Before the miracle
of man-made fibers, there was wool and cotton. When you are up to your
ass in Georgia cotton...who needs a wool suit?
metallic ding of the rusty old dinner bell echoed across the arid sun drenched
cotton field. The sound, like heavenly chimes came not a moment too soon
as my enthusiasm for the task before me was on the wane. Chopping weeds
from the clay-like soil ranked right up there with going to the outhouse
on a frosty morn. I stopped in my tracks, dropped my hoe and with a mischievous
grin, eyeballed Little Brother in the adjacent row...the piney-wood marathon
I got the jump on him and darted across
the rows exhibiting far greater energy that I had displayed all morning.
My lead was short lived however; as Bro's ankles were smoking, I was eating
his dust all the way to the house. Adding to the humiliation of being beaten
by my junior, I tripped vaulting the wooden gate at the edge of the yard
and skinned my knees. Limping up to the front porch, "Mister Olympia" and
the younger siblings were laughing at my clumsy exhibition. Moaning, I
flopped out on the rough planked porch. While trying to catch my breath,
little Sara pounced on my stomach for her daily horsy-ride. Copying her
sister, Daniela straddled Brother. With the heat of the mid-day sun radiating
down through the exposed tin roof, the riders were soon bucked-off.
Shouting in unison, "We want ice tea!
We want ice tea!" I grabbed for the screen door, pushing Brother aside
to get in first. Stepmother shouted from the kitchen, "Stop that! You'll
tear that old door off its' hinges...now go draw a fresh bucket of water
and wash-up. There will be nothing to eat until you get the dirt off."
Over lunch of biscuits and smoked sausage
left from breakfast with sides of green onions and sliced tomatoes, she
read aloud a letter from Grandmother. A box was on the way with some things
for the family including fall school clothes for we boys, plus new suits
for church! We should listen for the mailman, as the box should arrive
within the week.
Hot-diggity-dog! Wow-weeee, a new suit!
Maybe Jeanne, the prettiest girl in school, would take notice of a slick
guy in new threads sent all the way from Florida! Over the next several
days we listened for the carrier. He always honked when leaving something
to large for the mailbox out on the main road. The signal finally came!
With hearts pounding, we charged across the field for the mailbox. There
was the big package! We grabbed up the large battered twine wrapped box
and rushed to the house...it was Christmas in July!
Brother kept screaming, "Its here, its
here, Grandma's box is here!" Our elation was soon squelched, when told
we would wait until Father came home from town. The excitement was unbearable!
New suits and fancy school duds, I was definitely going to be the slickest
kid in Jeff Davis County! "Look out prissy Jeanne, your lover boy is gonna'
strut his jeans!" The afternoon passed slowly...
That evening around the kitchen table,
expectations were at a fever pitch. The long awaited moment had finally
arrived! With the tight strings cut, the manila wrappings fell away and
the over-stuffed box popped open exposing the contents within...
The most hideous things ever created
by man tumbled out on the kitchen table! Everyone gasped! Even Daddy muttered
an expletive under his breath and stepped back, startling the girls. Was
this shapeless heap before me the new suits we had waited so anxiously
for? The color was that of dried cow paddies. Tiny quill-like hairs protruded
like the feelers of some mutated caterpillar from the course woven fabric.
There were definite signs of alien life emanating from the repulsive mass
What had my dear sweet Granny done to
me? Did she have that Old-timer's disease? I backed away from the table
sadly disappointed! Brother was ranting, "I ain't wearin' that stupid looking'
thing...no way, no time it looks icky and sticky!"
Father regaining his stoic composure
sternly replied, "You will both dress-up for church Sunday and you will
look nice. After all, it's your first suits and your grandmother would
be so disappointed if you didn't wear them."
I sighed. Mid-summer and wooly suits
woven by Satan himself... life was looking extremely bleak.
Given no slack, we were directed to
try on the suits. Brother pouting in the corner, charged out the backdoor
vowing he would never put it on and was running away! I, on the other hand,
being the eldest and wishing to display an air of maturity, picked up the
suit and holding it at arms length cautiously went to the bedroom.
