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The Backwoods Preacher
by chandra mathis
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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

on college.

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

for me!

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

like you.

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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Member Comments
Member Date
Holly Jensen 10 May 2007
I like this. I love how you told it using the dialect of the south. It made the story more real. Well done.
Irvin Rozier 24 Aug 2005
Great story! God made a way! What atestimony to the faith of your papa. Irvin


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