I said, “I don’t know why You would want me but if You do I am Yours.” The most wonderful peace came over me. I finished my work went home to a great supper and slept like a baby. I carried my whiskey bottle to the trash barrel, the next morning, dropped a brick on it and started my new life in Christ.
The pastor got back in two weeks and my boss took me to the pastor’s study the first night that he was home because the boss said I had to go and tell the pastor what I did. The pastor told me that I had to come to church the next Sunday and get up front right after the message and tell the congregation about my conversion. So, hard as that was I did it and everyone was so nice. It was wonderful to be a part of this body of perfected saints. It just can’t get any better than this.
Meanwhile back at the beer joint.
I had been going to a little café just a block west of the slaughterhouse for lunch for over a year. It was right on the south end of Main street and next door was a run down, dirty, little beer joint with a couple of pool tables in the back. As you know, I had been a drinking man but I had never been in there for three reasons. First, I don’t like to play pool. Second, all they had to offer in the way of refreshments was beer or soda pop and I don’t like either one. And lastly, it would be a cold, cold day in the hot place if and when an attractive female ever darkened that door. There had never been any thing in there for me. But I found myself peering into the big, dirty window that exposed the dirty, dinghy barroom. I had known the Lord less than a month, was I homesick for the smell of stale beer and unwashed bodies already? Peering out of that window, at me, was the ugliest, meanest, most wrinkled up, old gray haired hag, of a women, I had ever seen. I don’t get it. I found myself walking right up and through the door and on to a barstool. The women asked me what I would have. The only thing they had that I could tolerate at all was squirt, so I had a can of squirt. That became a ritual. Everyday, six days a week a can of squirt and Peggy’s poison. Peggy was a hopeless gossip who hated everything and everybody.
The pastor asked me if I would be interested in attending the youth group for senior high young people. He said that he knew I was quite a bit older than those folks but he thought it would be good for me and get me started. He said that he would introduce me as his assistant leader. This worked out great. I had a fancy soft topped car, a guitar and a very bad reputation. The kids loved me and I was thrilled with them to. They seemed to know and love the Lord so much. When called upon, they could speak the longest most wonderful prayers and always knew all the answers for the Bible quiz’s. I began to daydream about this group and me winning the world for the Lord. There were only seven and they were the kids of the board members and had to come, or else but I didn’t know that then.
The kids loved going places with me and I loved taking them. They liked climbing in the hills south of town the best and we went to the big town to the east and did things like miniature golf. We went to a little town in Wyoming where I knew a lot of people because I had spent a lot of time, there, growing up. Fact is it’s the town where I learned to use a pistol. Boy! What a thrill, we went door to door handing out tracts and asking people to attend a church that a pastor friend of ours was trying to start in that town. People in that town knew me and some of my wild family members, well. It had to impact them seeing such a change in me. But two of the girls in the group got in a fight over who was going to sit on the uncomfortable console between the bucket seats in my car. The pastor blamed me and chewed me out. He said that from then on he would say who rode in what cars and the girls would not be in my car. The girls must have set him straight on that because they went right on riding in my car but didn’t fight anymore.
The youth group grew by leaps and bounds. We got up to 45 once, for a picnic. The town was only 1100 so that must have been about everybody. But when mother isn’t happy no one is happy. The pastor had a lot of pressure on him. The powers that be did not like their kids being led around the countryside by a known bad outlaw. I don’t think they liked all the town kids coming either. That could be a bad influence. I was called into the pastors study for a meeting and he told me that the kids and I would no longer be planning outings without his approval and unless he could attend. He thought, that for the most part we should confine our activities to Sunday afternoon at the church. Bible study and the like and he would lead the Bible study. I left the meeting a little hot at not being trusted. Outside the office, waiting, were three of the board members kids. So they knew what was coming down. I was asked about what was going on. I didn’t say. I only said, “ for two cents I’d quit this outfit”. All three boys said,” you quit we quit”. I couldn’t lead an insurrection like that so I said,” no, nobody’s quitting”, but I began to remove myself a little at a time. Those people would never trust me. The youth group went back to seven then five. Two graduated.
Meanwhile back at the beer joint.
