Growing Up Kansas: Why Little Boys Should Never Practice Medicine

Dam Bait Shop

Little kids should never be left alone to practice medicine on themselves, their friends, or their pets. They tend to ignore the do no harm part of the Hippocratic Oath; most of the treatments they prescribe are based on witchcraft and voodoo rather than science.

A case in point:

I grew up in the country so I always wanted to be a cowboy and everybody knows that cowboys don’t run around barefoot. Cowboys, after all, die with their boots on. The only people I knew that ran around barefoot were long-haired-hippie-freaks and my nephew from New York, Jeff Miller. Although Jeff was not a hippie, he lived close enough to Woodstock to be influenced by osmosis.

Hillbillies are known to run around barefoot, but country kids from Kansas are not. The reasons we didn’t were largely because of two things: animal dung and sand burrs. One does not want to step barefoot in a freshly minted cowpie while racing from The Cows of Hobson’s Pond. Stephen King has yet to write a horror novel that will make you convulse quite like stepping barefoot in a fresh cowpie.

The other enemy of barefootin’ are sand burrs, little Torture Devices From Hell. About the size of a pea, they spread out on the ground so you don’t just step on one at a time, you step on forty-six at a time. They are as mean as middle school cheerleaders.

I tried once to run around barefoot, but never could get the hang of it. To this day, if I walk barefoot across a graveled road I dance like a hillbilly at a hootenanny and squeal like a greased pig being chased by a bunch of little kids.

Jeff, on the other hand, could walk barefoot across molten lava. When Jeff popped out of his Momma’s womb, the first thing the doctor noticed was that the bottoms of his feet were made of leather:

            “Mrs. Miller,” the doctor said, “The soles of your new baby’s feet are made out of leather.”

            “I’m not surprised.” my sister, Carmen, said, “The way he’s been kicking the last four months I swear he was wearing cowboy boots and spurs.”

            “At least you won’t waste a lot of money buying shoes for him.”

            “Just as long as he doesn’t grow up to be a hippie, I’ll be okay. But I was kind of hoping for cowboy. I kind of like cowboys.”

One summer Jeff convinced me that I needed to go barefoot. He was a year older than me and I held him in the highest esteem, even to the point of hero worship. I worked hard to hear him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

However, my Mom saw my lemming-like inclination with Jeff and often questioned my logic;

“Would you jump of a cliff if he told you to?”

“Yes, Mother, I would.” I dutifully responded.

One hot summer day we were racing through yard and I cut the underside of my big toe on a piece of glass. I looked down to see a gusher of blood erupting from my foot. I howled like a coyote caught in a steel trap. As I writhed in pain, Jeff grabbed his EMS gear and began performing triage.

“We need to get inside, quick, before you die.” He said as he put his stethoscope away.

“But I don’t want to die,” I wailed, “I’m only nine-years-old.”

Jeff reaffirmed my growing concerns about my imminent demise when he asked if he could have my Hot Wheels collection. I hopped inside with one hand on his shoulder and the other hand tightly squeezing the gaping wound. Copious amounts of blood spilled on the linoleum as I sat down on the kitchen chair. Jeff quickly handed me a wet dishrag to stop the bleeding.

“I think that might need stitches.” His opined.

I had three great fears in my childhood. Missing the rapture; my niece, Colleen Miller; and the hospital. I saw the inside of a hospital once when my Dad was recuperating from surgery. He opened his robe to reveal several copper staples holding together an incision from his neck to his waist. After that experience, I assumed the doctors opened you up like that every time you went to the hospital even if it was for a tonsillectomy.

In retrospect, I have a few questions about that day I was wounded. One, why was Jeff performing triage? Usually, when we were injured we immediately ran to our mothers and let them nurse us back to health. Therefore, I can only conclude that The Generals, our mothers, were off somewhere else and left us at home alone.

That leads to my second question: Who, in their right minds, ever thought it was a good idea to leave us home alone?

“Let me look at it again.” Jeff said. “I might be able to help.”

I pulled back the dishrag and started bleeding like a stuck hog again. I wailed louder.

“I know just what you need. This works every time.” Jeff jumped up and ran to the kitchen cabinets.

Since Jeff was all that stood between life and death for me, my spirit soared with confidence in his ability to keep me alive just a little bit longer. Reaching into the kitchen cabinet, he pulled out the blue, round carton marked, “Morton Salt.”

“Are you sure about this?” I whimpered.

