The Backwoods Preacher
written by Chandra Mathis
My papa was a preacher. Most folks from where I grew up,
called him a "backwoods Bible thumper." It was just another
word for an uneducated preacher.Papa was a "third generation
preacher." That meant his grandpa, and his papa were
preachers before him. Hmmm… almost sounds like royalty!
Anyhow, down in Mississippi, a little place called Rolling Creek
is where it all began. We were living way back in the woods, a
place where neighbors were few and far in between. My papa,
mama, and me had to walk, if we wanted to go anywhere. Not
a soul had a car in those days. We were too poor to afford a
horse and buggy at the time. We managed pretty fair back
then. It was only by God’s grace.
Those long walks to church were a bit tiresome, and painful
too. I would get blisters on my feet from all the walking every
time I wore my Sunday shoes. Those shoes were
entirely too small for my feet .All the fast walking we had to
do, didn't help matters either!
We were never late for Sunday meeting.It was out of the
question, cause my papa was the preacher there. We were
going to be at Sunday meeting no matter what. Papa didn’t
care; if it was pouring we were going.
Papa was a tall thin man, with a sharp chiseled face. He had
eyes that were black as coal. That’s where I get my real fine
looks. How blessed I am! I don’t spend much time in front of
the mirror to this very day. No point in looking, cause I
already know what I look like.
Papa was a man of determination. That is what I admired
about him the most. He never was a quitter or a slacker. I
would watch him from the window or the front door, as he
walked down that winding dirt road; long strides as he
went. He was always wearing that same old black suit. It was
threadbare for sure and the pants were to short, cause the
bottom of them came just to his ankles. Mama had patched it
in several places but even those patches were beginning to
wear thin. There were patches on top of patches, so it
seemed . That suit made papa look tired. I had to do some
intervening on his behalf. That poor man needed some help!
I remember that night praying and asking God to bring papa a
new suit. A week later, God answered my prayers! Old man
Taylor passed away, and Mrs. Taylor gave papa one of his
suits. I remember telling God, that he sure did answer
prayers in a strange kind of way.After all the trouble I went
through to get papa that new suit, he refused to wear it. “I'm
not wearing a dead man’s suit!” He hollered, then he slammed the
front door so hard it made my teeth rattle.
We were living in some hard times back then, I remember
when mama made potato salad out of soda crackers.Why!
those folks at Sunday meeting didn't know the difference,
cause they were so hungry. There wasn’t a bite left.
A preacher's wages wasn't enough to support a family in those
days, so me and mama tried to help "make ends meet" by
doing chores for others. We would walk to Dr. Jamison's
house about five miles down the dirt road and do a few chores
for him so we could make a little money. As I walked, I would
look for papa's footprints on that red dirt. I would place my
feet in them and walk along pretending to be my papa going to
visit sick folks or going to Church to preach Sunday meeting.
I remember thinking, I wanted me a Bible just like his, but we
could not afford another Bible. Papa had the only Bible in the
house,and "believe you me," no letting that one out of his sight.
It’s sort of funny, cause that same Bible sits on a table in my
parlor today. Brings back a lot of memories!
Once, my papa was going to see some sick folks, I watched
him head off down the road, and soon as he was out of
sight, I ran into the house and picked up mama's Sears
Roebuck Catalog. Off I went down that road stepping into
every foot print I could see, toting my Sears Roebuck Catalog,
pretending it was a Bible just like my papa's. I must have
looked plum silly back then.
One morning I heard my papa and mama fussing with each
other; I got my ear against the door so I could hear what they
were saying. Mama called it ease dropping. Anyway, I heard
my papa say he was concerned about the family tradition. He
said he had no son to take his place when he was gone. I was
hurt deep by this, cause it made me feel papa did not want
me, cause I was a girl. I cried so hard that my eyes felt like
they were going to jump out of their sockets.