I slipped off my overalls and with trepidation
slowly stuck a bony leg into the dark forbidding aperture of the awaiting
trouser leg. Screaming, I tried to disengage my appendage from the "thing"
that had me! Flopping about the floor like some landed trout, panic set
in...what could I do to save myself from the unbearable agony that lay
ahead? I had to find a solution before Sunday morning.
The suits were pressed, but still remained
shapeless. The ironing only made the stiff white bristles protrude even
more menacing! That night, Brother "crossing his heart and hope to die"
swore he saw them move in the closet. They had taken on some satanic form
before he pulled the sheet over his head! Was he dreaming? It had to be
a nightmare...certainly an omen? I was stricken with anxiety...how could
we overcome the torture that awaited us?
On that bright summer Sunday morning,
there was a large turnout at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. There was
a special Fourth of July "picnic on the grounds" following services. The
family having had our Saturday night romp in the old washtub was lined
up squeaky clean in our pew near the "amen corner." Mom and the girls sat
on one end, Dad, Bro and I on the other. Typical rubes, we boys looked
like a pair of Clem Kiddlehoppers in our ill-fitting suits and slicked
Father oblivious to our discomfort,
looked down the pew at his brood with pride and admiration. Then straightening
up, casually glanced over his shoulder to insure the congregation was aware
that he, a sinner and sometime partaker of the corn, was present for redemption
of his wicked ways.
On the church grounds prior to morning
service, I had bashfully approached Jeanne who was chatting with her circle
of friends. With an aloof air and vague recognition of her lover man, she
commented with some sarcasm, "Oh, is that you, Edward...I hardly recognized
"Why are you walking so strangely, did
you hurt yourself?" She snickered and the girls giggled.
Cut to the core, I turned red and shrank
into my scuffed shoes. She coolly followed the remark with, "Isn't it a
bit warm for wool or whatever that is you're wearing?"
My heart shattered...God hated me...the
girl I loved hated me...I wanted to crawl under a rock! Dejected and embarrassed,
I cowered, turned and quickly walked away.
Gazing out over the large congregation,
Pastor Roberts was full of himself...not realizing it was the fried chicken,
ham and potato-salad that brought the flock to church. He started his sermon
in his usual ho-hum manner. Looking down from the pulpit he saw me as I
began to perspire. Sensing my apparent guilt, the "fire and brimstone"
began to roll. His stare became fixed on me and Brother, or was it the
cut of our new suits?
The more he preached, the more he saw
us sweat. Could he a simple man-of-the-cloth realize a life long dream...to
actually sweat the demons from those who had gone astray? An exorcism!
Yes, South Georgia's first documented exorcism...he, Gilbert Titus Roberts
would become a famous theologian! These young lads before him were his
first miracle! He felt the calling...he felt the power!
Yes, yes, he felt the power of the Almighty!
HALLELUJAH! With eyes rolled back, he began to convulse...my fidgeting
was now in sync with his singsong oratory. He got his second wind and started
on the sins of the flesh, lipstick, dancing and moonshine-whiskey...the
latter gave Father a twinge.
Perspiration was pouring off me in torrents.
I noticed my suit, now dank and spongy was shrinking! The fabric began
emitting a strong nocuous odor as the coat sleeves and trouser legs inched
upward! Brother giggling at my predicament went to elbow me and the seam
in his coat sleeve ripped!
Father getting a whiff of the pungent
smell and seeing his sons literally coming apart at the seams hunkered
down and edged toward the far end of the pew. Church members sniffing the
air eyed us with suspicious contempt. Smiling I thought, thank you Jesus...Daddy
deserves to squirm! Let him experience the pain and embarrassment he had
brought down upon me. Ah, to reap some small measure of retribution was
definitely a moving and spiritual moment...
Were we wayward youngsters saved from
purgatory on that fateful Sabbath morning? Not really, for I had solved
the problem of the garments from the Devil's loom! To repel the prickly
quills, Brother and I were both wearing our red-flannel winter long johns
beneath our Sunday finery! Let's hear another AMEN!
Roberts, Deacon Cletus Mooney and fat old Willie May Harper at the head
of the line...someone kindly grab me a drumstick and some of that tater-salad
before it's all gone...oh yes, and a big slab of Granny Walker's molasses