“Yes,” Jeff confidently said, “I use it all the time to seal up deep cuts. Works like a charm.”

“But won’t it hurt?” I trembled somewhere in that chasm between absolute terror and wilting hope.

“Nope, not one bit.”

“Should we pray first?”

“Probably wouldn’t hurt.”

“Dear Lord, thank you for this day and the food we’re about, oh, wait, wrong prayer, I mean thank you for the miracle of modern medicine and for Jeff. Please be with the missionaries in Africa and forgive the people who decided it was a good idea to leave the two of us at home alone today. Amen.”

Jeff  launched into a scientific explanation about how large amounts of salt poured in an open wound provide instant coagulation of blood, numb the surrounding nerves, and heal the wound almost immediately so we could run back outside and torment the cows again.

Jeff was much more scientific than I was. One often found him peering through a microscope at the things he grew in petri dishes in his bedroom and found under the basement stairs. He could wax long and eloquent on the nature  of scientific rationale and I sat mesmerized as he talked, thus elevating his hero status in my heart. Salt was obviously the cure for all that ailed the human race.

Again, I have to ask; Who thought it was a good idea to leave us alone?

Trust me, he said, I do this all the time, he said, it won’t hurt a bit, he said.

I opened the wound and he poured in the salt.

After Mom got home, several neighbors called and asked her why the ambulance came to our house. Mom reassured them that no ambulance had been there that day and wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Apparently, about three o’clock in the afternoon, most of the neighbors within a two-mile range heard what sounded like an ambulance wailing.

Mom launched a full-scale investigation after she hung up from the last phone call. She saw the bloody dishrag in the trash; saw bloody fingerprints on the Morton Salt container; saw bloody footprints on the kitchen ceiling; saw the curtains ripped to shreds; saw all the crystal shattered in the china cabinet; saw the dog whimpering in the corner like it was shell-shocked; saw the cat having a seizure on the floor and saw that the milk in the fridge turned to cottage cheese. She then hauled me into the dimly lit interrogation room.

“What happened? She began.

 “I cut my foot on piece of glass?” I replied.

“Why were you barefoot? I thought you wanted to be a cowboy and everybody knows that cowboys don’t run around barefoot.”

“I know. It’s just that Jeff said that I was a sissy if I didn’t run around barefoot and I don’t want to be a sissy.”

“So would you jump of a cliff if he told you to?”

“Yes, Mother,” I replied dutifully, “I would.”

“So where did all the noise come from the neighbors called about?” She kept grilling me.

 “It may or may not have been me screaming after we poured salt in my cut.”

“You did what? Why did you pour, oh, good grief, never mind, Jeff told you to, right?”

 “Yes, Mother, he did.” I sat proudly.

Mom mumbled something about us being the death of her and The Cows of Hobson’s Pond were right about little boys being stoopid and who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to leave these two little idiots at home alone for the afternoon.

Jeff found more important research to conduct while I was being interrogated and later checked in on me while doing his rounds. He was pleased I held up so well under cross-examination and that I now held scientific discovery in such high esteem. He patted me on the head and said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

For a splendid moment in time, heaven came down and glory filled my soul.


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Growing Up Kansas: What I Learned in Second Grade About the Weaker Sex

Pop Eye

(Names are changed to protect the guilty)

Whomever said that females are the weaker sex did not learn the same lessons I did in second grade at my rural grade school; country girls are tough.

My first encounter with the weaker sex happened on the playground. Looking back on the kind of playground equipment we had, it’s a small wonder we’re not all missing body parts or walking with a limp. Where were the plastic slipper slides while we were blistering our bottoms on those old shiny metal ones? Where was the cushy matt to fall on when Pippi Longstocking pile-drived me off the merry-go-round then rolled me over and started kissing me? Where were the caps to cover the pipes that housed fourteen thousand wasps that terrorized little children? What’s that? You want to know more about the incident with Pippi? Oh, sure, I talk about being wounded by playground equipment and all you want to know about is the first time I was molested by a girl.

My first, second, and third grade teacher were all the same person: Mrs. Beulah Bohn. Mrs. Bohn looked like Granny off the Beverly Hillbillies and was only two inches taller than the rest of us second-graders. Mrs. Bohn was the quintessential schoolmarm with the hem of her skirt way below her knees and black shoes with a low heel. Kansas’s winters would not deny us our birthright of spending recess outside, so Mrs. Bohn would try to stay warm by hopping up and down like a robin. Other than Pippi attacking me and Eugene Saunders starting a chain reaction of little kids barfing, that is about all I remember about a woman with whom I spent my first three years of formal education.

