Mama is 96. A few weeks ago, she had a “spell” and I had to take her to Mobile to have her checked out. After a couple of days of MRIs, EKGs and EEGs, the cardiologist declared that no damage was done and she had “the blood pressure of a teenager.”
“Take a baby aspirin every day and go back to doing what you’ve been doing,” was his advice.
I got her back home, made arrangements for her to have a little more “help,” and things returned to “normal.”
Last weekend, I went back to see how “normal” was doing.
Pretty well, thanks for asking.
We watched football (Auburn wasn’t playing, but Vanderbilt was), got a catfish plate from the Dairy Bar (eateries in small towns are versatile, if nothing else) and “visited.”
This gave the “help” some free time so she could go over to Gosport to a homecoming/preaching she wanted to attend.
Gosport is one of those towns that nobody is quite sure how it got its name (sorta like Cat Mash), but when Mama mentioned it in connection with preaching, that was when the conversation turned to politics and dinner on the grounds.
Not “dinner on the ground,” as some folks who don’t know better say. Although some do eat the meal sitting on the ground, the meal is served on the “grounds” of the church — or, at least, it used to be.
And not “dinner” in the evening, but “dinner” in the middle of the day, as Mama still calls it. (And the evening meal is supper, which was what Jesus called it. Whoever heard of “The Last Dinner”?)
And after “preaching,” which is a noun, as in “we went to Sunday school but we didn’t stay for preaching,” not “church,” which is the building where the “preaching” takes place.
And usually held in early fall when the larder is full and it is cool under the shade of the oaks that every country churchyard is required to have.
All of this dredged up memories of the best dinner on the grounds I ever attended, which was at Gosport and my daddy was the preacher.
Now, Daddy was a “great storyteller.” That is what the Alabama Senate said in a memorial resolution it passed shortly after he died, and you know you can trust the Alabama Senate. You also know preachers and storytellers are cut from the same cloth, so it stands to reason that he would have made a great preacher if he had wanted to be one, but he didn’t.
Daddy was in the pulpit that day because he had decided to run for circuit clerk.
Local politics in Alabama in the 1950s depended on relationships developed in business, in civic associations, in the lodges and in church. Folks got to know you and they told their friends what a good person you were and friends told friends and pretty soon . . . get the picture?
And what better way to connect with the faithful than preaching?
So Daddy signed up as a Methodist lay preacher and off to preach he went — to Gosport.
Gosport had two churches — Methodist and Baptist — and neither had a regular preacher. When one or the other was visited by a traveling minister (ordained or otherwise), everybody went. Daddy saw this as an opportunity to fix himself in their minds as something other than a politician, so he did.
And he took me.
Back in those days of “friends and neighbor politics,” it was considered a good campaign strategy to bring along children to any gathering so folks would know what a fine family man you were. It was also considered risky, for you never knew what children might do. Daddy took the risk, and after warning me of the many horrors that awaited if I misbehaved, we arrived in Gosport. There he plopped me down in an up-front pew, where I sat like the proper little gentleman that I wasn’t while he preached like the preacher he wasn’t.
He did a good job as I recall, telling stories about heaven being a big catfish fry, an idea I learned later he borrowed from a movie. I wasn’t bored much at all. Then I stood with him as he shook hands with the congregation, and when that was done, we went out under the trees for dinner.
It was a feast.
No telling how many chickens died for our sins that day. And pies and cakes and a banana pudding so big they had to put it in a dish pan.
And a few weeks later, when Daddy announced his political intentions, I am sure the folks at Gosport remembered him as the preacher man whose son had such a good appetite.
He got their votes.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.