Peggy was such an unhappy person I thought that maybe I should introduce her to what I had found but I knew practically nothing about God or the Bible so I suggested that perhaps she would like to visit my church. ” Mr. So and so goes to your church doesn’t he”, she asked? “ Why, yes, he is the Sunday school superintendent. You know him? He would be tickled to death if you would visit us sometime”. “ yeah, I just bet he would,” she said, with a gleeful look on her face. “ That man sneaks up this alley almost every day to buy his smokes from me and sneaks around the liquor store every night for his half pint” She laughed me to scorn. I didn’t say anything but I knew that she was wrong and a nasty old liar to boot.
I was on my own and still felt the Lord could use the few tools I had for His glory. I mean my fancy car and guitar. I was thinking that I could park on main street with my top down and get to strumming away and folks would stop to hear what I had to say. Well, I did attract one listener. A pretty collage age girl that worked for her grandmother in the other café invited me in to the café, guitar and all. Her father was into politics, a county commissioner, and her mother was even prettier than she was. I said to the Lord that these good looking, successful people are what you need and I’m going to work on that for you. Think how many people they could influence. They invited me to set up in the back dining room and sing my songs, so I did. I was asked by the grandmother if I knew “You are My Sunshine”. I did so she had me sing it a dozen times a night. It was her late husband’s favorite song. When the girl went back to collage everyone lost interest in me and my music and no one ever came to church. So much for picking God’s converts for Him.
One thing I loved best about the church service was the special music. Several families were involved in this and the presentations were really good. I thought that maybe the Lord could use me in that capacity. So I worked up a number on my guitar and one Sunday night I walked up to a group of men talking to the pastor after the service. When I got a chance I said that, my guitar and I had a song ready for special music sometime. The pastor said, “ good, we will do that next Monday night”. One guy said,” Monday! There isn’t going to be anyone here Monday. The pastor said I know. I don’t allow any Guitar picking in this church. The guitar is an instrument of the devil.
I sat at home every night, seven days a week, my Bible on one knee and my guitar on the other. I would read a while, then pick my guitar and pray about what I had been reading, asking God to guide me. The prayers sometimes came out as songs and I knew they were from the Lord because I had never come up with a song of my own in my life. One Sunday I told the pastor that I thought the Lord was giving me songs. As the pastor turned on heel and walked away, he said,” I thought I was a poet one time to”.
So went my first year in the Lord.
I was slicing bacon for a lady that I had seen at church a time or two when the boss’s wife brought up that she hadn’t seen her at AWANA lately. The lady seemed embarrassed but also angry. She told us that the last time she had taken her kids to AWANA her son’s new coat had come up missing. Another lady told her that she had seen the Sunday school superintendent’s grandson with a coat like that. So she went over to Mr. So and So.’s house to see if they had got her son’s coat by mistake. She said she could smell booze on him and while she got the coat, he threw it at her, he became abusive and cussed her out with terrible language. She said she would never attend that church again. I found out that it had, indeed, been a mistake. The grandson had a coat just like the one he had taken home. But that was no excuse for the drunken abuse.
Meanwhile, back at the beer joint.
One day Peggy told me she had been to the doctor and was diagnosed with being a diabetic. The doctor had told her to only eat the leanest of meat. She said she went to the store and priced the ground round but it was more than she could afford. She seemed really down about this so I said,” I’m in the meat business, let me see what I can do. I priced 95% lean bull meat, after it is ground you can’t tell the difference. The boss threw in the wrapping paper and I provided the labor. I gave her the price at my cost of the meat alone. She was happy with that and ordered 10 pounds in one pound packages.
As people began to realize I wasn’t sitting in the beer joint sopping up beer every noon hour they figured out that Peggy and I must be friends. Since they knew that Peggy was giving me the low down on everyone of them they wanted to give me the low down on her.
It seems that Peggy wasn’t always this mean spirited old hag. As a young women she had lived in a near by town with a husband and a baby son. Peggy’s husband was the town electrician. That part of the country is subject to terrible storms and one such storm knocked out the electricity in that town. The electrician took his duty seriously and was out trying to restore power before the storm was even over. Peggy and her little son went with him. She was worried about him. Some folks say he got into high voltage others say it was lightening but peggy’s husband was struck. She saw it happen and ran screaming to the pole just in time for him to fall dead at her feet. This was during the depression and there was no social security or any other safety net for situations like this. It was just Peggy’s bad luck. She had a hard time causing her to become mean spirited and bitter. She hated everybody including God. Folks said that her son got away as soon as possible, joining the military and never coming back. She said that he told her he had found a place where it didn’t get cold and didn’t want anything to do with that country again.