The situation in question happened one blustery day on the playground with dirt the consistency of concrete. Oh, sure, someone sprinkled a few grains of sand under the monkey bars to make it look like it would cushion the blow, but it didn’t matter what playground equipment you were thrown from, the likelihood of breaking a bone was pretty high. To my recollection, no parent ever whined to the principal about the equipment because they didn’t even have recess back in their day when they had to walk three miles to get to school.

I was minding my own business swirling around on the merry-go-round and decided to jump off. I was headed to the monkey bars to see if I could to knock the wind out of my lungs and the next thing I know, someone face plants me in the hard-pan. I uuumphed as the air was knocked out of me then I was violently rolled over on my back so my attacker could begin kissing me. She smelled a whole lot better than Eugene.

I did not have enough hair growing on my body yet to enjoy that moment for what it was. Later, though, I would not only regret having fought her off, I would offer chocolates and flowers to a variety of the female species in anticipation of being abused that away again.

As I was fighting off my attacker, Mrs. Bohn started hopping again. Rick, she chirped, you quit that! You leave Pippi alone! Naturally, I was the one in trouble.   Since I already learned the lesson from my nieces and the Three Generals that resided at our house during the summer that males are always guilty of everything that is wrong in the world, I immediately accepted the guilt and anticipated the punishment. Not much could be worse than getting kissed by a third-grader, but a few un-repented-of-sins came to mind so I concluded that I deserved it. I’d been marched to the principal’s office for lesser crimes against humanity; surely this one was not worthy of the dreaded swats.

My other encounter with the weaker sex happened on the bus. As time passed, I decided the experience with Pippi hadn’t been so bad after all; in fact, it was more enjoyable than I first realized. I thought I was dizzy from being pile-driven into the hard pan, but it turned out that my dizziness came from my little second-grade heart palpitating to a new stroke after being smooched. I concluded that that encounter was worth repeating and thus began my life-long quest to relive that moment with Pippi.

Candace Johnson was the prettiest girl in my class and we shared the same bus route. The bus route for rural schools is the devils workshop for stirring up unscrupulous ideas in the minds of bored-out-of-your-gourd little boys. Riding for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening of largely unsupervised time is an opportunity to concoct various forms of mischief. Second-graders are still short enough to hide most of their activity from the omniscient eye of the bus driver that stared at you in a gigantic rearview mirror. However, we were still sent to the principal’s office with great frequency to atone for sins committed on the bus route.

During my childhood, the school hired former Gestapo operatives planted in our community through a witness relocation program to be our bus drivers. Naturally, to hide their former identities as torturers and prison guards, they assumed surnames appropriate for our culture like Smith and Jones then dressed up as little old ladies with beehive hair-dos and bright red lipstick. They smiled knowingly when we referred to them as Fraulein. Regardless of how well they pulled of their disguises, in times of great rage at the little occupants on the bus, their thick German dialect revealed the origins of their motherland.

It was on one of those interminable bus routes that I decided to make my move on Candace. Since Pippi was so forthcoming with her affections for the male species, I assumed that all females were so inclined. Thus began my lifelong predilection of not understanding women. Furthermore, here’s a good lesson for all adults: never trust the logic of a second grade boy that’s just been kissed for his first time.

However, Candace was not thusly inclined and wanted a bribe of chocolates and roses first. Or at the very least, I was supposed to pass her a note and ask her to please go with me, check yes or no. I’m not sure where we were supposed to go, but she was supposed to go with me before I made my move.

It turned out that Candace had a mean right hook. She anticipated my amorous intention and, as I leaned in for the smooch, she feigned with her left then busted me in the nose with her right.

This was the second most valuable lesson I’ve learned about the female specie: their instincts are uncanny. If the instinct of a woman and the findings of science contradict each other, I’ll lay all my money on the instincts of a woman any day. I frequently use the quote about my wife from Muppet Treasure Island: How does she bloody know? Experience has taught me I have a greater chance of hiding something from God than I do my wife.

I don’t know what Fraulein Hildegard noticed first, me bawling like a newly branded calf or bleeding like a stuck hog, but she began barking at me in Gestapo-like cadence something about I saw what you did you little sickness and you had it coming and if I was her I’d hit you again. The site of blood stirred up memories for the Fraulein of past tortures; she was reliving former days of gore.

