From the writer’s novel The Short End of the Double-tree.
“Mom, do I have to go?”
“Yes, Agnes is your cousin and we all have to go.”
“She’s just a second cousin. I shouldn’t have to go for just a second cousin, besides, she’s just ten years old. We were never close.”
“Stop complainin’ and get dressed. You’re goin’.”
This Sunday, Seth Fleming’s daughter Agnes was to be baptized at the Lighthouse, more commonly known as the Nuthouse. Seth was the cousin of Hank and Bud Fleming and he worked for Worley’s farm supply in Choctaw. Seth’s family lived across the line in Davis County near Zeb’s Crossing, and were among the faithful in the Lighthouse, where Preacher Joe was pastor. All the Flemings, and Sliegh and Bessie Worley were compelled to attend. Jeanie had grown up going with her grandmother to a sensible rural church and for several months since moving back to Choctaw had been attending church with Sliegh and Bessie’s granddaughter Alice and her family. Jeanie had always been an obedient child and never complained, but this was too much.
At the Worley household, things weren’t much better.
“You could tell them I’m sick and can’t come,” Sliegh said.
“Would you really want me to tell a lie for you?” Bessie replied.
“No, you know I wouldn’t, but maybe just this once. It’s just a little white lie,” Sliegh teased.
“Go read the paper or do something.”
“I think I’ll take a little stroll while you finish getting ready.”
Sliegh walked along the dirt road to the Crossing being careful not to kick up dust on his best Sunday suit. The thought of spending at least two hours in the Lighthouse made him shiver, and with the baptism, the ordeal would probably last longer, so Sliegh needed a little nip for reinforcement. The uncontrolled religious rampage bothered him of course, but knowing that Preacher Joe, the pastor, was just a con artist and religion was his scam bothered him more. He had to control himself among Brother Joe’s nutty flock for two hours or more. Brother Joe was Sis Bradley’s son so she would be in church and the pool-room would be closed. Sliegh didn’t want moonshine anyway. Though Prohibition had ended more than a decade in he past, and bonded liquor was available, blue laws made Sunday sales illegal, but Sliegh knew all the bootleggers.
“Bill Hardman might have a little something,” Sliegh said to himself.
Bill was sitting on his front porch when Sliegh walked up.
“Hello Sliegh, what are you doin’ in the Crossing. You ain’t goin’ to church?”
“We aren’t going to our church this morning, we’re going to the lighthouse.”
“You picked a good day for it. Sister Gussie’s in fine voice, she’ll be shoutin’ down the house. They’ll be walkin’ the bench tops and swingin’ from the light fixtures,” Bill laughed.
“Ooooh,” Sliegh groaned, “You don’t know anybody who has a little nip, do you?”
“No Sliegh, I can’t think of anyone who would still have some. You might check around; you never know.”
“I’ll look around the Crossing anyway. Maybe there’s some you don’t know about.”
“I hope you find some, you’re goin’ to need it.”
Sliegh groaned and walked on. He went to the homes of all the bootleggers but all had sold out.
“I may as well go home. I won’t find anything this morning,” Sliegh mumbled.
Sliegh was walking back through the Crossing when he saw Lukey sitting on the bench in front of the blacksmith Shop.
“How’s it going Lukey?” Sliegh said.
“Doin’ aw right Mr. Sliegh, how ‘bout you?”
Sliegh could tell by Lukey’s speech that he had imbibed.
“Where did you get a bottle, Lukey.”
“From Bill Hardman,” Lukey said.
“He told me that he didn’t have any,” Sliegh said.
“Well I just left his place and he had plenty.”
Sliegh walked back to Bill’s home. Bill was still on the porch.
“Why did you say you didn’t have anything to drink when I asked you? Lukey said you do.”
“You didn’t ask me if I had any, Sliegh.”
“I did not fifteen minutes ago,” Sliegh protested.
“No Sliegh, you didn’t ask me if I had any, you asked me if I knew anybody that had any, and I told you the truth. I didn’t know of anybody who had any.”
Sliegh just groaned and walked home. It was time to leave for the Lighthouse and he was out of the mood for a nip now anyway. Bessie was ready when Sliegh arrived. She was sitting on the front porch swing.
“I guess we can’t get out of going. I’ll bring the car around,” Sliegh said.
When they turned into the church parking lot, Sliegh saw Hank Fleming’s pickup truck. Jeanie and Jim were in the back.
“Hello Jeanie,” Sliegh said, “does your family come to church here?”
“Hi Mr. Worley.”
“That’s better. What are you doing here?”
“Agnes is my cousin. I had to come, under protest.”
“Me too, but don’t tell Seth.”
“I won’t tell on you if you won’t tell on me.”
“Are these your parents?”
“Yes; this is my mom Cora and my dad Hank.”
“I’m very glad to meet you, Mr. Fleming, Mrs. Fleming. We all love Jeanie very much. You’re related to Seth?”
“Seth’s Dad’s cousin. We’re all from Davis County.”
“We think highly of Seth. He does our deliveries from the store. He asked us to come to his daughter’s baptism so of course we came. I didn’t know Jeanie was related to him though.”