Meanwhile, back at the beer joint for more squirt and Peggy’s poison every day six days a week. Some time later Peggy asked me if a Miss Such and such, a schoolteacher at the high school, went to my church. I said,” why, yes, wonderful girl, she and her sister bring special music about once a month. They sing like angels. You should come hear them some time”.
Peggy snorted,” that will be a cold day in hell. You mark my words, she is going to break up that marriage”.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“You haven’t heard? She’s running around with the football coach behind his wife’s back”, Peggy chortled.
I wanted to explode all over her but I calmly and coldly told her she had been misinformed and went back to work.
I was at church one Sunday and a lady came up and said, “ isn’t Miss Such and such a wonderful girl, her mother works full time in town you know and she is quitting her teaching job to move home and cook for her dad when he is out in the field.”
I vaguely wondered why that was necessary but there are men who don’t want anything to do with the kitchen.
Some time later a locker customer and fellow church attendee needed help getting her meat. She was afraid to go in the locker alone because years before the lights had been turned off when she was in the locker and they found her screaming and beating on the walls. I reckon she wanted me in there with her so if she froze to death she could take me with her. While I held the box she picked through the packages to get what she wanted. Suddenly she looked up and asked, “ did you hear about Miss Such and such?”
I said, “ I heard she moved home and was helping her father.”
“Well,” she said, “ there was a reason for that. She is pregnant by the football coach, I heard”.
As soon as I could I got out on to the kill floor where I could be alone for the rest of the day. I dropped a beef, turned it up and was beginning to leg it when the rage hit. I’ve been mad before and since and been known to do some terrible things while in a rage but I think this was the worst rage I have ever experienced.
Oh, I wasn’t mad at the schoolteacher or the coach. I wasn’t mad at the Sunday school super. I wasn’t mad at the arrogant pastor or the youth that put on a good act in church but were very difficult to control out and away from daddy. I wasn’t mad at the mommy’s and daddy’s that would rather I wasn’t around them or their kids. I was mad at God. I began to hurl every curse I knew in four languages at God and swipe at the air with my bloody knife. I begged the Lord to come fight. I said you blankity Blank they bled You out once. Step down here and I’ll do it again. I cursed and fought the air until I was out of strength. Then I became white hot and coldly pronounced my vow. I told the Lord that I would never darken the door of another church as long as I lived and further more come Friday night I was going back to my old life and haunts. You and I are quits!!! That was Wednesday. That night when I went to bed I took the Bible off of my nightstand and threw it in to the cobwebs of the corner.
The next night I sat on the bed and looked at that Book, so carelessly tossed, for a long time. I felt I didn’t have a thing in the Lord. He didn’t want me anymore than the rest of the Christian community did. Some people could run around with apparent impunity, doing what they pleased and I tried to do right and get the door slammed at every turn. I had given up every friend I had male and female when I surrendered to the Lord but I had found no welcome with His folks at all. But on the other hand there was nothing from my old life that I wanted. Nothing to go back to.
I finally went over and picked up the Book. It fell open, as I picked it up, to Jeremiah- 29 and my eye fell on verse 11. “For I know the thoughts I think towards you,” Saith the Lord, “ Thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you an expected end”. I collapsed on the bed in a flood of tears, repented and praised God the rest of the night. That night as I sat with the Bible on one knee and the guitar on the other these word came.
I’ve been a bad one most of my life
All it ever amounted to was trouble and strife
Lying and cheating, corousing all night
Oh yes but friends of mine I’ve seen the light
Yes, I met Jesus changed every thing
I now have a new life a new song to sing
About How He saved me and set me free
He can do for you what He’s done for me
There was a robber on the cross next to Christ
Who said, remember me when you come to paradise
Jesus told him today thou shall be
In paradise with me
Sometimes I get lonely when I think of the past
I don’t see how another day I’m going to last
Then I take up my Bible and Christ speaks to me
Then I know He really cares for me.