I made the trip the next day to the principal’s office with sulking shoulders and head bowed in shame. News of a girl bloodying a boy’s nose traveled fast even before social media so as I trudged to the office, the girls looked at me in disdain and the boys patted me knowingly on the back.

I sat down in the chair across the desk from the principal with the familiar wood paddle nicknamed The Enforcer hanging on the wall behind his desk. That two-foot long tool of torture was administered after we were told to bend over and grab our ankles. Later, I would watch between my legs as my chubby fifth grade teacher would aim first then swing so hard her feet would come off the floor. They all learned from the bus drivers how to administer the most amount of pain with the least amount of effort.

 “So,” he growled, “I hear you tried to kiss Candace? Is that true?”

 “Yes, Mein Fuhrer, I mean, Mr. Jones.” I mumbled

 “You know you’re not suppose to do things like that, right?”

 “Yes, Mr. Jones, but I guess I’m a bit confused,” I admitted, “I was in here recently for the Pippi Longstocking incident after she jumped me from the merry-go-round so I just thought that all girls want to be kissed. Help me understand; what do girls really want?”

I discovered a topic upon which Mr. Jones could wax eloquent; the complexity of the female species. He pontificated for what seemed like hours about the mysterious delights and devices of women. Even though I was still only in second grade, I surmised he didn’t understand them any better than I did. The Enforcer hung silently on the wall.

As he stood up to walk me out of the office he put his fatherly hand on my shoulder and asked, “So have you learned your lesson?”

“Yes, Mr. Jones, no man really knows the mind of a woman.”

“Correct. And if you ever figure that out, son, you can have my job.” Mr. Jones softened. “But trust me, they want chocolates and roses first before you ever try something like that again.”


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Meet My Newest Huggable Hero


I get excited when I find a new hero. However, I’m kind of picky: I want my heroes to be huggable. Those who inspire me the most are people I can sit down with over a cup of coffee. I find my heroes in the most common places where one wouldn’t expect to find them  hanging out. The latest hero I found riding on a DC metro.

I was on the yellow line leaving Huntington for downtown DC when a young lady boarded wearing a uniform I recognized; the black DC Central Kitchens (DCCK) chef’s hat. She immediately sat down, dug out her homework and started working.

I know well the story of DCCK because it was founded by another one of my huggable heroes, the inestimable Robert Egger. Robert opened the 2014 Kansas Hunger Dialogue saying, I wake up each morning wondering how I can be a bigger badass than I was the day before. Robert was well on his way to owning DC’s most popular nightclub when he happened to go with a friend to help feed the homeless.  However, he saw an incredible disconnect as walked home from his club at night and saw dumpsters full of food that restaurants discarded. He wondered if there was a way to reclaim food in such a way that it could do more than help feed people for a day.

I love it when entrepreneurs enter the nonprofit world; they create systems that move people from relief to development.  Entrepreneurs are never satisfied just giving people a fish; they create models to teach people to fish.

Being a nightclub owner, Robert understood the business of making a splash. So he started at the highest level you can go; the President of the United States.  He rented a refrigerated van and picked up the leftover food from George H.W. Bush’s inauguration and delivered it to local shelters. A few weeks later, DDCK found some kitchen space and launched a Culinary Job Training program for residents of those same shelters where he had fed people. He has written a great book, Begging for Change:The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All.

The more I watched Janiece study, the more I knew I had to make her acquaintance. I don’t know if she’s ever met Robert personally, but I had to tell her how proud Robert would be of her. So I broke the unwritten law of the Metro; I was friendly to a stranger. One of the things I don’t like about the Mertro is some unwritten rule that says you’re not supposed to be friendly. I’m from Kansas where people are so friendly they’ll even wave at cows grazing the field.

As the Metro continued lurching down the line, Janiece was oblivious to all else but her homework. I moved near to where she was studying and struck up a conversation.

Excuse me, ma’am, but I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Rick and I happen to know the founder of DCCK, Robert Egger. I want you to know how proud of you he would be if he could see you studying so hard right now.

We struck up a conversation and she told me how excited she was to be in the training, how hard she worked on homework when she got home at night, how hard she worked on it in the morning on the ride in to the metro, and how soon she would graduate. I asked if I could take her picture and send it to Robert. Is this not about the sweetest face you’ve ever seen?IMG_3317

I quickly emailed the photo to Robert whom I knew was still sound asleep in L.A. He’s moved his magic from the East coast to the West coast now and doing amazing things with the L.A. Kitchen. He quickly noticed the too good to be true statement in the background of the photo.