“I didn’t know where he worked. He still lived in Davis County when we moved away from Choctaw.” Jeanie said.
“He came to work for me when I opened the store in nineteen twenty-four, that’s over twenty years. When I didn’t make much during the depression and couldn’t pay much, he stayed with me and accepted that ever I had. I made it up to him later though. He has a ten-percent interest in the business on top of his wages. You don’t often find man like Seth.
“You sure don’t,” Cora agreed.
Hank just frowned.
The musicians and choir were already in their places when the Flemings and Worleys walked in and sat on the back pew. Bud and his family sat across the aisle. Brother Joe entered from the front and waked to the pulpit.
“Beloved, we are so happy you came to worship with us today.”
“He hopes we brought our wallets too,” Sliegh whispered.
“Sliegh, hush, someone will hear you,” Bessie said.
Jeanie tried to cover her snickering, but couldn’t.
“Today is a special occasion,” Brother Joe said. “We are baptizing the daughter of one of our most faithful members. Agnes Fleming has been coming to this church with her daddy Seth and mother Irene since she was a baby.”
“In spite of all I could do to prevent it,” Sliegh mumbled.
“Sliegh,” Bessie said, and elbowed his arm.
Jeanie snickered again and Cora gave her a hard look.
“Beloved, before the singers come around, I want to read you a letter I got from Preacher Bennett, the missionary we support in Africa. He writes, ’My dear friends, brothers and sisters at the Lighthouse, I have a prayer request about a pressing need. My old truck broke down and I have no way to travel to preach to the heathen. I know the people of the Lighthouse can’t afford to help me, but you can pray that some rich church will meet my need.”
“We may be poor but we ain’t that poor,” someone called out from the congregation, “I think we should get his truck fixed.”
The crowd responded shouting amen and glory. Brother Joe took out a handkerchief and wiped away the tears that weren’t in his eyes.
“My heart is moved. I knew the Lighthouse people would come through. We’re going to pass the plates for a special mission offering to fix his truck.”
“Did you notice that the letter was written on paper with the Lighthouse letterhead?” Sliegh whispered.
“Sliegh, hush,” Bessie said.
Jeanie just snickered.
The plates were passed then the singers took the platform. These were professional singers and musicians that traveled with Preacher Joe in his tent crusades. Brother Joe had them come once in a while to the Lighthouse. Shallow, emotional songs were the order of the day and the congregation responded with crying and shouting. Some did holy dances while others passed out in the spirit. After this group sang several songs, the plates were passed again to raise money for war orphans in Hawaii. Joe said he would visit the orphanage and deliver the money in person when the war ended..
The choir sang and several groups and soloists followed them, the plates were passed again for tithes and offerings to support the Lighthouse, then Brother Joe walked to the pulpit.
“Beloved, I have a special message for you today. The reason the big churches don’t get blessed is they don’t have faith. The reason we are blessed at the Lighthouse is we have faith, and we prove it by our prove-your-faith offerings. It won’t do any good to talk to the people in the big churches, but you can talk to your friends that go to the small country churches and tell them that if they want to be blessed, they must prove their faith. Some will say that they give to their churches. Tell them that their churches are not doing anything to reach the heathen. If they want to be blessed they need to make prove-your-faith offerings to Preacher Joe Evangelistic Association. We preach crusades all over the country and starting this past winter, I made my first mission trip to the heathen islands to preach to the head hunters and cannibals.”
“Heaven help the poor cannibals,” Sliegh whispered.
“And head hunters too,” Jeanie mumbled.
Brother Joe’s missionary journey to the heathen isles was to the casino in Havana.
Brother Joe then read his text from the Bible, which had nothing to do with his sermon, and began to preach. He huffed and puffed, panted and chanted, whispered then shouted, drank water, and wiped the sweat from his face with a handkerchief. Sometime he was on his knees sometimes he jumped up and down. He ran back and forth in the aisle amid the shouting, crying, and holy dances. After his sermon ended, he passed the plates again for those who may have come in late. Then Agnes was baptized.
After the delirium, the Flemings and Worleys talked for a moment in the parking lot.
“Jeanie, we enjoyed having you with us last weekend with the girls. I hope you will come with them again,” Bessie said.
“Thank you for having me. I love the stories Uncle Sliegh tells. He should write them in a book.”
“Don’t encourage him, he’s bad enough now,” Bessie said.
While Bessie spoke with Hank and Cora, Jeanie whispered to Sliegh.
“Alice told me that her dad said it is wrong to hate, but he thinks God might make an exception when it comes to Brother Joe.”
“Ssssh,” Sliegh responded. “Bessie might hear you.”
“I did hear you and when Arthur comes home I’m going to get after him about saying things like that. Imagine a pastor of a church saying such things.”
Sliegh winked at Jeanie then whispered, “If Arthur didn’t have a sense of humor he couldn’t live with Sara.”
Jeanie laughed and climbed in the truck.
“I’ll see you next Sunday, bye,” Jeanie said.
“Here?” Sliegh teased.
“No, the church in Choctaw. But it would be kind of entertaining to come here again.”