Doody McGregor was not a local, but he lived the final years of his life in Luxley Crossing. Mississippi. He died in a terrible fire that swept through his trailer in the early hours of Friday morning. Pastor David announced in church Sunday morning that his only family, a sister who lived in Dayton, had decided to have him cremated. The boys in the congregation of The First Baptist Church of Sweet Deliverance were confused as to what his death had to do with coffee, but later they learned his death had everything to do with his penny pinching.
Doody, who depending on who you talked to and how much hillbilly pop or rotgut moonshine he had consumed the night before, was estimated to be between 45 and 65 years of age when he passed. In spite of the age difference between him and the boys, they had taken a liking to him from the very first day he came to work for the Sweet Deliverance Church. The deacons’ wives said maturity wise he was a perfect match for them. That didn’t bother Doody though; he didn’t like the old busy bodies any more than he liked their husbands.
For the boys, Doody had been sort of a hero. He had enlightened them with stories of heroic adventures in far off places they had only heard about in school. Unlike the adults who scoffed at his claims of world travels, to them his stories were as real as the Biblical stories Pastor David told from the pulpit. They had never met a person so worldly, straight forward and open, nor had they ever met an adult who paid them so much attention and was not afraid to get down on their level. Until Doody came along, the young people in the church were to be seen and not heard, but he changed that; he paid attention to them and actually listened when they spoke. Unlike the other adults in the church, he did not go around trying to prove how adult he was by acting above the kids or ignoring them. The youth in the church had always been treated with kindness, but although Doody was like the other adults in that he stressed the importance of education and being a good citizen, he was the first adult they had ever known who treated them with respect. He was also the first person they had ever met who was not afraid to say his piece to Pastor David although when he did, he was careful to do so behind closed doors or out of ear shot. Likewise, he was the first person they had ever met who spoke of Methodists, Catholics, and Pentecostals as anything but heathens. The idea that God may not have been exclusively Southern Baptist had never occurred to them until Doody came into their lives.
He lived in an old dented and chewed travel trailer in an even older depressed trailer park behind the church, and he was as much part of the church’s outreach program as he was an employee. In a rugged rundown sort of way he was a handsome man, which partly explained why Deacon Leroy’s wife, Thelma, pushed the deacons so relentlessly to have compassion for those less fortunate and give him a job. Add rugged good looks and compassion to the rumors that he had a fortune stashed somewhere in his beat up old trailer, and in the eyes of Thelma, he became the perfect person for the part time handyman job. She had an appetite for good looks and money both of which she had missed out on when she married Leroy Jenkins.
The rumors about Doody’s hidden fortune grew partly from the fact that he was absolutely the stingiest man in town. When people speculated he still had the first penny he ever earned, they didn’t know how close to the truth they actually were. In fact, he still possessed just about everything he had ever owned. One look at the piles of clutter in his trailer was a testament to that; however, he was not just a hoarder, he was a skin flint in the truest sense of the term. From using a penny to replace a fuse in the electrical service panel in his trailer to using duct tape to stop kitchen and bathroom leaking pipes, he never really fixed anything if there was a cheaper quicker way to get the job done; he was the ultimate cheapskate. Another example was the dingy white picket fence around his trailer. He always kept the gate padlocked – not because he did not want visitors – but rather because he didn’t want to wear the hinges out. To accommodate his infrequent visitors, mainly Thelma Jenkins and one or two other ladies from the Ruth’s Circle women’s ministry, he had a step-over to either side of the gate. The step-overs proved to be rather awkward for the church women bearing casseroles or freshly baked pies to maneuver, but Doody never offered to unlock the gate nor did he ever tire of sitting on the steps of his trailer and watching the ladies struggle to be lady-like as they stepped across the step-over in their hip hugging Sunday go to meeting skirts and dresses. Besides being stingy, he could sometimes come across as the epitome of a dirty old man.
