Hopkins County Folk Lore
Humor From the PulpitBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
In past times in rural Hopkins County, country churches consisted of one room only. Many hilarious and funny happenings took place before churches took on the formality of today's services. Everyone knew everyone else, their business, what was happening in each other's daily life, so standing on rather stiff and formal behavior never got off the ground in the first place. This lack of formality often produced the opposite effect of what was to be expected in a church service.
In order that these events should be preserved just as any of our oral history should be, I have gathered together a few of these events from certain people in Hopkins County. People who would like to remain anonymous because, of course, they still attend that same church or the story was about a relative or acquaintance. Like I said, everyone knows everyone.
Greet your Brothers and Sisters with a holy kissThis occurrence took place in a former store building. The building had been used for various businesses, clubs, and churches since it had ceased to be a store long ago. The old place was torn down a few years ago but stood in the Charleston Community.
There was a revival going on. The group that gathered for the Pentecostal service consisted of about 40 to 50 people. In other words, the little room was packed. The service had been going on for about an hour with the preachin' yet to be done. The music was loud and joyous. The hands of the piano player covered the keys in rapid movement while guitar and tambourine players pounded their instruments with energetic vigor.
Some of the congregation were shoutin' and dancin' in the Spirit already when the preacher took to the podium. The music never stopped but did soften in volume so that the words of the preacher might be heard.
"Now Lovers of God Almighty and Haters of the Deceivin' Devil, the Lord says in His Word to greet your Brothers and Sisters with a holy kiss"! His voice increased with the passion of his message and he repeated his intonement with typical preacher lingo in that all his words were followed with an "ah".
"Now ah, did you hear ah, the word ah, of the Lord ah? If ah, you love ah the Lord ah, will you greet ah, your Brothers and Sisters ah, with a Holy Kiss ah?" The music rose in pitch as the musicians swung into a fast paced rendition of "Somebody's praying Lord, Come By Here! Somebody's Praying Lord, Come By Here"! The crowd was on their feet and the praise was loud with the clapping of hands and stomping of feet.
Sitting in the back of the church was an old fellow, deep in his cups, known by the nickname of Smeller, for obvious reasons of course. He sat alone on his wooden pew partly because he lived up to his nickname. His baldhead glistened in the light of a bare light bulb suspended from the ceiling on a cord as he managed to pull himself to his feet. His pants were above his ankles, his shirt appeared to have been worn for a week at least, and his toothless mouth was lost in a stubby beard as he lifted his face to the ceiling and his voice in song. He tried to stamp his feet to the music but in his present condition, stamped one foot, then clapped his hands, never finding the beat and never at the same time.
People began to obey the Word of the Lord, moving from pews to shake hands with others and greet them with a holy kiss upon the cheek.
Smeller began to feel the urge to greet his fellow Brothers and Sisters with a kiss. Staggering towards the front of the church, he flung his arms around first one and then the other, planting a toothless kiss upon their cheeks in his passage to the front of the church.
There was an old grandma standing there tall and straight as a broomstick in the front row of the church. Her demeanor was always severe and she never smiled. Her hair was pulled back into a tight gray bun, while her gingham dressed swished around her ankles as she swayed from one foot to the other.
The preacher spied old Smeller partaking of the service and yelled encouragement from the pulpit. "All Right now, Brother Smeller! God Bless this old sinner! He has seen the way of the Light! Brother Smeller, obey the Lord!" Whereupon the old drunk grabbed the unsuspecting grandma and planted a long, wet kiss right on her mouth, bending her backwards in the process! The old woman struggled to free herself and when she finally did, came up swinging. With a profound right hook, Old Smeller was knuckle punched with such resounding force, he flew backwards and hit the floor.
There he lay in a heap of smelly clothes, bony ankles protruding from mis-matched socks and too short pants, wondering what in the world had hit him up 'side the head. Grandma stood over him with fists raised in the air rearin' to clobber him again! Grandpa grabbed his enraged wife around the waist and her poor daughter hid her face behind a paper fan.
The church people broke into loud laughter at the sight while the music shut down instantly. Amid the hilarity, the preacher rushed to stand between the mad as hellfire grandma who was now beating on grandpa, and the cowering old drunk still lying on the floor.
Well, the preacher thought he had made it obviously clear that the women of the church were to greet the women and the men were to greet the men with a kiss, not the other way around. At least that was his embarrassed explanation. Guess old Smeller was listening to spirits of a different sort that night.
Old Smeller died having never refrained from the bottle. He never went back to that church again, saying that Christians were just too blamed perplexin' for him.
"Silent Night, Holy Night. All is Calm"...The Christmas season was upon the land as the congregation gathered in a tiny white Baptist church near Dawson Springs for the Christmas program. There was a Christmas Tree decorated with shiny balls, strings of popcorn and silver and gold "roping". Underneath its fragrant branches lay gaily wrapped presents from the children to each other. Small bags consisting of an orange, apple, and a couple of Peppermint sticks lay ready to be delivered by Santa Clause after the program.
