Mamaw Phillips Throws Herself on the Mercy of the Court


Brother Holland had one bug in his Cheerios.

That would have been his mother-in-law, Martha “Mamaw” Phillips.

To the good reverend, Gussie Fay Holland was the perfect wife. She was nearly six feet tall, so his towering height didn’t look as out of place as with some of his previous dating attempts. She was a good homemaker, and served as church pianist, treasurer, Sunday School teacher, and church secretary. All of this she did well, and without complaint.

But Mamaw Phillips was another story.

Brother Holland had met his bride in Wisconsin, when he was visiting an old army buddy, Homer “Heft” Burns. Heft thought they could do worse than visit a local cafe known for great food and pretty waitresses. Gussie Fay had worked there for years, and it was how she put herself through secretarial school.

She was nearly 30, and no longer held out hope for marriage. For whatever reason, her beanpole-like stature seemed to intimidate most men. So, she was in for the shock of her life when she saw a man taller than her, with bright blue eyes and a goatee, who seemed to like her.

After a short courtship, they married. Gussie Fay’s mother, Mamaw Phillips threw a fit.

It wasn’t right! It wasn’t natural! Who would come to check on Mamaw Phillips if Brother Holland took her daughter down to Alabama? Never mind that Mamaw Phillips was in perfect health, and could out-work five cheese farmers. Mamaw felt small and weak, and was dependent, as a widow, on her daughter.

It didn’t take long for her to sell her home in Wisconsin and trail the young couple to Contentment. She put in to move in to the parsonage, as it had several bedrooms and there was lots of space. Finally, she wore Brother Holland down, and he told her that she could stay ‘until she found a place to live.’

No one knew, however, that it would be a years-long search for Mamaw Phillips, and that she would never find a place in Contentment she was pleased with.

Brother Holland consoled himself by staying in the church as much as he could, as did Gussie Fay, who, truth to be told, had really hoped her mother would stay in Wisconsin. The couple were never able to have children, and so there was very little reason to go home, really.

Mamaw Phillips didn’t like Brother Holland’s style of preaching, and never forgave him for marrying her daughter, so, she went to the Methodist church in town. There, she found several dowagers of the same mindset, aging, needing attention, and not being too discriminate on how they got it. As a result, if there was any major pot bubbling in Contentment, Mamaw Philllips was likely to be one of the chief stirrers.

Things all came to a head when she’d been in Contentment about five years. She’d fixed up the guest room with all things ‘old lady’ to include several vials of stinky smelling ‘rubs’ that she swore by for her non-existent arthritis.

One battle that Brother Holland won (with the help of Gussie Fay) was that if Mamaw had to put that mess on herself, she had to keep the bedroom door closed. That way the whole house didn’t reek of it. Weeping copiously, Mamaw Philips complied.

After a few years, Mamaw had worn her son-in-law out with her attention-seeking. He would walk in the house, and Mamaw would be in the parlor, sorting out her collection of decorative handkerchiefs. Going through there was the only way to get to the dining room, and to his supper. So, invariably, Brother Holland had to pass her. And she always had just about the same comment.

“I guess that it won’t be long now, son.” She’d say, looking at her son-in-law meaningfully.

“What’s that, Mamaw Philips?” Brother Holland would say politely, slowing down to listen to  the minimum that he thought he had to without Gussie Fay getting mad at him.

“Well, I spect, till you’re preaching my funeral. I went down to Marlers Funeral Home today to look at my choices. I have it narrowed down between two caskets.”

“Well, that’s nice Mamaw Phillips,” Brother Holland said, “It’s always good to be prepared.”

“OH!!!” She’d cry out, “You just want me gone! You’d be glad to have the burden of my life off your shoulders! You just don’t care! And you, a preacher!”

“I didn’t mean a bit of that, Mamaw,” Brother Holland would say tiredly, then with a cajoling voice. “Don’t you need some of your cough medicine? Your voice sounds scratchy.”

And though it would be years before the strategy of  ‘distract, distract, distract’ became well known through a misbehaving president, Brother Holland had already developed the skill in spades. He knew Mamaw at least as well as he knew his wayward congregation. And he knew Mamaw liked her cough medicine.

What Brother Holland denied, even to himself, was what everyone knew. That cough syrup was loaded with alcohol. It was so strong that only a few spoon-fulls could bring on giddiness and unchaste behavior in some of the most respected local matrons. The more cough syrup Mamaw Phillips took, the easier she was to live with. So, Brother Holland often encouraged her to take a healthy chug.

When it began to dawn on Mamaw Phillips that her attempts at getting her family’s attention were rarely going to be successful (they knew her too well) she had to branch out in the community. By this time, there was a new Sheriff Downing “Plug” Coursey, and one thing he did not tolerate was nonsense in public. And Mamaw’s ensuing antics were to plunge the new sheriff into a fresh kind of hell.

First, it was the funeral home. Seemed that someone had bought her choice of coffins, and she complained long and loudly to Woody Marler, the funeral home owner and director.

He finally shooed her off, telling her that  if she’d bought the darn thing when she fell in love with it orginally, she’d have a box all ready for her. Making a sound of affront, Mamaw stomped away.

On the way out, she passed the room where a funeral was in process. And stopped.

She walked into a room of folks she didn’t know,  mourning the loss of a Contentment old time settler, Tommy Crenshaw. The room was so packed that no one noticed her arrival.

Tommy Creshaw’s pastor was mad at him at the time of his demise, so the funeral home had to hire somebody from out of town to preach his funeral.  Looking nervous, the out of town pastor started making the necessary comments over the departed. Because he didn’t know Tommy,  he went general, and hoped he was right.

“Well, we all know Tommy Crenshaw was a good man, faithful in Sunday School, never missed a Sunday.”

“And Bingo! Don’t forget Bingo!” Mamaw Phillips called out. The assembled roomful turned to stare at Mamaw. Grumblings of disapproval filled the room. Tommy Crenshaw hadn’t been an especially loved man in Contentment. Some had just come, honestly, to look in the casket and make sure he was really dead. But none of them wanted to admit it.