I found a new hero. I know me well enough that in the days and years ahead, I will draw strength from those few moments on metro ride where I had the privilege of meeting Janiece. Although I had everyone in the metro car looking at me like I was from Kansas because I struck up a conversation with a stranger, I didn’t much care. I had a new hero. I didn’t ask for a hug; that would have been too weird for DC. I could have got by with it in Kansas, but not DC.

Her story is so good it has to be true.



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Growing Up Kansas: World Peace and a Good Ol’ Kansas Swimming Hole


Part 9 of the Growing Up Kansas Series

The best way to foster world peace is to get all the kings, queens, presidents, dictators and their hench-people together at a good ol’ Kansas swimmin’ hole. Putin could strut bare-chested in his Speedo; Merkel could hold the NSA director’s head under water; Kim Jong Un could do cannonballs and splash everyone in reach; China would loan everyone money to buy trinkets at their kiosks; John Boehner could show off his fake-bake and everyone would hold ISIS’s head under water until the bubbles stopped. I’m now probably on the black list of at least a half-a-dozen countries.

The best eight words we ever heard as kids were, Load up! We’re going to the swimmin’ hole! We’d drop everything, grab a couple of inner tubes, jump in the back of Dad’s old pickup and putter down a graveled road to heaven on a creek bank.

Our swimmin’ hole was a pool of water where Shady Creek widened under an old limestone arched bridge along Price Road. Shady Creek snuck through the pastures and wheat fields until it was the color of a mocha latte. It wound lazily through the pasture like a fat kid eating chips in front of a T.V. except during the spring rains when it screamed like me trying to outrun the cows in Hobson’s Pasture.

Looking back, I divide my time in the Swimmin’ Hole into two distinctive eras:

  1. Before I had hair on my body
  2. After I had hair on my body

Something dreadful happens when hair starts growing on a little boy’s body; his perception of reality is altered. Truths about the female species he formerly held as self-evident and universal soon become suspect and relative. Former enemies- namely all members of the female species – now become someone for whom they will go great lengths to impress. Those same females whom they formerly regarded with contempt and scorn soon become cherished for every word they say and eye they bat.

Here are a few examples of this transformation:

Jumping Off the Bridge

The top of the arched bridge was 17 feet from the ledge to the water. To give you perspective, 17 horizontal feet is like the distance between a basketball goal and the free-throw line (actually, it’s only 15 feet but you get my drift). However, when you’re ten years old, 17 vertical feet is like the distance between the top of the Chrysler Building and the street below.

Jumping off the bridge was an exhilarating activity that proved one’s bravado to other male species. We jumped off the bridge into inner tubes; we jumped off the bridge trying to catch balls thrown at us; we jumped off the bridge beating our chest like Tarzan; we jumped off the bridge doing cannonballs and can-openers.

We continued jumping until puberty took over; then we started diving.As the levels of testosterone elevated in our little bodies, the capacity to make reasonable decisions diminished proportionately; with each new hair that sprung up, dozens of brain cells died.  Suddenly, jumping was not sufficient; we needed to dive.

The problem with diving off the bridge was that the water was too shallow. When we jumped off the bridge, we buckled our legs soon as we hit the water to provide a cushion when we hit the bottom. If we dove off, then we’d be like a torpedo headed straight to the rocks below and we would die.

However, we came up with a solution. The diver had to hit with water and immediately curve upward like a dolphin leaping out of water. Timing was critical because if you started too soon, well, the pain of belly-flop from 17 feet is excruciating.


Swimmin’ With The Water Snakes

Before hair started growing on our little bodies, we lived in peaceful co-habitation with the water snakes that lived in the bushes on the south bank of the creek. We signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with them; the snakes were to stay in the bushes and we were to stay away from the bushes. This also insured that the girls who were our relatives wouldn’t go swimming with us. On the off chance we arrived to find neighbor girls in our swimmin’ hole, we immediately called their attention to the snakes. This cleared people out faster than a preacher walking into the local brothel on Saturday night.

But let a little hair start growing on our bodies and we suddenly wanted all the neighbor girls to go swimming. The three girls in our family heretofore unwanted now served a particularly useful purpose; they had friends they could bring along.

