and Ben
(3) Alphus, Urias, and Eva Mae

with their groups:

(A) The Speer Family
(B) The Lefevres
(C) The Happy Goodmans

because all true Southerners, black, white, green, purple, Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish, I can’t speak for Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, can ace that test in about two shakes of a lamb’s tail, they can do it quick like a bunny as my Dad used to say, 1-C, 2-A, 3-B, even if they live north of the Mason-Dixon line or way out west somewhere, they don’t even have to think about it, so if you are wondering who in H. E. Double Toothpicks are The Speer Family, The Lefevres, and The Happy Goodmans, I’m pretty sure A your Great-great-grandpa fought on the Yankee side during The Late Unpleasantness and B you prolly never thought of eating turnip greens and ham hocks with black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck and C if I were to mention Hoppin’ John you would say “Who?” and D you would put sugar on grits in a heartbeat, oh something else Wendy Bagwell said that bears repeating, he said he prayed and asked the Lord one time, Lord, would you let me be a great musician and a great singer? if you would do that I would always give you the credit, would you please do that Lord? and the Lord said No, but I’ll tell you what I will do, I’ll send you to a crowd who don’t know the difference and this is Billy Ray Barnwell signing off.

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