Yes I met Jesus changed everything
I now have a new life a new song to sing
About how he saved me and set me free
He can do for you what He has done for me.
That pretty well took care of my second year in the Lord. There were many other things that transpired over that two-year period. Some I can’t recall well enough to relate and some are still too painful to think about let alone talk about.
As I started my third year in the Lord I was reminded of a song that I used to love to sing, by Merle Haggard called, “Momma’s Hungry Eyes”
I remember daddy praying for a better way of life
But I don’t recall a change of any size
Just a little loss of courage as the years began to show
And more sadness in my momma’s hungry eyes.
First of June 1968, a lady from the church came to the slaughterhouse and told me she was in charge of vacation Bible school for the little kids. “You play the guitar don’t you” she asked?
I told her that no one had ever accused me of that before but I had one and played at it. She told me that they would be teaching the kids about missionary work in Mexico and that often times they had no piano and no church building to put one in anyway. So they used a guitar for music.
“Would you come over to the church Monday morning at 10:00 and play for the kids so that they can know what it is like”, She Asked?
I told her no. I explained that the pastor had said the guitar was an instrument of the devil and is not allowed in his church. She told me that was all taken care of, that she had got permission from the pastor before she came to ask me to do it.
I showed up at the appointed time. Wow! What a day, my guitar’s first time ever in a church. I sang two of the songs the Lord had given me and since it is hard to keep the attention of five year olds any longer than that I left. While going out through the foyer, the pastor stepped out of his office and asked me to step in. That woman lied to me, she didn’t have permission was my first thought. The pastor said he had listened through his intercom. He asked me if I had written those songs. I told him I don’t write songs I just sing what the Lord gives me to sing. He asked me if I would come the following Sunday night and sing them for the whole congregation?
Everyone loved my songs and made over me a good bit. As I drove home, afterwards, I was so excited that I made a vow to the Lord that since He gave me these songs I would sing them any time and any place that I was asked. The Lord blessed this silly ole no talent bum.
One day the end of June I was getting the oil changed on my brand new pontiac fire bird when I saw a picture of a lake with a long string of trout hanging between two trees in the forefront. When I asked about it the guy working on my car said he and some of the guy’s working there had been up to Stockade Lake in the Black Hills and caught them. That was for me. My fishing and hunting partner was my boss’s 15-year-old son so I told him to be ready to go the following, Saturday, which was a three-day weekend for the 4th of July.
The service station guy said all you have to do is drive straight north 200 miles and it’s on the left-hand side of the road. You can’t miss it. Want to bet?
I got off of the road at Hot Springs SD for some bacon and eggs. When I got back on it said Custer 35 mi. but it was a different road. When I passed the lake it was on my right and behind some hills. No matter we have to get fishing license anyway. At the gamble’s store I was told all you have to do is drive straight south out of town and it is three miles on the right side of the road. You can’t miss it. Want to bet?
I told my partner that I wanted to stop and see a pastor, named Rocky that, I knew in Custer. Within our group of churches he was our Bev Shea. Whenever any one did special meetings he was called on for the music. I found the church and he was there doing yard work so we talked for a while. He told us about another place to go fishing called Sylvan Lake. You go south out of town and left on the needles highway. I wasn’t listening My heart was set on Stockade and that was that.
As we got back on the main drag I asked my partner how is that we get to Stockade? He said we got to go left on the needles highway. Ok, it’s only three miles. We drove and drove. “ I think we have gone over three miles,” I said.
“It always seems longer on mountain roads,” my partner said.
So we kept going and around the bend there it was. A lovely lake with people fishing even. If I had been looking right instead of left I would have seen the sign that said Sylvan Lake but I went on thinking I was at Stockade Lake.
We got our gear and went down to the shore and passed a family of boys and their father, fishing. The littlest guy in the group was manning the stringer so I asked him what they had? He pulled up the stringer and showed me 6 or 8 trout. This has got to be the place.
The little guy went with us down a ways and we began to set up with the little guy talking nonstop. Mostly he was engaged in telling me how to fish. I reckon he didn’t realize he was in the presence of the best trout fisherman in four states. Pretty soon he said his family was doing a gig in Rapid City. He said,
“You probably heard of us. We are the Jackson Five. My name is Michael”.