However, soon all the girls quit going because of the snakes. We called for a meeting with the snakes and asked if they would vacate the premises and move on downstream. Their Attorney General, a defiant litigator who made his living defending serial killers, contended that they were there first and we had no right asking them to leave ancestral lands, er, waters.

Being good American citizens, we invoked historical precedents like Manifest Destiny, Eminent Domain, and the Just War Theory. Then we threatened them. Being snakes and doing what snakes do, they rallied their forces and slithered around the swimming hole until it looked like spaghetti boiling in water. Naturally, we shot at them with BB guns like an old gunslinger making a cowpoke dance. The cause and effect was what we predicted; the snakes disappeared and the girls returned.


Co-Ed Chicken Wars

Before hair started growing on our little bodies, the only reason to have physical contact with girls was to dunk them. We dunked them for two reasons:

  1. To make life unpleasant enough they would want to stay home next time
  2. To shut them up because they were annoying

Much to our dismay, Dad wouldn’t let us hold them under too long for fear the bubbles would stop. We knew that dunking them was going to result in punishment handed out later by the matriarchs – the Three Generals- but it was worth it. But as soon as the girls hit the back door of the house, they’d blab about being dunked. I’ll have it be known that I never once tried to dunk my nemesis and niece, Colleen Miller. Others who tried dunking her walked around with a hitch in their git-a-long for the rest of their lives or found dead horse heads on their pillows at night.

However, after our body chemistry changed, we found the game of co-ed chicken wars exceedingly likeable. When we played chicken wars with another guy on top of our shoulders, the goal to end as quickly as possible so the result usually ended in carnage and name-calling. However, we discovered playing co-ed chicken wars with girls on our shoulders was far more pleasurable if we played it slowly so no one got injured.

Being experienced chicken war strategists, we boys determined that the girls needed a particular style of uniform, you know, to encourage morale, set one’s self apart from others in battle, and be worn with all the dignity incumbent upon a soldier-at-war. After a series of grueling product tests including fabric strength and camouflage design, we determined the most appropriate combat-ready uniform was (roll call, please): Daisy Duke shorts with a bikini top!

Many years later, I firmly believe that all the world’s problems can be solved at a good ol’ Kansas swimming hole. Congress could grab the mud off the bottom and literally sling it at each other; Israel and the Palestinians could have a who-can-hold-their-breath-underwater-the-longest contest; the African tribes could build a campfire on the evening shore and sing Kum-ba-yah.

And who knows, maybe all it would take for Kim Jong Un to take his itchy finger off his doomsday trigger is to see Queen Elizabeth in a pair of Daisy Duke shorts and a bikini top


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Growing Up Kansas: How I Learned to Detest the Marimba

life liberty and pursuit of happiness

Part 8 in the Growing Up Kansas series

I didn’t always detest the marimba; it happened by accident. I blame it all on a traveling evangelist and his marimba-playing wife.

My Dad worked in the oilfields but his real passion was to minister to a small country church he built with his own hands. He never took any pay and the church sent any leftover money to missionaries around the world.

As a result, the missionaries we supported occasionally came to speak in our church. All of these people gave up comfort in America to risk their lives taking the good news of the love of God to the jungles of South America or to sneak Bibles behind the Iron Curtain. I loved the missionaries.

We adored one missionary because he told cannibal jokes.

. He also told scary stories about the jungles of South America that kept me awake for three nights in a row. He was a friend of the five martyred missionaries documented in the movie, “End of the Spear.”

However, the traveling evangelists were another story. They were supposed to be sharing the good news of the love of God, too, but mostly they scared the living daylights of people. I was 43 years old before I heard an evangelist that didn’t make me wet my pants in fear.

Whereas missionaries came to give a report; evangelists came to make people git right with God. Missionaries felt called to share the love of God in the most primitive conditions imaginable; evangelists felt called to drink Dad’s coffee, eat Mom’s cherry pie and bellyache about us kids. Missionaries stayed a day or two; evangelists stayed a week. Evangelists lived up to Dad’s axiom that guests are like fish; after three days they begin to stink.

Evangelists held week-long revival meetings at our church which meant the pulpit took a particularly vigorous beating that week. Guilt and fear were their main themes and most lived by the motto; read the Bible; it will scare the hell out of you.

The evangelist’s goal was to pack people to the altar at the end of the service for rededication or repentance. Naturally, the best way to make people repent is to scare the hell out of them or make them feel lower than worm poop. After all, you were likely to get ran over by a car while crossing a street after church so you better git right with God.

