Here are notes, quotes, and drawing from my current notebook. It’s the 58th journal I’ve kept.
Every leader must be a reader.
I’m a “LLL.” Life Long Learner. It means I must constantly be reading and listening.
This story is fictional but it’s based on a story from one of DeDe’s uncles.
I laughed writing it. I hope you do too.
King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
My name is Nancy. This is my story of the Christmas I’ll never forget/always remember.
I had finished my sophomore year at L.S.U. and brought Jeff home to meet our family. Naturally, I was nervous about my rural Pineview family being nice to him.
Jeff was from old money in New Orleans and our rural dairy farm was another world to him.
Everything went fine until Christmas Eve. Our Baptist Church had a traditional candlelight service. Jeff was Presbyterian and I explained this would be a lot different from the liturgical services he’d grown up on.
I had no idea how different it would be on this cold rainy Louisiana night.
He and I arrived fashionably late and slid in the pew behind my mother. She and Poppa always sit on the “Rob Lindsey” pew, named after her grandfather.
My father was finishing up milking and hadn’t arrived.
Just about the time the choir started “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” is when Poppa slipped in. His flannel shirt was peppered with rain and the familiar odors of manure and wet cows settled in with him.
He put his arm around Momma and winked at me. How could I be embarrassed by my hero? He was the best man I knew.
The children’s class played out their nativity scene replete with towel headdresses and bathrobes. Poppa laughed as the children waddled down the aisle.
My boyfriend Jeff saw it first. Poppa put his arm over the pew back and made the mistake of inserting his middle finger in a Lord’s Supper cup holder.
Poppa had sausage-like fingers with ham-sized hands. It was much easier getting the finger in than out. He grunted and twisted the finger to no avail. It was stuck.
I put my hand over my mouth. Jeff helpfully leaned up and tried to help but only irritated Poppa. He leaned back over the pew to get a visual on his predicament. He cut his eyes at me, which only made me laugh louder.
By now Momma had been alerted as well as the two rows of young people sitting behind us. That section was the congregation had lost all interest in the program; they were intent on what would later be called “The Battle of Lindsey Pew.”
Poppa tried to jerk his finger out but only succeeded in shaking the entire pew and causing more pain. His finger was turning blue.
The highlight of the Pineview Baptist Christmas Program was always the choir’s attempt at “The Halleluiah Chorus.” Poppa always said, “They’re out of their league trying it. Handel didn’t write it for pulpwooders, housewives, carpenters, and schoolteachers and anyone with a ‘day job.’ ”
Regardless, it was time for their rendition. The choir leader, Silas Moore, shared the story of Handel’s performance when the King of England—visibly touched by the soaring music—stood to his feet. Since then, “The Halleluiah Chorus” has been sung with the audience standing.
Sure enough, the first notes rang out and the congregation rose.
Everyone except Daddy.
He tried to stand but could only manage an uncomfortable lean, his right hand pinned to the back of the pew. About the time they boomed out “King of Kings and Lord of Lords, he sagged into his seat. His finger was pinched and so was his face.
The song soared to its finish and the audience took their seats again.
Reverend Williamson gave a short sermon and prepared to announce the benediction. Relief was coming for Poppa.
“Bro. Bernard, would you give our benediction and blessing on the refreshments.”
Poppa jerked his hand in one final attempt to free himself. It was tradition in rural churches for men praying to stand in reverence. Poppa had been tagged to pray but couldn’t stand. At least not straight up.
After a pregnant pause, he took his leaning stance and began, “Dear Lord, we want to thank you . . . “
I didn’t close my eyes and neither did most of the congregation. They were staring at Poppa. About half had no idea what was going on. The other half had been watching him closely for thirty minutes.
He prayed a brief prayer ending with a hearty amen. Once again, he tried to break loose.
Mrs. Daisy Crawford eased over from her front row perch. “Bernard, have you hurt your back again?”
“No, Aunt Daisy, I’m hemmed in. My finger’s caught in the communion cup holder.”
She took a look for herself. “Is that so?”