I said, “ are you the guys on TV dancing on breakfast food boxes?”
“Yes that’s us”, He said.
After a while Michael’s father called him away and they left. I fished for two or three hours without a bite but when I finally followed Michael’s instructions I began to catch fish. But we already know that if I were very smart I wouldn’t be at the wrong lake.
Later on it occurred to me that it was getting late and I better be getting a camping spot before they were all taken. So I told my partner to stay and fish while I drove to the camping side of the lake to stake out a spot. When I got around there I had to get off of the pavement and on to a trail to get to the camping. My new sports car was to low to the ground and I got high centered on a rock. The trail riders came by about that time. There must have been twenty of them and everyone said, “get a horse”. I was so mad I gunned the engine and got free. Then I drove to a string of cabins southwest of the campground. There was a very pretty brown-eyed girl in the cabin office. She told me the cabins are always booked up months in advance. But it was my lucky day because someone had just cancelled. I got the cabin and as I left she followed me out to my car telling me about things to see and do in the hills that weekend. When we got to the car she saw the neck of my guitar sticking up out of the backseat. I went nowhere without it.
She said, “ I am in charge of the entertainment for 40 college girls in this resort. Would you bring your guitar up to the dorm and put on a hootenanny for us tonight? Wow! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Eat your heart out Michael Jackson I got my gig to. Then I remembered that my guitar was dedicated to the Lord and what an opportunity this is. I jumped in my car and roared off to Custer to get pastor Rocky to help me.
Rocky came and brought two college age kids to give their testimonies, he gave a little devotion and I sang up every song I knew. Then we threw it open for questions and comments. There were a lot. The thing went from seven PM until midnight when the girls had to be in bed. Some of the girls had their boy friends there and in all that time hardly anyone left. One girl that I know of received the Lord and the brown-eyed girl that set the thing up married me less than a year later. Wow! What a forth of July weekend.
Meanwhile, back at the beer joint. More squirt and Peggy’s poison, every day six days a week.
I started to be asked to sing all over the place. I was going to churches, Sunday schools, youth groups, and rest homes. Instead of realizing that this was God’s gift to me. I began to think I was God’s gift to gospel music. I bought the latest in electronic equipment and really thought I was going to do it up right. Rocky was the first pastor to allow me to bring my music into the Sunday morning worship service. I have always appreciated that.
Thus ended three years in the Lord.
The third anniversary in the Lord became that brown eyed girl’s and my wedding day. We agreed to elope and I had it all set up. It was Good Friday and she showed up without her ladder but with plenty of help, 40 people. She brought mother, father, brother, sister, aunt and uncle, in-laws and outlaws. That last one was me. The pastor that expected two of us was pretty upset.
We set up house keeping in a little two room shack two blocks ,north, up the alley, from the slaughterhouse. A few days after we were married I sold my fire bird because I wanted to start out debt free. I had an old play thing 39 Plymouth that was driveable.
Meanwhile back at the beer joint. There was no more beer joint. I just walked up the alley to my home for lunch. Although I did stop by the joint when I thought Peggy might be ready for more ground beef.
We were poorer than the proverbial church mouse. Every stick of furniture, that wasn’t in the house when we moved in, was a hand me down. That consisted of an old rocking chair, a 1939 bed room set and a 1955 model tv. The tv broke down. The repairman said it would be thirty-five dollars to fix it. It never got fixed.
The generator went out on the 1939 Plymouth another thirty-five dollars that I didn’t have so my wife took a job as an aid in the rest home, eleven to seven, to get the car fixed. She was pregnant and pretty sick at the time.
I became very fond of singing Ray Charles’s old hit, “Busted”.
One day I came home for lunch and took a little time to practice my quick draw. I had been into quick draw since around 1955 and though I no longer belonged to a club and didn’t compete professionally I wanted to stay in practice. While there were few that could shade me on speed I don’t think anyone could stay with me on control and accuracy. I was in the bedroom practicing my draw in front of the mirror. My wife came in to the living room from the kitchen and sat on the couch to watch TV. She had a big glass of tea or cool-aid sitting on the arm of the couch. I could not resist. I drew, fired and knocked that glass right off in her lap. She screamed and started coming up. She was fairly pregnant at the time and couldn’t get to her feet to fast so I was able to dart out the front door and take off down the street. It was a main artery with houses and business all along it and she chased me down the street, throwing rocks, sticks and anything else she could get her hands on, at me, right by the ford dealership and the service station where we did business. A good time was had by all and there are people alive today who still like to talk about the man on the run waving a pistol and the pregnant lady chasing him.