“Yes,” The rent-a-pastor said, rivers of sweat pouring down his face. “And he was kind to animals, and good to the womenfolk, and…..”

“Never mind that he took a little nip now and then,” Mamaw called out helpfully. “He was just a humble, fault-filled man.”

Now the mourners were really incensed. Bingo and booze? Rumblings of barely concealed dislike filled the chapel. If he’d been doing all that, who knew what else the old codger was doing?

Near panic, the rent-a-pastor tried to finish up quick. “And….” He said firmly, “He will be definitely missed.”

Suddenly, Mamaw Phillips let out a wail of despair so loud that folks on the street heard it. “Won’t he, won’t he, won’t heeeeee?”  Mamaw draped herself across the coffin, weeping real tears over a fellow she’d never met, as if mourning for a lost lover.

It took Woody Marler AND Sheriff Plug to pull her off that coffin.

Brother Holland was summoned to the Sherrif’s office, and told to take his mother-in-law home. “I don’t know what got into her.” Sheriff Plug said to Brother Holland. “But she near about frightened that family into a conniption. Willie Freeman almost wet himself from fright. She can’t come back if she don’t know the person being sent off. I mean it.”

So, instead, Mamaw Phillips started going to trials.

There was no real reason to bar her (yet) from those. Most of them were what was called ‘first appearance’ where all the manner of new crimes were presented for a tri-county region. So, you could have heard anything from a divorce hearing to a driving under the influence case to the rare murder.

Mamaw Phillips found it all very interesting.

She’d watched Perry Mason, so she figured she understood court procedure. She was firmly convinced that she could be helpful to the Judge Oliver “Red” Browning, and to the rest of the court staff. Most of all, Mamaw thought she could help the judge find true justice in each case.

The problem was, she always got it wrong.

Mamaw would sit up in the second floor gallery, reserved for the public, and would call out recommendations to the attorneys, or give her opinion about comments that they had just made. When shushed by the baliff, she got more defiant. The judge and attorneys tried ignoring her, but that just made her worse.

One trial day, James Lawford was brought to first appearance. He’d been found drunk in public once again, and this time, he’d stripped off and was taking a bath in the water fountain that surrounded the Robert E. Lee statue in front of the Courthouse.

James had had his hand slapped before with his many public intoxications, but this was serious business.

Thornton Holley, the county attorney came in, looking like it was for him alone to deliver the wrath of God to James Lawford. Jimmy Lindsay, public defender, fresh from law school and wholly unprepared, practically wilted at the sight of County Attorney Holley. Everyone in the public gallery knew this was going to be a fun day in court..

Mamaw Phillips had been uncharacteristically silent for most of the hearing.  Judge Browning prepared, after hearing the ineffectual defense and the strong prosecutor’s evidence, to lower the boom on James Lawford. Judge Browning ruled that Lawford would have to work on the chain gang for a minimum of six months.

Mamaw stood up, quivering with fury. “That’s it?” She demanded, shaking her finger at the shocked judge. “For what he did? He should get the chair! Give him the chair, give him the chair, give him the chair!!!”

After the Baliff and three deputies hauled her off, Brother Holland was summoned to see the Judge in private chambers. Judge Browning was given the whole story by her despairing son-in-law culminating with “I just don’t know what to do with her.”

Then, Judge Browning had a thought that no one had yet considered. He had a brother-in-law, Lee Warner, that he couldn’t stand, who lived with him. He and Mamaw were just about the right age. Lee needed a hobby to keep him out of the Howling at the Moon Club and from being a general pest around Contentment to most everybody.

No one was sure how they did it, but somehow, before long, the good judge and Brother Holland had introduced the couple, and sparks fairly flew. Before long, Judge Browning gathered his family and the Holland family back in his chambers, but not because of some new outrage by Mamaw or Lee. Instead, to perform a wedding.

The judge offered permanent use of his cabin up by Lake Hogfoot to the new couple, which would put them about 90 miles from Contentment. Since neither of them had a vehicle, that would greatly limit the likelyhood of them coming back to town. Both of the wedded party had their social security pensions, so they were pretty much set.

Brother Holland, as his and Gussie’s Fay’s wedding gift, presented them with a one way Greyhound ticket out of town to their new home.

And as far as anyone in Contentment knew, the couple thrived at Lake Hogfoot and the drama in Contentment, at least for the time being, was greatly reduced.

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Trump: Why She Didn’t Tell


I know that some won’t read this blog.

Or, if they do, will get defensive, angry, or completely disagree.

Sexual predators (and those who protect them) have found a new champion in our 45th president.

Still, I am stunned by President Trump’s new low.

He asks why Christine Blasey Ford never reported her alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh when they were teenagers.

Of course, it is an easy question for him, as he is an accused sexual predator himself. He’s been caught on live video saying that if you’re famous, you can grab a woman’s privates and get away with it.

And, like many predators, (and the people who protect them), he finds it easier to blame the victim.

Still, I would like to answer that question. Why didn’t Mrs. Ford report? Where was her ‘loving family?’ Why do so many women like her, victims of sexual abuse and assault take years to tell  (or never tell) what has happened to them?

Okay, let’s look at some possible reasons:

Maybe she was sexually abused as a child, and the family protected the perpetrator/told her not to make family business public.

Maybe she told and was not believed.

Maybe she told and someone asked what she had done to turn the boy on.

Maybe she told and someone told her she should have fought harder to prevent it.

Maybe she was told that if she hadn’t been drinking, dressing provocatively, in a fraternity dorm room or party……it would not have happened.

Maybe she was told that if she hadn’t been such a ‘tease’ it would not have happened.

Today, we are in a country where the sitting president dares to ask the question of a sexual abuse survivor of ‘why didn’t she report it.”

Mr. President, let me give you a few statistics from the early 90’s, when I started to be vocal about my own childhood sexual abuse and a sexual assault which occurred when I was in college. I am quite positive that those stats have not changed except to become worse.

1 in 3 females in America are sexually abused/assaulted by the age of 18.