John Carter was the first Doody convert among the boys. On Wednesday night between Royal Ambassadors and the prayer service, Sunday morning between Sunday school and worship service, and Sunday night between youth Bible study and night worship, Doody held court on the back steps of the fellowship hall. There the boys gathered around him to hear him tell his latest story, play the harmonica, or listen to him talk about life in general. There on those steps, Doody lifted the weight of the world off John Carter’s shoulders. While hiding a cigarette in the palm of his hand and occasionally bending low and taking a deep draw from between his knees, Doody confirmed what John Carter had always suspected and hoped was true – Catholics were human and no more likely to go to hell than a God fearing Baptist. With this revelation, he started smiling, his eyes watered up, and he lunged forward wrapping his arms around Doody’s neck. He was sweet on a Catholic girl who lived down the street from him, but up until that moment, he had kept her at a distance for fear of angering God and his daddy who would have removed several layers of hide from his backside with his belt had he known his son was fond of a Catholic girl. In the 1960’s, fear of God and the belt were often more than enough to keep young people from straying too far from the fold.
Youth in the First Baptist Church of Sweet Deliverance were so indoctrinated with hell, fire, and brimstone that they were scared to death of God, and terrified of dying on his angry side. Doody advised them to chill and be more open-minded. He cautioned the boys about dying and then discovering too late at the gates of heaven that God was not Southern Baptist after all, but a Methodist, Catholic, or heaven forbid a Pentecostal! Bottom line, he advised them to keep their options and minds open and not risk not getting into heaven on a technicality. Of course, when the deacons heard about such talk, they wanted to get rid of Doody immediately, but to their amazement Pastor David would have nothing to do with such action. In the deacons’ eyes, God’s way was the Southern Baptist way with no room to stray to the left or the right, and they could not understand why the pastor would jeopardize that by putting up with Doody.
When it came to the deacons, Doody didn’t care too much for any of them. However, he had the utmost respect for Pastor David. He felt he was as good a man as God ever allowed to walk the earth. He acknowledged him as a devout Christian at war with the devil although the pastor’s tactical errors in his sermons sometimes sent him out the back door to catch an early smoke. He saw Pastor David as a man’s man; there was nothing squirrely or timid about him. He did not beat around the bush. If a person was a sinner, he called him a sinner to his face; if a person acted like a heathen, he would put him in his place before God and anyone else who happened to be standing next to him; and if a person broke the commandments, he did not shy away from calling him out by name in church. He was a man of power in the community, a mover of men, a true liaison with God. He was the one who cemented the congregation’s beliefs in Jesus, mama, and guns. He instilled in his congregation the fear of God, and until he met Doody, he instilled in them suspicion of anybody north of the Mason Dixon Line, and contempt for anybody who thought, talked, or acted differently. He promoted an unwavering distrust of anyone who did not conform to the Southern Baptist idea of what is right, wrong, or normal. In other words, he taught his congregation that the Gospel was what he and the annual Southern Baptist Convention said it was, and it was final, complete, and absolute. Why he threw all that out the window when it came to Doody, no one had a clue. Maybe it was because both men stood up for what they believed regardless of what others thought, and in that they found a mutual respect for each other.
Some speculated Pastor David was willing to put up with Doody’s dubious background, ogling the women, being a questionable influence on the boys, and the occasional biting jab or argument as an example of the pestilence God could rain down on backsliders at any time. More realistically, it most likely had everything to do with Doody being a good worker although one who worked at his own pace, and Pastor David’s commitment to witnessing to wayward souls. As for Doody, he hung around because Pastor David was the closest thing to a true friend he had ever known. Pastor David and the boys had become his family.
For the boys in the church, Doody was their link to how the world outside the church thought and acted. Before he came to the church, Sunday morning and evening worship services and Wednesday night prayer meeting were not only spiritual outlets, but they were the only social outlets other than school for them. The church was everything that Facebook is to today’s generation. It was the social media of the day; it was the connection to the world even if it was the world as the deacons and pastor saw it. On the social side, there was often enough drama brewing in the fellowship hall kitchen to put even today’s reality shows to shame. Why did the preacher visit Widow McKinley three times in the past week? What was in the plain brown package delivered to Miss Gloria’s house? Why did Sarah Madden start using so much makeup? Did you hear the McLaurin twins are dating the same girl over in Perry County? When was someone going to talk to the preacher about his overlong sermons? There was always drama, or if not, there was always someone willing to start some. Along with the gossip and drama though, the congregation came together to worship, trade recipes, talk about their families, fan the spark of romance, talk local as well as state and national politics, and eat. Boy, could they eat, and Doody was the king of eating, especially when it came to dinner on the grounds.