When I got home that night all seemed to be forgiven, at least that’s the kind of guy I am. The next day I came home for lunch and instead of quick draw I chose to go to the little room and sit on my throne. I was sitting there thinking kingly thoughts and doing my business when the door flew open and a whole pitcher of cool-aid cascaded over my head and shoulders and every place else. I knew at that moment that I had married the contentious women King Solomon warned me about. Naaaah, God did me no harm when He gave me my mate but I’d give a pretty penny to know what she did to God to get stuck with me.
But God continued to bless my music ministry. New opportunities and new songs just kept coming up. I don’t remember how but we became aquatinted with a young pastor and his wife from a different and popular denomination. We became good friends and formed a little group. I was lead singer and rhythm guitar, the pastor played rhythm guitar and his wife played piano with my wife and the pastor and wife backing me up with vocals.
The most wonderful gig I remember, with that group, was when I was asked to put on a mother’s day presentation in a little church in my hometown. This church had become very apostate over the years and the pastor told me to limit my presentation to mothers and leave Jesus out of it. Well, you know, I went along with that for one or two songs then we gave the rest to Jesus and Jesus to them. The pastor of that church was so angry that he left the church before I could get my guitar put away but the congregation shook our hands and thanked us for singing about and praising Jesus. Some of them even wept.
The pastor I was singing with and his denomination had some doctrinal differences with me and I never let that affect our relationship but I was never bashful about telling him and them, one on one or in song where they were wrong. One of the songs they asked me to sing the most, in these churches, directly contradicted their incorrect doctrine. Finally the powers that be over my pastor friend and I’m not talking about God, became enough aware of my doctrinal views that they told the pastor to sever his relationship with me and he did.
One noon hour I went by the beer joint to see if Peggy was ready for ground beef. There was a different old lady there. She told me she owned the place and had to let Peggy go because there wasn’t enough business. If things didn’t get better she would have to close the place. That is what happened. I went to Peggy’s house. I had never been there before but I knew where she lived because I had seen her there. I didn’t see her sitting on the screened in porch when I knocked on the screen door so it startled me when, right at my elbow she said, “ What do you want”.
“I was just checking to see if you need any ground beef”, I said.
“I can’t buy anymore beef,” she said as she let me in the door. That is when I noticed she was crying.
She said she only had enough money to pay her rent and nothing for food. I asked her about social security but she said she wasn’t old enough. That surprised me because she looked more than old enough. She told me she had been to unemployment and they told her there was an eight-week waiting period and she had been to welfare and they told her it would be four weeks. “ Hell, I’ll be dead by then,”she said.
I went back to the slaughterhouse though it was still my noon hour and got ten pounds of 95 ready in one pound packages. I took it to peggy’s after work. She said, “I told you I don’t want any more meat”.
“No you didn’t. You said you couldn’t buy anymore and you can’t buy this. See the not for sale tape? I couldn’t sell this to you if I wanted to. I only have two choices give it to you or eat it myself and I already have some.” She took the meat.
I went home and got my wife to go grocery shopping. As we pushed the cart around I told her that Peggy’s stuff is on this end our stuff on that end. I think that when we stopped by with the groceries was the first and only time my wife met Peggy. Peggy was so different in my wife’s presence. She was affable and even sweet.
I went by Peggy’s a few days later, to see how she was doing and found her more animated than I had ever seen her before. She had been in touch with her son and he had told her to get packed up. He was coming in his big station wagon, she said, and she was moving to southern California. Her house was a half a block west and half a block south of my house and I could see her front door from my front door. A day or two later I saw a station wagon backed up to her door and then she was gone.
It may have been weeks or it may have been months later that a letter arrived from Peggy. She was so very happy. Her son had placed a small trailer house in the back yard for her so they could each have privacy and two ladies from the neighborhood took her to church every Sunday.
Reading between the lines, I know that when we shall all gather at the river I will see Peggy again.