1 in 5 males face the same abuse.

19 out of 20 cases of rape (either gender) or sexual abuse are NEVER reported.

Of those that are reported, only 1 in about 20 more ever are prosecuted.

I recall writing an editorial about being a victim of crime, and reading it to my Mother. She gave me a threatening look, which I knew well. She had been telling me, as long as I could remember that I wasn’t to tell what happened in my family.

Once she learned about my assault, she apparently felt the need to protect the 17 year old felon who assaulted me as well. When she wasn’t doing this, she was insisting that it was ‘all in my mind.’

I remember three months after my college assault,  crying while talking over the phone to my paternal great grandmother. About how I was having flashbacks, and basically still could not function. How I was failing my classes. How I kept thinking that I saw my attacker every time I went anywhere. (It didn’t help that he was released from jail after his arrest and began to stalk me at my new apartment.)

Her comment? “It’s been three months. You should be over that by now. Aren’t you a Christian?”

We women (and men) who have gone through this baptism of hell-fire and come out on the other side often have to do so alone. When we speak out, we risk making ourselves vulnerable to other perverts who smell fresh meat. We are clearly told that somehow, the abuse/assault was our fault. That if we speak out, we are somehow bad.

In my experience, when a few so-called Christian (and married) men heard of my story, they responded by hitting on me sexually. One proudly told me that he had once been charged with sexual abuse of a teen in his care, and that ‘she couldn’t prove it.’

When I complained about his later sexual harassment of me at work (he owned the place), I was told by him, ‘you’ll never be able to prove it.’ And despite the fact that this man is well known in my former town of residence for not being able to keep his hands off his young female employees, it is likely that a large group still believe his disavowals, and blame the young girls.

It has taken half a lifetime for me to become remotely capable of trusting the men in my life. For years, I avoided commitment by choosing addicts or men who claimed to be in recovery from addiction but who still acted like addicts. I avoided commitment by allowing myself to be re-victimized over and over again.

No abuse/assault survivor’s story is the same. Betrayal can happen so many ways. There are the children whose fathers, uncles, brothers, cousins, etc. treat them as a sexual object and then do their best to keep them silent. Or, it could be a date rape, or mass assault of a girl at a frat party. It could be the betrayal of a stranger, who forces himself on a woman he doesn’t know and should never be sexually violent towards.

Betrayal is betrayal. And sometimes the survivors just don’t have the words or ability to tell.

They’re just trying to survive.

In my current workplace, we are trained that harassment doesn’t have to be proven. If you are uncomfortable with someone’s behavior, and they keep doing it after you tell them to stop, its harassment.

I like that definition.

However, what of the many workplaces who don’t think like that? What of the stories still happening where the ‘blame the victim’ boys club (and their boisterous cheerleaders) try to insure that such behavior is buried?

I wouldn’t expect the current president, or any other male who has such clear disrespect for women to understand why Mrs. Ford didn’t tell until now.

However, I understand. And I honor all those years she tried to make a life rise up from the ashes. Sometimes, with God’s help and good people around you, such victory is possible.

I look at what has been created from my own ashes, and know it is true. But I also know why so many people either never tell, or stop telling.

We stop telling if we are not believed, minimized, mocked, or re-victimized. Or maybe we never tell to start, knowing this is the likely outcome.

I would like to see a stronger, more just America, where such foolish questions as ‘why didn’t she report it?’ never have to be asked.

You deserve to tell your story. It is your most basic human right, whether the predators out there want to hear it or not. But sometimes, you can’t–for years. And, that’s okay.

To all who have lost their voice, I pray that the courage of Christine Blasey Ford will help you learn to speak again.

I pray that someday, a woman speaking up about her darkest moments isn’t treated with disbelief, mockery or idiocy. Our country can do better for the sake of all our female citizens. We truly CAN do better.

This may not happen in my lifetime, but you can’t blame me if I hope.

 

 

Aunt Ginny and the Hat Pin


Sometimes, Brother Holland was inspired.

What’s more, he knew it. He’d wake up, and  hardly be able to finish his Rice Krispies because he knew that today, there would be a bumper crop for Jesus at the altar call at his church. He’d almost trot from the parish house to the church, eager to get about the business of clearing that church of Satan.

But one Sunday, something just wasn’t right.

Brother Holland thought that he had gotten everything ready for a splendid morning of soul-winning. He’d picked very convicting hymns that reminded folks of how desperate their spiritual plight was.

He’d dropped some particularly gory comic-style tracts in the church pews, in the church bathrooms, and at various places downtown where his congregation were known to frequent. These tracts showed Satan hovering over sinners and seeming as hungry as the monster in the movies that showed on Saturday night at the drive-in theater.

Why, sometimes, he’d leave a few tracts at the Howling at the Moon Club, but he’d do it in the early afternoon, before the dancers were ready to bare all, and he’d skidaddle fast, so that no one thought he might like such a den of iniquity.

But there came a Sunday when all his efforts seemed for naught.

He was concluding a sermon designed if not to convince, then to terrify. His devoted wife, Gussie Fay, given the signal, started playing “Just as I am.” It was time for the altar call, and for all Brother Hollands efforts to be rewarded.

No one came.

Who knew why. Maybe Brother Holland was really that good, and had cleansed his whole congregation of the scourge of sin. Maybe he had run the devil smack out of town. People stood, uncomfortable, as verse seven of “Just as I am” was played. Gussie Fay knew when a convicted soul came forward, she could stop and give her fingers a rest.

No one was coming.

Brother Holland reared himself up to his full 6 feet seven in a terrifying fashion. “Some of ya’ll out there ain’t made a decision.” He crowed, his eyes seeming to burn into the pupils of each person assembled, one by one. “You know it, I know it, and what’s more, Jesus knows it. And we’re just going to stay here until we get this little problem worked out. You hear?”

His congregation heard, and some groaned. Brother Holland had gone a bit long on his sermon that day already. Some wanted to get home to tune in to the Sunday football, and didn’t want to tune in late. Some were just plain hungry and wanted to get to Bertha’s Broasted Chicken Breasts before the Methodists got all the Sunday lunch.