We didn’t really have an altar; it was just a stage with a pulpit in the center, but it was symbolic of the holy of holies. The evangelist wouldn’t quit until someone went forward to meet Jesus and git right with God. This was a burning bush moment with Divine. Apparently Jesus didn’t hang out on the back row with us little boys; you had to walk up front to meet him.

It was not uncommon for my little rear to get dragged to the altar during those visits because the religious interlopers would convince my folks that I was the spawn of the devil and I’d better repent or the whole house was going to hell in a handbasket. One couple convinced my folks that my Leave it to Beaver language like darn, shoot, heck, and geewhiz meant I was cussing like a sailor. I was on the devil’s side and would soon be sporting a bifurcated tail and brandishing a pitchfork.

The evangelist would not quit until someone went forward to meet Jesus and git right with God. I won’t name names, but I know a few folks who went forward to meet Jesus just so the evangelist would shut up and we could head to Dairy Queen.

Revivals were about numbers. The number of people who attended, the number of people who converted to Christianity, the number of people who repented of all their sins to git right with God, and the number of dollars dropped in the collection plate for the evangelist.

One of the things I admired most about my Dad is that he finally quit passing the offering plate. Instead, he put a box in the back of the church and said; If you want to give, give; if you don’t want to give, don’t give. Shoving a plate under your nose while the piano plays I Surrender All is not a good reason to give; God loves a cheerful giver. Surprisingly, contributions rose significantly after he stopped taking up an offering.

The evangelist and the marimba-playing wife descended on our house in an old brown station wagon packed with the marimba and all its accouterments. As we settled in for a week-long series of hellfire-and-damnation sermons, I waited to see what new things I’d get in trouble for at home. It was always a crapshoot.

Mr. Evangelist knew it was about numbers, too, so he offered a contest: whoever invited the most people won a brand-spanking new leather-covered Bible.

Being the spiritually competitive person that I was, I invited all my friends from school who were pagans and backsliders. I told them about the exotic sounds of the marimba and how they were going to hell-in-a-hand basket and needed to come hear one of the greatest evangelists of all time. I didn’t bother telling them about the contest; I choose to obscure my selfish motives with righteous acts done for public recognition.

Each night, Dad opened up the service with a prayer and three hymns then turn it to over to the evangelist. The evangelist rambled on about the contest and how awesome the marimba was and how fortunate we were to have his wife bless us with her skill. She always fussed around with the marimba while he was talking and acted like she was embarrassed by the accolades. She would flit coy glances his way like the mama bear saying to Bugs Bunny, tell me more about my eyes.

She would then attack the marimba like it had personally insulted her. I’ve watched marimba players with exquisite skill play as if they are one with the instrument, but this woman looked like she was on the giving end of spousal abuse.

Being a Muppet fan, I associated the marimba with calypso music so I expected lively I’ll Fly Away or Shoutin’ in That Amen Corner kind of music. What we got instead were dirges and dark renditions of Judgment Day Songs because you’re going to get run over in the street when you leave here tonight so you better come forward to meet Jesus and git right with God.

The revival was drawing to a close on the last night and I was ahead in the numbers game. Hands down, I brought the greatest number of pagans and backsliders to the meetings. I was finally going to get my cherished prize.

Before Mr. Evangelist announced the winner, Mrs. Marimba walked over to him and whispered something in his ear. He rambled on for a bit about how good a week it had been, how many folks had come forward to meet Jesus and git right with God and how good the offerings had been and why he needed to come back soon. Real soon.

Then he dropped the bomb; the fine print in the contest said the competition for the brand-spanking new leather-covered Bible was only good for adults; kids were excluded.

I might not be the brightest crayon in the Crayola box, but I saw the lines in the coloring book well enough to conclude that Mrs. Marimba rigged the vote; she must have been from Florida.

Many years have passed and you will be happy to know I’ve repented and became a marimba-believer again. I got right with the marimba thanks to Muppets very own Marvin Suggs and the Muppahone.

Although the numbers from Mr. Evangelist and Mrs. Marimba were better than average, we never saw them in our church or home again.

However, the next Sunday in church, Dad called me to the front of the church. He made a comment about all the pagans and backsliders I brought the following week and how proud the church was of me then he gave me a brand-spanking new leather-covered Bible. He knew what it took to git right with God.


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