Everyone had attended the service to see their own little Johnny or Susie perform in the pageant. As the last person to enter found a seat, the lights were extinguished. Babies perched on Momma's laps tried to find where the lights had gone, while children who were not involved in the play leaned eagerly forward upon the benches.
All was hushed. The piano began to play "Silent Night". The buxom vocalist rose in the darkness to stand beside the piano, lifting her lovely alto voice in the quiet church. Powerful flashlights fired from the dais aiming tubes of light at the back door of the church. Everyone turned in their seats to see the Wise Men enter the church. Dressed in terry cloth robes belonging to their parents, heads wrapped in grandmother's scarf or a handy bath towel, the procession trod reverently up the aisle. Little faces smiled toothily beneath the crooked head turbans although their little hands were folded in mock prayer. Other children in the pews giggled upon seeing their companions with cardboard beards and mustaches. Following them came the Three Kings. Dressed a bit more glamorously in robes of shiny material, their headscarves were sewn with huge and brilliant gemstones. They also proceeded forward with lovely gifts for the Christ Child, the too large robes trailing behind them.
Now the flashlights beamed upon Joseph and Mary already kneeling at the manger of the little Jesus. Standing tethered to the pulpit was a large German Shepherd dog fitted with black paper donkey ears and a small rug thrown over its back.
At the most solemn moment, Mary began to lift her baby from the straw filled manger. The vocalist was leading into the last stanza. Just as she sang the words, "Silent Night, Holy Night. All is Calm"... a loud muffled belch came from the audience. Immediately a tiny voice rang loud and clear, "Momma, Daddy's gotta poop"!
BackslidersAs it happens, I was part and parcel to an incident which took place in another tiny white church (is there any other color?) near the Webster County line.
I found myself visiting this church after a long time of absenteeism, along with a cousin who insisted that I go to revival with her. Although a long time member of the church, she too had not attended in several years.
The late summer heat was unbearable and the doors of the little church were left open in hopes of a little air coming in. Smokers were gathered on the outside as always while the service was heating up of its own account inside.
We had been greeted profusely as we entered through the double green doors. Members of the congregation flocked to us, welcoming us with hugs, handshakes and more than a few admonishments referring to what they called our "backsliders condition".
Taking our seats, we were surprised to recognize the visiting minister as the former piano player of church, who was just a skinny, wet behind the ears teenager at that time.
After his opening announcements, he greeted us as "Sister Carolyn" and "Sister Ann" from the pulpit. Speaking to the congregation, he proceeded to tell them that we had been devoted workers for God before the devil got a hold of us and that the Christians in that church should pray for our repentance to happen this very night.
Embarrassed, my cousin and I looked at each other and thought about bolting out the door. My only crime so to speak, when the "devil got a hold of us", was simply to change church denominations several years back.
The minister was still skinny, still wearing a black pair of horn-rimmed glasses. Brown hair fell limply across his forehead and his spectacles kept sliding to the end of his nose. Gangly arms and extra long legs stuffed into a black too small suit, he reminded me of Ichabod Crane. His preaching became animated and loud as he pranced and kicked his way across the podium. Of course, his message pertained almost entirely to the woes backsliders would suffer on Judgment Day. Ann and I were sitting ducks and the eyes of the church were upon us.
The podium was a raised platform about a foot high, which housed the pulpit, piano, and organ. The preacher was sweating like a panting dog as he jumped back and forth off the little platform.
He was preaching that the Fiery Darts of Hell "will get you everytime" when he raised his arm and pointed his finger knowingly at my cousin and me. He was repeating the passage when he hopped off the platform with a loud thump, when the threatening words bellowing from his mouth became, and loudly at that, "the direy farts of hell"! Gasps came from the pews as all eyes quickly lowered. The minister, hurriedly removing his glasses, stood dumbfounded at what had just popped out of his mouth. He was totally speechless.
Ann and I convulsed in stifled laughter. Bending forward so that our faces could not be seen, our shoulders shook from the attempt to keep from laughing aloud as our eyes poured buckets of water from suppressed giggles. My throat was aching from the effort.
We tried to quit, we honestly did. Each time we looked at each other, it hit us again. At last, we were able to compose ourselves by looking piously and sincerely at the minister, not at each other. Seeing that we had risen from behind the songbooks, he looked at us with unmistakable vengeance. Pointing an accusing finger at us for the second time, his red, perspiring face screwed up as he flung the words at us, "Ain't that just like the devil? Ain't that just like the devil to take a man of God and twist his words, disrupting this here service with his distractin' power"! Ann and I looked at each other again. I silently mouthed the words, "Who, Us"? In mock puzzlement, Ann shrugged her shoulders in silent reply to my question. That's all it took and down we went again, heads on our knees, laughing silently, though uncontrollably.
The service ended almost immediately without an altar call being made. The skinny little preacher barely managed the closing prayer in a low guttural voice.