But no, the wayward sinner had yet to show his face, and Brother Holland kept signaling to his wife to keep playing. The folks were too intimidated by their good pastor to stage a walk out, and continued to sing “Just as I am” again, and again and one more time after that. Things were getting desperate.

Folks started to grumble against who the hold out was in the congregation.

Finally, Aunt Ginny had had enough. She looked about the congregation and sized up who all was there. Then, carrying her large black patent leather purse, she crossed aisles and sat behind Terry Jenkins and his two boys, Simon and Sylvester. She fumbled in her purse, and then finding what she was looking for, got a big smile on her face.

Terry Jenkins was a big, strong fella, foreman at the local lumberyard. He rarely came to church. Usually, it was because he’d either had a wild night out at the Howling at the Moon club or had lost big at a poker game across the county line. Either way, he was usually hiding out from his wife, Rebekkah.

He was a good husband, but in his mind, after he got through providing for the week, the rest of the time was his to do as he saw fit. And what he saw fit to do, Rebekkah and nearly every one else in the town saw as the devil’s own business.

Terry had come stumbling in at about 8:30 that morning, reeling and beginning to feel very hungover. He hoped Rebekkah would be still asleep. Instead, she stood in the hall, glaring at him, with a wicked looking broom in her hand. “You need to go to church, Terry. You need it bad.” Rebekkah told her husband.

“I don’t.” He swore, trying to look determined, but really only looking very green around the gills.

“You do, and this morning you will, to show your boys what a real father does instead of chasing hussies all night at that strip club. You either go, or I’m going to beat you silly with this broom! Any questions?”

Terry had a few questions, but none that wouldn’t have hastened the beating with the broom. So, grumbling and mumbling, he went and stood under the shower until he near about drowned.

Then, feeling really bad, struggled into the suit jacket, dress shirt and tie his wife had laid out for him along with his newest Wrangler blue jeans. By then the beers of the evening before were trying to re-visit him, so Rebekkah took the car keys from him and loaded everyone in Terry’s truck, putting Terry in the truck bed so he could lean over and throw up if he needed to.

They had gotten there right on time, and Rebekkah had nagged Terry to the front pew. The boys sat on either side of him, which was good, because at parts of the service, they had to hold him up and keep him from pitching forward.

He was a man in misery, but not because of any crisis of the soul. He was just plumb sick from about 15 too many the night before. He sat, hardly hearing Brother Holland rave about sin, wondering how deep in hell he’d go if he puked on the plush red church carpet.

He stood as the sermon was over, and was so miserable he didn’t see Aunt Ginny come up behind him. The congregation was in about verse 14 now, and some had to go answer the call of nature. They began to openly hate and resent the unknown sinner that was keeping them there. Who was he or she?

They were about to find out.

Just as Gussy started on the 15th verse, thinking her fingers were about to give plumb out, a wail of intensity filled the room. She stopped playing, looking for the soul in distress.

What no one knew about, even in the pew with Aunt Ginny was that she’d just taken her sharp hat pin, held it in her fingers so no one could see, and poked Terry hard right in his Wranglers. He jumped, howled, and danced around, but could not figure out who the source of his torment was.

Brother Holland, nearly about to give up, looked at Terry with an eager look on his face. He hadn’t been wrong! Surely, this was the hold-out he’d known was in the congregation. He reached out his hand, putting on his best parental look. “Come on, Son. We all understand. You just have to let go of the world, and give it all up to Jesus.”

Terry looked at Brother Holland dully. He didn’t want to let go of anything. He looked at his wife, who was looking back hopefully, tears of expectation in her eyes. If he gave it all up to Jesus, that would mean giving up the great beer, the gambling and the girls at the Howling at the Moon club. Surely Jesus wouldn’t be that unfair.

“Uh-Uh.” He said, shaking his head.

Aunt Ginny let him have it again. He slapped his buttocks where the pin had gone in, and howled yet again. Ginny whispered sharply in his ear, her voice like a hiss.

“It’s the devil, Terry! It’s the pure devil! He’s come to get you. Don’t you feel his pitchfork?” Then, she let him have it again.

Now, in all of this, Terry didn’t think of a better explanation. All he knew was that something had to change and change fast. Grabbing his sons by the hands, he ran up to Brother Holland and near about climbed him.

Half an hour later, having declared Terry, Simon and Sylvester, free from the scourge of sin, Brother Holland, smiling widely, told everyone they were free to go.

The congregation took off out of there as if some one had just found Termites in one of their Jim Walter Homes.

And as far as everyone knew, Terry never visited any dens of sin again. For the rest of his life, he went around, twitching a little bit, seeming to be afraid that he’d get the pitchfork again. He became the model husband and father.

And Aunt Ginny put her hat pin in a place of honor. From time to time, she’d look at it and smile, thinking about how greatness could be achieved if applied with the right force and in the right place at the right time.

Aunt Ginny Comes To Contentment


Aunt Ginny Paramore was in her late 40’s when her youngest sister, Eula Mae Vernon, died giving birth to Bobby Ray. Ginny had just retired from 20 years of teaching with the Morton County School System, and even in her grief, was glad to make an extended visit to Contentment and take over the care of Bobby Ray and his elder siblings.

This allowed Amos Paul to continue working as a short distance trucker, delivering various farm goods to all points in Alabama. He had always liked Aunt Ginny and trusted her with his kids now that their mother, Eula Mae was gone.

Within a month, she would be solely in charge of the group. On a stormy evening, Amos Paul Vernon collided with a logging truck outside of Birmingham on his way back from delivering a load of fertilizer for his company. Neither men driving survived.

The kids were now orphans, and the other Paramore/Vernon siblings were not able to take all 7 of the children. It was either Ginny step in or have the kids separated at various relatives homes.

Aunt Ginny, long a widow, and well-experienced with children from school-teaching, felt that she had no other choice. She sold her home, and became the matriarch of the young Vernon children.

