A word from Curt:
I’ve been on the road to North Carolina for the past week.
Traveling I-10 west, I passed the exit for Toombuba, Mississippi. The following story, “Watch out for the Fish” took place there about ten years ago.
Enjoy this reader favorite.
Listen to a live re-telling of this story.
Watch out for the Fish
It’s real popular to put a Christian fish on the bumper of your car. It is a replica of the simple two-mark symbol used as a secret code by the Christians of the first century.
The “fish on car” sends a message that the person behind the wheel is, hopefully, a Christian. But it is also scary – the responsibility that other drivers around us are going to watch closely to see if our driving habits model the teachings of Jesus.
I recall the popular bumper sticker of my teen years, “Honk, if you love Jesus!” I heard the story of one happy Christian carload that kept honking at the bumper stickered Ford LTD in front of them. Their honking brought no reply until finally the driver put his arm out the window and gave an obscene gesture that is definitely not associated with Jesus.
The Ford driver had either stolen the car (hopefully), forgotten his message (probably), or just didn’t really give a care. (possibly)
The same is true with the fish. We should be very careful in wearing or exhibiting any symbol representing Christ unless our corresponding actions will bring Him glory, and not embarrassment.
We’ve all seen examples of fish-adorned cars driving aggressively or refusing to let someone into traffic. This is a poor witness and will never draw others to Jesus.
The famous Indian leader Gandhi spent a major portion of his life studying the teachings of Jesus Christ. Gandhi, a Hindu, was once asked why he did not become a Christian. His reply should cut to our hearts: I’ll become a Christian when I see one.”
None of us can approach the sinlessness and Godliness of Jesus Christ, but that is no excuse for us to be sloppy in our behavior, words, and attitudes. We can draw others to Jesus or drive them away….
. . .And that brings me to one of my favorite stories on this subject:
A few summers ago Clay, my nephew Adam, and I made a hiking trip to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. We had a great time walking and enjoying the beauty of this special part of our Eastern mountains. Most of our hiking was on a section of the famous Appalachian Trail. The AT, as it is commonly known, runs for over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine.
Finally after having a close night time encounter with a bear, we decided to start home for Louisiana. We began our 800 mile drive home, full of good stories and experiences.
Everything went fine until the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Just as we approached an I-20 exit for Toomsuba ,Mississippi, it sounded as if the van had run over a land mine. There was clanking and a loud thumping underneath the van that could only be bad news.
Fortunately we were right at this exit and eased off the interstate and into the parking lot of a convenience store. Revving the engine in gear, nothing happened. Looking under the van where the noise had been loudest, it was evident our drive shaft was gone.
We went in the store and asked the one clerk behind the counter, “What would a fellow do in Toomsuba if his car broke down late on Saturday afternoon?”
He glanced up from his newspaper. “Get a motel room until Monday.”
I said, “Well, sir we can’t do that. Surely there’s someone around here that can work on a vehicle now.”
He sat there a while looking at me and finally said, “Well, Bunyard’s Junkyard is down the road. Let me call and see if they’re home.”
Happily for us, he got an answer. From my end of the conversation I could tell that they were leaving soon for the stock car races, but would come by and at least look at it.
Within minutes an old red pickup pulled up. Two men got out. It was my first, but not last, time to meet James Bunyard and his son Al. Mr. Bunyard looked to be in his 60’s and Al was probably half that age. While Al crawled under the van, his dad listened to my sad plight of being stranded 350 miles from home. Al scooted out and said, “We might have one back at the yard.” I could tell they were in a hurry and thanked them profusely as they drove off.
While waiting I thought, “What will we do if they don’t have the part?”
They soon returned with a drive shaft hanging out of the truck bed. Mr. Bunyard said, “I think this one will work.” Al quickly slid under the van and began attaching the shaft. Clay whispered that Al did most of the work with one hand as his other hand carefully held a burning cigarette.
I attempted to make small talk with Mr. Bunyard but realized he was a man of few words and really didn’t care to talk too much with a stranger. So I shut up and was just thankful they were willing to help. I also silently thanked the Lord that we broke down right where an exit and help were available.
Al finished his one-handed task and slid back out. He got into the van and drove it across the parking lot. Once again, we were ready to go.
I had already told the boys that we’d have to figure out about how to pay. I had no idea what the parts or labor would be. I was just thankful for their help and willing to pay any reasonable amount.
“Mr. Bunyard, what do I owe you?”
He shuffled his feet. “Well, the drive shaft is $100. You can pay whatever you want on our labor.”