After the service, we propelled ourselves out the door. Leaning against the side of the wooden church, we commenced to laugh out loud. A sweet little woman came to stand beside us. As we wiped the tears from our eyes, she efficiently dug two Kleenex tissues from her purse. Handing them to us she said, "Here, take these. I thought for sure I was going to have to use them myself in there. Self righteous little fool"! she said, referring to the minister who was hurriedly hoisting himself into his car. With that, she shuffled off with a grin as big as Texas spreading across her face. The dethroned man of God had sneaked out the back door of the church. Climbing into his little black car, which matched his suit, glasses, and shoes, he slunk off home without a word to anyone.
Ann and I talked about returning for the rest of the week's revival just to torment our persecutor with our backsliding presence. Somehow, we let ourselves be convinced otherwise. Nevertheless, we really wanted to return and we desperately wanted to needle old Icabod by wearing flashy backsliders garb and sitting on the front row at his service. If the opportunity ever arises again, you can bet we'll be there with bells on. Lo, these many years later, we would still like to see him come unglued at the sight of our backsliding selves.
"Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down"!Our next event takes place in the little community of Isley in the 1960's. Out in the country stood a little church where the locals gathered for church on Sunday nights only. Don't ask me why this was the only service of the week, I don't know, maybe the pastor wanted to sleep late on Sunday.
The teller of this story was seated at the old upright piano and only had a sideways view of the people seated in the pews. Sitting on a bench beside her was a man who was to give the opening announcements, such as those who were ill or in the hospital. Recently converted, he sat with elbows on knees, face in his hands, already humbly in prayer.
The music began with hymns such as "I'll Fly Away" and "What a Happy Day". The preacher steps to the podium, signals the musicians to follow his lead, beginning the fast paced song, "Ain't No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down"! As the members rose to their feet, voices rang out in song and the clapping of hands began. As the song was repeated over and over again, people began to dance and shout, praising God with all their hearts. Soon the aisle was full of happy worshipers, as the music played fast and furious.
There was a middle-aged man present who rarely attended church at all. He had been trying to gain the notice of a certain spinster for the last two weeks. He had called her and appeared at her place of employment, all to no avail. The lady just didn't seem to be interested. In the meantime, she had complained to certain members of the church about the unwanted attention she was receiving from this man. The last two Sunday nights in succession, he had attended church, sitting on a bench as close to her as he could get. The embarrassed woman never looked in his direction or gave any indication that he was present.
As the piano player turned to view the worshippers, she noticed that several people were laughing unabashedly. Some were discreet enough to hide their merriment with hands clasped across their mouths; others were just openly giggling. In her position against the wall, the piano player couldn't see the other half of the church. Still playing, she turned to the new convert sitting nearby. The noise of the music and the singing was loud, so the gentleman rose and whispered in her ear. "It's Dallas. They're laughing at Dallas." "What's going on?" she implored. The man just shook his head. Whispering into her ear again, he stated "My heart's just too full of God to laugh at a man like the rest of them are."
Whatever was going on was too good to miss. Motioning for someone to take her place at the piano, she seated herself beside the humble Christian on the bench next to her. There was Dallas, in all his glory, dancin' up a storm. His huge belly shown through the strained buttons of his shirt as he maneuvered his way to the front of the church. The same song was still being played. "When I hear that trumpet sound, I'm gonna get up out of this ground, Ain't no graveeeeeee, gonna hold my body down"!
In the front of the church, Dallas threw up his hands and called, "Now the Hitchhiker"! At this announcement, the hefty man proceeded to jump into the steps of the current rock and roll dance. "Let's do the Twist" was his next call. Holding his elbows close to his body, he swung his bulk from side to side, swiveling his hips while duplicating the dance Chubby Checker has made famous with his song of that title.
The piano player was instantly thrown into a fit of the giggles. The minister was at the pulpit trying to restore order. There was a slight problem however. As he called out for the people to respect the house of God, he would burst into smothered laughter of his own as Dallas was now twisting on bended knees. Coughing behind his hand, the minister was unsuccessfully seeking to gain control of his own self first.
Dallas then began a flawless performance of dancing the Mashed Potato while gluing his eyes to his ladylove, beseeched her to join him.
Finally, it must have struck the minister to stop the music if he wanted to stop Dallas. The song ended on the next chorus. Dallas stood in the front of the church, breathing heavily from his exertions. Such a questioning countenance was plastered upon his face as he gazed in the direction of the person he most wanted to impress. A puzzled expression then took over as he realized she was gone. The woman had flat out fled from the church in embarrassed haste.
Hearing a muffled cry, our piano player turned to the man beside her whose heart was so full of God that he couldn't laugh at the sight in front of him. Patting his back in an attempt to comfort the man, she noticed that he was chortling so hard, he had started to choke.
For about a month afterwards, the woman never arrived at church on Sunday night without first sending in her spies. Making sure Dallas wasn't lurking inside, they gestured it was safe for her to leave the car and come on in.
Dallas soon married after his prize winning dance performance at the little country church. Some widow, several years his senior with a house full of pre teen and teenage children took him to be her lawfully wedded husband.
Well, I guess old Dallas found someone to cure his loneliness after all. Just look at it this way...Dallas not only gained a wife but a whole house full of eager dance partners!
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000