They were all confused and hurting about the loss of both of their parents in such a short time, Clevus especially. Caught between boyhood and early manhood, he didn’t know how to act. For a while, it looked like it would be the war of the worlds.

He and Aunt Ginny locked horns in an epic battle for who would be in control. Finally through her innate wisdom and toughness, Ginny won the battle, and became one of only two women who could ever talk sense to him.

Ginny was an excellent cook, home-maker, and child care-giver. The rules were simple, and the consequences real. Ginny was a tiny woman, barely five feet tall, who might get up to 100 pounds after Thanksgiving dinner, but that was about it. She was tough though, strong and able to labor almost as well as a good strong man out in the fields.

Aunt Ginny had no illusions about her charges, and loved them all equally and dearly. In time the oldest children (Clevus, Tully, Julie Anne and Bessie Ann) came to respect and cherish their Aunt Ginny. The younger ones (Johnny Paul, Georgia Grace and Bobbie Ray) thought of her as their own mother.

Aunt Ginny had very specific views on many things, but the one that she stood strongest on was religion. Upon getting to town, she went to every church in town and ‘interviewed’ the pastors. She wasn’t going to let just anyone provide spiritual training for her little ones.

Before their parents deaths, church had been more of a Christmas and Easter kind of thing. Their parents worked very hard, Amos Paul being on the road most of the time trucking, and Eula Mae busy with six of her seven children. Sunday was the day for both of them to get much needed rest. Both also felt that one could talk just as well to God in a kitchen or in the cab of a truck as in a crowded church full of people they really didn’t like anyway.

When they had gone to church, they liked Brother Holland’s Church of God church. He was good for what ailed them. He spewed out enough brimstone each Sunday that no one who went to his church had any illusions about their selves. It was a humble crowd who were part of Brother Holland’s flock, and if they weren’t, he’d soon make sure they were.

Brother Holland and Ginny spent a morning together and established a respect that lasted the rest of their lives. With that respect came the certainty that Ginny would have all seven of her nieces and nephews in church, come hell or high water, every time the door was open. No more Christmas and Easter only. And that made Brother Holland as pleased as punch.

What would please him more would be Aunt Ginny’s often unique means of evangelism. While Brother Holland labored at the public jumping and shouting and trying to run the devil out of his parishioners, Aunt Ginny would do her part from the pew.

Out of many interesting stories, it turned out her most effective brand of converting a lost soul was with a very sharp hat pin.

How Eulalie Learned How to Pray


Eulalie Ann Bradshaw had always felt a little different.

She had so many first cousins she could hardly keep up with them. Her favorite cousin and best friend was Suzanna, better known as ‘Zana, only child of her Aunt Tully and uncle Luther Redfeather.

However, even though the girls were close, their mothers ways of raising them, at least when it came to religious training, was completely different.

Zanna had to go to Brother Holland’s Church of God church along with most of the other first cousins. Eulalie, whose father, Harvey,  was a Yankee and really uptight, had to go (every other Sunday) to the Rushing Springs Episcopal Church in Woodfordville, the nearest city to Contentment. Most of this was because Eulalie’s father could never agree on religion with his wife, Julie Anne.

Harvey Bradshaw went around with a permanent look of being taken aback at just about everything his wife’s family did. Yet, he lived in Contentment all his married life until the good Lord carried him away at the age of 76.

His in-laws found him amusing, and he provided for Julie Anne and their daughter, so they really didn’t have a problem him most of the time.

It was harder for Aunt Ginny, the family matriarch, to like Harvey, though. It was bad enough that Julie Anne had taken to dating GI’s on the nearby Camp Rucker army base. But then–she had to disgrace the whole family by marrying one! To Aunt Ginny, it was a mixed marriage, doomed for failure, and she prayed for her niece. Prayed hard, especially when Julie Anne became pregnant with Eulalie, who would be her only child.

When Eulalie was born, the whole family was curious to see what the child would look like. To the surprise of them all, the little hybrid didn’t spout two heads or five arms. She looked normal enough, even though she had a Yankee father.

Aunt Ginny loved babies and she loved her great-niece. But Aunt Ginny didn’t love Harvey’s fancy church where people didn’t even have the decency to speak in tongues. And what a name! Aunt Ginny could never pronounce it correctly, so she often called Harvey something that sounded like “Pest”-copalian.

Aunt Ginny went there for the baptism, and came out shaking her head. Those folks didn’t even get Eulalie properly soaked, just dabbled some water on her forehead. In years to come, Aunt Ginny often wondered if that fancy baptism ‘took.’

But in time, Aunt Ginny grew to care about Harvey. As aggravating as he was, Harvey, I guess, wore her down. Folks around Aunt Ginny knew that she carried a special burden for her nephew-in-law’s soul. The way they knew that, was that every time Harvey opened his Northern mouth around her, folks heard Aunt Ginny asking Jesus to keep her near the cross.

When Eulalie got dragged by her father to his church, he insisted that the little girl be dressed up like she was going to meet Governor Wallace or Billy Graham. Once there, she had to sit perfectly still, and not move a inch. She couldn’t even scratch if she itched, and we all know that its when we can’t scratch that we itch the most.

Eulalie wasn’t sure what would happen if she did move in her father’s church, but it was likely to be purely horrible. Maybe she’d go to those nice, dignified folks purgatory. Maybe she’d just get a good spanking.

Eulalie decided not to try and find out.

The other Sundays, she went with Julie Anne to whatever old-time gospel church Julie Anne was currently enthralled by. And there quite a few on that list. Would it be Ike Walton and his bunch of snake-handlers? Or would it be Brother Tennessee Turpin and his group that picketed in front of the Howling at the Moon Club?

Or was it going to be good old Brother Holland who told his charges each week that they were going straight to hell and that he was going to watch?

There was enough variety to make young Eulalie very confused. At one or two of the services (not Brother Hollands) the adults were carrying on so much that Eulalie could get away with anything she wanted. Folks would just come up to Julie Anne and compliment her on having a child who was ‘on fire for the Lord.”