That night, I laid there in bed and was saying my prayers. I
told the Lord, Please Lord make me be a boy so my papa
would be happy. Then the Lord told me, "No! I will not make
you into a little boy, you are perfect the way you are. I will
Cause you to take your papa's place one day. You will be a
preacher just like him." That little talk with God made my
feelings a whole lot better.
Come morning I rose early, cause I wanted to practice before
my papa got Up. I picked up my Sears Roebuck Catalog and
off I went, step by step, down that winding dirt road. Stepping
in every footprint with long strides trying to Keep up. I would
sing, here I go to see sick folks with my Bible in my arm. The
future seemed bright.
Five years later, The Lord spoke to me again, that time he told
me that he was going to send me to Bible College.
I quickly replied; Lord,you know I can't afford Bible College.
Then the Lord said "I Will make a way for you just wait and
see." I was surprised. I never planned
That very same day our neighbor Mrs. Jenkins came down to
visit; she was the town gossip? "I remember her saying,
"Did you hear about that college professor who's coming to
Sunday meeting to tell about college?I heard that this man
had a reputation for taking in poor kids and paying for their
school." Then she let out a laugh that sounded just like one of
our geese. It made me Jump like a frog!
I knew then that God had just opened the windows of heaven
When Sunday came, I couldn't get there fast enough.
Why! I believe I missed one or two of papa's footprints along the
I was sitting there in Sunday meeting, the College Professor
said he was taken on a couple of students that year and pay
for their education.I was so excited! He said "after Sunday
meeting, I will have a paper for you to sign and then you will
be informed by letter as what to do."
After Sunday meeting was over, I went up front and told the
man, I want to sign up. He told me "Why little girl, you can't
go to college, this is a "man's world." Go now and sit down with
your Mama." No! Mister, I shouted. I have too!The Lord say's so.
Then the College Professor stopped and turned his face to me his
cheeks "pooched" out with every word," I tell you what, I have
an opening for kitchen help there at the college, if you finish
your work and have the time, you can take some of the college
courses, but only if you prove yourself to be a worthy student."
I will! I proclaimed.
The next morning, I had to break the news to mama and papa,
I was scared. I knew that they were going to jump out of their
skin. I remember it so well,I eased up to the table like a
puppy begging for crumbs. Mama and Papa, I have something
to tell you, I announced." What is it dear child?" Mama was
looking at me with this wild look in her eyes. “Go ahead and
just spit it out girl," papa wiped his mouth. I want to go to
that college and work in the kitchen. "Well that's great news,"
papa talked with his mouth full while he slurped his
coffee.There's more to it Papa, I want to take Bible classes
too." What girl?Did I hear you say Bible classes?" He slams his
cup on the table, “ What on earth for?" So I can be like you
Papa." Like me? What made you want to do that? “ I want to be a
"backwoods Bible thumper" like you Papa. I left running into
my room, crying again, cause my Papa wasn’t to happy about
that whole idea.
That night I heard the door squeak open, then I felt a tall
presence leaning over me. I turned over and looked, it was
papa! I was surprised to see him standing there.I will never
forget what he said to me that night. Papa sat down
on the bed with tears in his eyes, he took my hands and
placed a few coins in them. "Your going to need them for
your trip, sorry I wished it could be more, but it's all I got.
I love you dear, get a good night sleep, cause tomorrow
you will be leaving for college."
The next morning, I got up and joined my mama and papa for
breakfast.Things were quiet at first, papa slurped his coffee
once more, "girl you go and do your best to fill your papa's
shoes and the Lord be with you." Mama kissed my cheek, and
sent me on my way.
Out the door I went, walking down that dirt road stepping into
every foot print singing out loud, yes I am going to visit sick
folks and preach at Sunday meeting, just like you papa, just
I spent fifty years in the ministry. I never regretted it for
one minute. Folks say, I turned out to be a pretty good "Bible
thumper" and I was even better than my papa in his day.
How’s that for an old girl like me? Not to shabby, if I say so
myself. God bless y’all!
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