“Would you be happy with $150 total?” He said that he would be very satisfied with that amount.
Next came the statement that I was most concerned about: “Mr. Bunyard, I don’t have that much cash. Do you take credit cards?” He quickly stated that he did not take cards.
Carefully, I said, “Will you be willing to take a check from me?” Anyone in business knows the danger of taking personal checks, especially from strangers out of state.
His tone was much cooler toward me as he said, “I don’t like taking checks – especially from people I don’t know. I’ve been burned too many times.”
I told him that although he didn’t know me, he could trust me. I assured him that I sure wasn’t going to cheat him with my son and nephew standing there. He snorted as if he’d heard every sorry excuse ever made for non- payment.
Before they had come back with the part I had prepared for this moment. I’d got out a copy of my first book, Stories from the Creekbank. I placed my business card in it.
It was at this uncomfortable point in the payment discussion that I proudly handed the skeptical Mr. Bunyard the book. He glanced at it and quickly back at me as if he was mentally trying to figure out what type of con artist I was.
It was then that I made my major mistake. I pulled my business card out of the book and handed it to him. It read:
I smiled. “Mr. Bunyard, I’m one of those good Baptists. You know I wouldn’t cheat you.”
With that statement, he became very animated and agitated. “Yes, I know all about you ‘good Baptists.’ Last year a fellow broke down on the interstate and I replaced his transmission. He told me he was a Baptist preacher from Birmingham and would pay me on his next trip through. As you can probably guess, I’m still waiting.”
James Bunyard was now working up a good head of steam. “I’ll tell you something else. I’ll be waiting for him to pay for that transmission a year from now too! Well, I guess I’ll have to take your check, but I don’t want to and besides, I’m not sure I trust you.”
I stood as straight as I could and shot back, “You may have been cheated before, but you won’t be this time, you can rest assured on that!” I was getting a little passionate myself.
He was shorter than me but he got right up near my face and pointed a calloused finger. “Just remember this – what goes around comes around and if you cheat me, it will come back on you sooner or later.”
I was very happy to agree with his statement because it is an accurate one. I handed him the check from City Savings Bank in DeRidder, Louisiana. He looked at it as if I’d just given him 150 Confederate dollars.
We shook hands and they left in their truck for the races as we resumed our westward trek on I-20.
During our conference, Al, Adam, and Clay had all stood quietly. When we got back on the road, the boys began to have a good time with it.
“Uncle Curt, he sure got worked up when you told him you were a Baptist,” Adam laughed. I was quick to agree that my “Baptist ID” was probably not a good idea.
The next week I called the bank and found that the Bunyard check had cleared. I also wrote James and Al a note thanking them for their rescue, promising to stop in at Bunyard’s Transmission and Parts on my next I-20 trip.
* * *
About six months later, I paid did pay them a visit. I was better dressed this time. I didn’t look or smell like a hiker who’d been in the woods for a week. When I pulled up into their shop yard which was behind a house and trailer, I saw a large sign on the garage that read,
WE TAKE CASH ONLY
Walking into the shop I asked a fellow for James or Al. He nodded toward a pair of feet sticking out from under a Chevrolet. “That’s Al. James is gone today.”
I knew he didn’t recognize me as he stood up. I said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” He squinted his eyes in concentration trying to remember my face. I helped him out, “I’m the Louisiana fellow you changed the drive shaft for last year.”
A smile of recognition came over Al’s face as he said, “Yeah, you’re the guy who wrote that book. I liked those stories.” We visited a while and I handed him several jars of homemade may haw jelly from home. Leaving, I said, “I’ll try to stop in any time I’m in this neck of the woods.”
Since then I’ve been by there several times. Each time I try to bring something as a sign of appreciation for how they helped back in August 2001. They now have two books, a Dry Creek cap, a camp mug, and several other items.
On my last visit at Bunyard’s I told Al, “One day I’m going to put you and your dad in one of my books.” He grinned as if I was just kidding.
Well, what you’re holding in your hands and reading right now is one more promise to the Bunyards that I’ve tried to keep.
If you happen to be traveling along on I-20 and you near the Alabama/Mississippi line, take the Toomsuba exit and go south about one mile. You’ll see it on the right- Bunyard’s Transmission and Parts.
They’re good people and they’ll help you any way they can… Tell them I said “Howdy, and thanks again.”
…Just don’t try to pay them with an out of town check.
…Or tell them you’re a Baptist.
…And if you’ve got a fish on the back of your car,
drive like Jesus would.
Audio version of Watch out for the Fish.