When such things were said, Julie Anne would smile weakly, nod, and reach in her purse for a nerve pill.

Eulalie sometimes dozed during the formal prayers at her Father’s church, and wasn’t sure if they really were prayers at all. So, really,  it was her mother who taught her to properly pray.

Julie Anne taught Eulalie to pray every time she misplaced something important,

It would go like this. Every weekday, Julie Anne would come back from dropping Harvey at work. She then had the use of their cherry red Impala for the rest of the day. Once home, Julie Anne would watch one or two soap operas while doing chores she could do within sight of the television set.

Then, Julie Anne would get it in her mind that she needed to go somewhere. This would be an urgent need, like picking up some ingredient for supper or getting the latest National Enquirer.

Eulalie, being too young for school, had to go with her. So, they’d get to the door and Julie Anne would realise that she couldn’t find her car keys.

This was a crisis. And there was only one thing to do to relieve that crisis.

Pray.

Once Julie Anne realised that the keys were missing, she would begin the first kind of formal prayer to the Lord. She’d start calling out His name, saying, “Lord, Lord, Lord, I can’t find them car keys. We really need to go do…………..Please help me, Lord.” It was pure petition and Eulalie would come to know it well.

Julie Anne wasn’t one to wait on the Lord, so she’d help him while petitioning for His assistance in the matter. If the keys weren’t found, she’d move on to the next type of prayer, which would be confession.

Eulalie loved this part, because she got to hear the dirt on everybody, especially women that her mother didn’t like.

It would go, “You know Lord, I just can’t stand Jimmy Sue Taylor. She wears me out. And I know I shouldn’t talk about her to Eleanor Grace and Tully so much. But if you help me find those car keys, I promise I’ll cut it right out, even if she is as homely as a sack of dried up rabbit turds, and laughs like a duck.”

Now sometimes, that would be all it took. The keys, lying on the top of a chair, or in a windowsill would present themselves to Julie Anne’s line of vision, and that would be that.

But sometimes, it took more. Sometimes it took Julie Anne being willing to re-dedicate herself, however the good Lord saw fit.

By then, she’d be getting a little desperate to get behind the wheel, and was somewhat hysterical. Where could those blankety blank (sorry, Lord!) car keys be?

“Oh Lord, you know, we need to go to……..If you’ll just let me find them, I promise I’ll read the Bible every day–at least a chapter, even those boring parts that don’t make sense or do anybody any good anyhow….”

By that time, Julie Anne either stepped on the car keys that had been right in front of her on the floor the whole time, or sat on them in the kitchen at the table.

Then, Eulalie would get to see the fourth type of prayer: Thanksgiving.

Julie Anne would say, “Oh, Lord, thank you so much for finding my keys, I’d really love to tell you how wonderful you are, but we’ve got to go now. Thanks again.”

And she’d tear out of there, Eulalie in tow, as if she expected the Lord to immediately call her on any of her desperate promises.

In years to come, Eulalie would try a number of churches, and even a few different religions once she got to college (she just didn’t tell her Mama or Aunt Ginny.) Finally, she settled on a church a little like Harvey’s and just interesting enough to remind her of her Mother’s Pentecostal roots.

But always, no matter what, when something was lost, even in her Catholic days, before she would ask a patron saint to fix the thing, she’d remember what Julie Anne taught her about prayer.

It had never been known to fail.

So,  for Eulalie, what was good enough for her Mother was good enough for Eulalie.

Especially when, as an adult, she lost her car keys.

 

Clevus has ‘baby blues.’


Clevus had done harder things.

He had been the all star pass receiver for George Wallace High school’s Mad Bulls, and took the Contentment team all the way to state championship. He’d dated the county belle and beauty queen, SueBeth (Martin) Snooker for years, and near about married her a few times.

He’d gone to college at Auburn, played football for “Shug” Jordan and had a free ride through graduate school, where he got a master’s degree in business. He came home and got a plum job as bank Vice President of People’s Trust and Security Bank.

Then, he managed to win the hand of the recalcitrant Eleanor Grace.

But no one told him that marriage, even to a woman he loved as completely as he loved Eleanor Grace, was going to be so darn hard.

They did fine at first. He would get all gussied up in suit and tie, and Eleanor Grace would sweetly kiss him goodbye at the door. This would be after making him a breakfast that rivaled one of his Aunt Ginny’s. She’d also send him off with a thermos of her good coffee and some moon pies (his favorites) in a paper sack.

He’d sail through the morning, come home to an excellent lunch, go back off to work, and come home to an outstanding supper. His wife was particularly loving after he sang the praises of her cooking and cleaning skills in the two bedroom home he’d bought her as a wedding present.

He just didn’t realize that a loving wife could bring unexpected consequences.

Eleanor Grace got pregnant.

Now, Clevus was alright with that. They had talked about it, and they both wanted as many kids as God saw fit to give them. It was the complete personality change in his beloved that threw Clevus for a loop.

Suddenly she as touchy as a ticked off rattlesnake, and lacked the irritated reptile’s patience. Any little thing would set her off. And when Eleanor Grace got upset, Clevus found that she had a darn good right hook.

Or, she would throw things at him. With terrifying dead aim. Soon this big man, who could probably take on a whole bar during a bar fight and win, was walking on tiptoes around his petite wife.

Clevus took to asking everyone for advice. Someone suggested buying her flowers, to thank her for carrying his child. So, Clevus went to the Florist at Mark Jackson’s and tolerated the silly man long enough to get Eleanor Grace a dozen fine roses.

Eleanor Grace was allergic to roses.

After he got out of the emergency room (whose staff would come to know him well) he again sought advice. Some said he should wash the dishes after meals for her. He tried, but Eleanor Grace told him that theirs was a ‘one butt’ kitchen, and he needed to ‘get his butt out.’

Clevus was beside himself. He loved his wife, loved her dearly, but she was acting like a maniac.

If it was just a pregnancy thing (no one knew about hormones back then, in Contentment) he could try to get through it, but there was six more months to go. Would he make it whole and unscathed?