Momma stepped in. “Wait right here, I’m going to the Kitchen to get a bottle of Joy.”
Poppa, who was red with embarrassment, snorted, “Wait right here? I sure ain’t going nowhere.”
The crowd thickened as word spread of the situation on the Rob Lindsey Memorial Pew. Poppa whispered to me, “I feel like a damn two-headed calf at the Parish Fair.”
“Don’t’ talk like that in the Lord’s house.”
Momma returned and covered his finger with Joy dish detergent. In spite of this, the finger was stuck. It had swollen to a size that looked impossible.
Poppa’s Uncle Henry pulled out his pocketknife. “Let me help you, Bernard.”
Momma screamed and Poppa made a fist with his free hand.
Uncle Henry unfolded his knife. “I ain’t gonna cut you. I got this new-fangled Swiss Army knife for Christmas. It’s got a Phillips screwdriver on it.”
He went to the work on the inset small screws holding the cup holder to the pew back.
Poppa was free. At least from his stationary place. He walked into the aisle, proudly holding up the four-holed cup holder attached to his middle finger.
Momma whispered, “Bernard, you’re making a bad sign.”
He shook his hand. “Helen, there ain’t much I can do about it.”
I had been ignoring Jeff. I looked over and his was sitting, both elbows on a pew, hands under chin. He was a psychology major and looked to be conducting a study of my crazy family and neighbors.
Fred Lacey said, “I’ve got my welding truck out there and believe I can help.”
Momma, who could get worked up easily, said, “You ain’t gonna use no cutting torch on him.”
“Miz Helen, I ain’t gonna do that. I want to put it in my vise and use my hacksaw.”
This led to a discussion among the older men on others ways of freeing Poppa. One deacon recommended a “cold chisel and ballpeen hammer” but Poppa put the quietus on that.
“I like Fred’s idea.” He shook the entrapped hand toward the back door. “I trust him to do it right.”
The small crowd followed them out to Fred’s truck. One of the men had his coon-hunting headlamp and put the beam on the metal vise mounted on the back of the welding truck.
Fred vised the cup holder in and carefully put the hacksaw at the thinnest part of the wooden piece. The observers crowded in for a clear view of the surgery. Poppa turned his head away and Momma covered her eyes.
Fred paused. “Bernard, you sure you trust me to do this?”
“I trust you with all of my heart. Let er’ rip.”
Within five seconds, the piece had been cut enough to break loose and Poppa was freed.
Momma hugged Fred and the observers gave a round of applause.
Poppa held his swollen hand up for all to see.
# # #
The next Sunday, Reverend Williamson preached a memorable sermon from Proverbs on “Trusting the Lord with all your heart.” He used Poppa and Fred’s story as his illustration. It helped me understand more fully what true trust is. It’s a lesson that’s stayed with me all these years.
Jeff and I broke up later that spring. His parents had a New Orleans girl picked out for him that was “more at his level.”
I wasn’t sure he’d made a good son-in-law to a burly dairy farmer I loved.
They never replaced the communion cup holder on the back of Rob Lindsey’s pew. There’s still a bare spot where it was.
I still sit on the pew behind it. I’d give a King’s Ransom for Poppa and Momma to sit in front of me again. So many of the places and faces of my youth are gone from the old church.
I later got my music degree from L.S.U., returned home, and now lead the Christmas choir. In this age of ecumenical acceptance, the Pentecostals and Catholics join us for the Christmas Eve service.
Poppa always said those poor Catholics have a defective gene when it comes to congregational singing, but the Pentecostals more than make up for them. They add some passion and zest to our staid Baptist choir, none more than when we do The Halleluiah Chorus. Two of the Apostolic sisters can hit those high notes on the end.
Just as we begin Handel’s masterpiece and the audience rises, I steal a look over to Poppa’s pew. It’s the Christmas I’ll remember long after the others are gone.
King of Kings
And Lord of Lords,
Forever and ever.
This story will be featured in our upcoming short story collection, Christmas Jelly.
It should be on shelves in mid-October.