The first two things children were taught in church were sin is a four letter word and how to bless their food. Doody always said all you needed to start a church in the South were three ladies who knew how to fry chicken, cook a mess of field peas and okra, fix chicken and dumplings, and bake an apple or pecan pie (preferably both). Food was the church calling card, especially for young families struggling to make ends meet who quickly learned that families ate free on Wednesday night. Of course, the biggest draw for any Southern Baptist church was bringing the congregation together as a church family for dinner on the grounds. There is no such thing as someone going hungry at a Southern Baptist dinner on the grounds. The only down side to these potluck extravaganzas was watching folks pick fried chicken, fried pork chops, barbeque spare ribs, and pot roast from their teeth with toothpicks and pocket knives after dinner. Doody always agreed the aftermath was not a pretty sight, but he said the variety and quality of food more than made up for any ugliness that came afterwards.
Another piece of advice that Doody offered dealt with relationships. He said the only two relationships a man needed to cultivate in church were the one he had with his pastor and the one he had with the ladies. John Carter asked him if he meant the young ladies or the older ones. Doody said both. John Carter looked confused and said he was fine with hitting on the young ones, but church women over 40 seldom smiled, and paid more attention to the men and boys napping in church than they did the sermon. Doody said that’s because men and boys sometimes forget that ladies over forty like being hit on too.
No one expected it to happen, but Doody grew to love the church, and the truth be known, the church grew to love him. One day during coffee and biscuit time before Sunday school, Pastor David noticed him leaning on his mop with a troubled look on his face. He said he was concerned because two new churches were opening in town, The First Renewed Faith and Unyielding Believers Baptist Church was moving into the vacant feed store a couple streets over, and just outside of town The Backwoods Revival of True Believers Baptist Church was opening its doors in the old vacant beer barn. Doody said he was afraid the church market in Luxley Crossing couldn’t support another church much less two. From the pulpit that morning, Brother David tried to sooth concerns about the new churches. He assured everyone the new churches were part of God’s plan to provide as many worship opportunities as possible in the community and that there was no need for concern. After the pastor’s reassurance that all was as it should be, the congregation moved on to the next drama – that is all but Doody. He continued to worry and fret for another three months. It was never proven, but it was always highly suspicioned that he was behind the rumors that The First Renewed Faith and Unyielding Believers Baptist Church practiced animal sacrifice, and The Backwoods Revival of True believers Baptist Church served beer and pretzels for the Lord’s Supper. The rumors proved effective whoever started them. Both churches closed their doors for good within three months citing poor attendance as the reason.
Over time, Doody became a fixture in the church, and when he died many in the church, especially Pastor David and the boys, felt a part of the church died as well. However, his death may have actually saved the church. The investigation into the fire in his trailer revealed the fire had started in the electrical service panel where he had placed a penny behind one of the fuses rather than buying a new fuse. As a result, heat built up in the circuit and eventually caught fire destroying the trailer and ending Doody’s life too soon.
A few days after the fire, Pastor David replaced the old electrical service panel in the church with a new panel. The deacons griped and fussed that replacing a perfectly good panel was fiscally irresponsible, but Pastor David insisted and the old panel was replaced. The next Sunday, he told the congregation Doody spoke to him through a dream. He said he argued with Doody until the early hours of the morning before Doody finally convinced him to change out the service panel. Later that morning, he said he called an electrician who found three pennies behind fuses in the church electrical panel. The electrician told him God had to have been watching over the church because it was only a matter of time before it burned to the ground. Pastor David wiped a tear from his eye and smiled at the congregation and especially at the boys sitting in the back pew. “God was indeed watching over us,” he said, “along with an angel, our friend Doody.” With those words he closed the service and led the entire congregation to the back steps of the fellowship hall where they sat telling Doody stories for the rest of the afternoon.
©Jack Linton, August 10, 2014