It was Aunt Ginny who had the idea that nearly solved the problem.

Clevus was talking to her from the phone in his office, rubbing a welt on his head from a frying pan that Eleanor Grace had used when he said that morning’s bacon was a little too greasy.

Aunt Ginny understood because she had a baby once, many years ago, that influenza had taken away. She reached back into her wealth of memories and remembered that her emotions had gotten all mixed up too when she was carrying. When she wasn’t feeling sick, she was feeling swollen, and she definitely didn’t feel pretty.

“That’s what it is, Son,” Aunt Ginny said sweetly, “Let her go to Lolly Barnes. Have anything she wants, from her head to her feet. I hear Lolly knows how to do pedicures, though why anyone would want someone else to cut their toenails is beyond me. You can afford it, Clevus, make her feel pretty.”

Clevus gently suggested the idea to Eleanor Grace, and immediately took a step back. The fire in his brides eyes burned bright. “You saying I’m not good looking enough for you?”

Clevus swore this what not so.

“Baby, there ain’t a prettier woman on this planet. I swear it. I just know you’ve been working hard and feeling sick. I want you to take a day to just spoil yourself. Lolly did Georgia Grace’s hair for her wedding. Remember what you said? You’d never seen a woman with a prettier head of hair.”

Eleanor Grace nodded. “I remember.” Then she got on her tiptoes and gave him a sweet kiss. “Thank you. I’ll call her tomorrow.”

Clevus let out a breath he didn’t know that he’d been holding. “Call me when you get done, and I’ll take you to Chicken Shack for supper and show you off.”

The next morning, Clevus was sent to work with a few extra kisses and some peanut butter fudge along with the usual moon pies. Eleanor Grace dialed up Lolly Barnes, who said she didn’t have a single appointment. Eleanor Grace should come over to her shop right away.

So, that’s exactly what Eleanor Grace did.

Lolly had her thriving business in what had once been a two car garage in her back yard. Lolly’s kids had grown up and gone to Auburn and she had a little bit of time on her hands. Finally, her husband, Joe suggested filling up her empty nest with a bunch of ladies in need of a good hairstyle. Lolly had always been good at that.

To show he was supportive, Joe went all the way up to Wetumpka, Alabama and brought back sinks, chairs and just about every kind of watchmacallit a beauty shop operator would want. He’d made a bunch of money on the horses years back, and never spent it, in fact, he had hid it out in that garage. So, he dug it up or uncovered it or whatever he had done with his stash and spent freely, something he rarely did.

Now, what folks didn’t know was he had an alterior motive. Once the kids got out of the house, his wife tended to put her extra few sets of mother’s eyes on him. That meant he couldn’t drink, smoke, cuss or even visit the Howling at the Moon club without her raising up a fuss like no other. He figured that if he got her busy doing something she loved, he’d get his life back too. And, until the day Eleanor Grace came to visit Lolly, he was right. When he wasn’t at work, he lived life like a bachelor.

That morning, it was quiet. Most folks were either asleep, or getting ready for work, or watching WTVY if they could get the tin foil right around the rabbit ears. Lolly and Joe’s house was right at the end of Hussy corner, named that for no reason anyone wanted to talk about. Hussy corner joined Main Street and the town of Contentment’s main drag started shortly thereafter.

That morning, even some of the more vocal hound dogs and tom-cats were still dreaming of finer things. Eleanor, dressed in a nice, pink maternity frock with matching heels, and faux pearls, her makeup done ‘just right’ knocked shyly at Lolly’s back door.

Lolly, just getting done with breakfast dishes, pulled off her apron and smiled gently at the young girl. “Oh, you poor sweet thing. I remember those first few months. You just want to turn inside out and chew on a two-by-four, you feel so bad. I’m going to pamper you until you feel like you landed out in Hollywood.”

Eleanor Grace didn’t know that it was all that bad, but she agreed with the pampering part. She went out to the shop with Lolly and sat down while Lolly set fire to something in a vase she called ‘pot-pour-ree’ and near bout took Eleanor Grace’s breath away, it smelled so pretty. The little bit of nausea she’d been feeling went plumb right away, and her back even stopped hurting. She wondered if she asked nice, if Lolly would give her some of that mess to burn in her house, too.

Lolly got her all comfortable in a chair, and put her swollen feet in warm, soapy water. She soaped, and lotioned, and rubbed at Eleanor Grace’s feet until she fell asleep in that chair. Then, Lolly pulled out fourteen different nail polish colors for Eleanor Grace to pick from. She wrapped her legs in warm towels straight from the dryer, and gently woke her up.

Eleanor Grace picked out “Tea Rose Red.” Lolly went straight to work, and painted those toes so pretty that Eleanor Grace felt like a princess. Then, she delicately painted daisies on the red of each big toe. Lolly’s flabbergasted customer just couldn’t take her eyes off of her newly prettied feet.

Then, it was time to do nice things to her finger nails. After that, she gave Eleanor Grace a nice facial, and a neck and shoulder rub. They were getting thirsty about that time, so Lolly ran inside her house and got them two ice cold Doctor Peppers in frosted mugs. Life just couldn’t get better than this, Eleanor Grace decided.

But, actually, it could. Lolly got Eleanor Grace into the chair that went up against the shampoo bowl, and spent what seemed forever washing her hair, conditioning it, and then asked if she could put some ‘color’ in it. By this time, Eleanor Grace was so relaxed, she probably would have agreed to an amputation. So, finishing her Dr. Pepper with one healthy swig, she agreed. “Do whatever you want, Lolly. Go hog wild.”

Well, given that license, Lolly went, as invited, hog wild. She colored, then dried, then curled, then took it all down, frowned, decided to perm a little bit, dry again then teased it. Happy with the results, Lolly decided to take Eleanor’s long, thick, pliable locks and pull it up in something that looked like Audrey Hepburn’s updo’s. By that time, it was near about three in the afternoon, and Lolly felt like she’d run a marathon.

Eleanor Grace finally got to look, and a look of bewilderment settled on her face. Eleanor Grace was always known as a handsome gal, but she never thought of herself as pretty. She was a tom-boy, and something of a girl-rascal, but she never thought of herself as delicate. Now, looking at herself, greatly changed in the mirror, she thought a miracle happened. It had been a long day of labor, but she’d gone from Olive Oyl/Calamity Jane to Cinderella in one swoop.

“It’s just beautiful.” Eleanor Grace said, her eyes tearing up. “Just beautiful.”

Now, if Lolly had just said “Thank you” and let well enough alone, she would have been all right. Everything would have been alright. But Lolly just couldn’t do that. And there would be consequences for her pride, big ones.

Lolly swelled up like a nest of yellow jackets had all stung her at the same time. She knew when she had done something fine. And she just had to tell Eleanor Grace where she got her inspiration.

“Oh, honey, you’re easy to work with, with all that beautiful hair.” Lolly said, beaming. “But you know, I gotta tell you. I got this idea from my other job, you know over at Fred Folkman’s.”

Whatever joy was taking place in her former satisfied client quickly drained away. But Lolly didn’t have sense enough to stop talking. “I did the same style just last week on Gera Brownson. Sorta hated to close the lid on her.”

Now Eleanor Grace knew, as did everyone in Contentment, that Lolly’s ‘other job’ was the beautician at the local funeral home run by Fred Folkman. It was well known that Lolly sent everyone that went through that place into the afterlife looking as fine as they could be while still being dead. But Eleanor Grace never once thought that Lolly would copy styles for the deceased on heads of the living.

Especially not on her own, very much living head.

She stood up, slowly, staring at her benefactor, in a way that should have made Lolly back up. “You.” Eleanor Grace said, her voice taking on a quality that would have made Clevus start looking for a exit door. “You put a dead woman’s hair on me?”

Lolly stopped beaming, and shook her head. “No, baby, no honey. I just copied it. Your hair’s the same hair that God saw fit to put on your head.”

“No, it ain’t. You put a dead woman’s hair on me.” Eleanor Grace hissed, moving closer to Lolly.

“I didn’t!”

“You did!” Eleanor Grace shrilled. “You looked at that dead woman and got the idea! You put a dead woman’s hair on me!”

Now, it had been quiet on Hussy’s corner and Main Street prior to that. Real quiet. Even as the business day began and folks were running their errands and doing their business. But it stopped being quiet when Lolly’s screams, blood curdling and persistent, broke up the peace of the afternoon.

Folks heard crashing and breakage of a magnitude that made them think that a twister was nearby. They heard Lolly squawling, and something else that put them in mind of a Tennessee bobcat. Finally, Lolly escaped, running for the street. Eleanor Grace was right after her, holding the top of a hair drying machine in her hand. Her hair had come loose from its elaborate design and she put the more educated folks in town in mind of Medusa.

Sherrif Bob “Gus” Thorning, separated the two, and sent his deputy Ike Pernell to go fetch Clevus at the bank. Even when all three men converged back on the scene, it was hard to hold onto the banshee that was Clevus’s young wife, Eleanor Grace.

“She put a dead woman’s hair on me!” She cried over and over, struggling to get away and continue her pursuit of the now far away Lolly, who’d hopped in her husband’s two-toned Volkswagon wagon and was likely off to her mam’s house in the next county by then.

“Oh, baby, that just don’t make no sense.” Clevus pleaded. He was rewarded for his reasoning efforts by a sock to the eye that closed it for the next few days. Finally, aided by the deputy, Sheriff Gus, and a few strong-sized onlookers, Eleanor Grace was deposited in the holding cell at the Mulberry County Jail. Advised by Sheriff Gus, they all walked out and left to her to holler herself out.

The men went to the drug store, ordered themselves tall RC Colas (Clevus put something stronger in his) and let the air conditioner in the store (one of few in the town to have one) cool them down after their monumental struggle.

“So, what do I do?” Clevus finally asked.

“Is she always like that, Hoss?” Sheriff Gus asked.

“Naw, she’s spirited, but she ain’t crazy. At least not til today.” Clevus said. “Spect she needs to go to Tuscaloosa?”

Gus thought about it, then shook his head. “More ‘n’ likely Julia Tuttwiller. That gal’s not crazy, she just damn near mean. All those Jenkin’s are. You married into a nest of fire-ants, son.”

“So what’ll I do?” Clevus said. “She’s, well, I love her. She cooks good, she cleans good. And she’s going to have my baby. What’ll I do?”

“Let her sit and think about herself, for a few hours. You let her spend the night there, then go talk to her tomorrow. Let her know that you’re going to have to pay for all the damage she did to Lolly’s shop. And let her know that the women in the town just might gang up on her if she were to get out of jail. They are going to have to go clear out of county to get their hair done now, at least until Lolly’s place gets repaired.”

Clevus agreed, and went back to the bank. When Sheriff Gus went back to the jail, Eleanor Grace started carrying on again, and the Sheriff just politely ignored her. Finally, disgusted with everyone (including herself) Eleanor Grace got quiet.

The next day, Clevus paid a visit to his bride. She started to fuss when she saw him, and Clevus turned around and started to leave. He repeated this five times until she realized that if she wanted to get out of jail, she needed her husband to do it.

They had a little talk, no one knows about what. And when she came out on Clevus’s arm after he posted her bail and paid the fine for public destruction, she was meek and sweet, if considerably disheveled. And, for the rest of her pregnancy, she managed to keep her temper pretty much under control.

Lolly decided that she was going to work for a woman over in Woodfordville, and didn’t repair her shop, but she did keep the money Clevus gave her for the repairs. Whenever she saw Eleanor Grace in Contentment, she’d all but make the sign of the cross. But, she really neednt have worried

Eleanor Grace had many epic battles in front of her, but Lolly would not be the focus of that temper. Other unfortunate folks would be. And it would be sometime in the future, involving people that didn’t mind getting just as tempestuous as she, and a few of those had almost as good a right (or left) hook.

But that was, as they say, a whole another story.