I knew Tate McGreer was a true Christian.
It was in his words.
Not the words from his latest novel about the time traveling preacher or from his radio interviews promoting Christian fiction in public schools, but from his gut words. Tate McGreer even had holy gut words.
When I was ten, my grandpa smacked his thumb with a hammer while repairing a tree house ladder. In quick succession, a trio of four-letter words spewed forth. My brother and I froze. Both our behinds still displayed switch marks he had delivered only two days prior for simply saying “booger eater”.
“Now boys,” he said. “What you just heard were gut words, and a man can’t be held accountable for gut words. They fly out at times, like when you hit your thumb with a hammer, or about have a car wreck, or your team throws an interception late in the game. Gut words.” That practically ended the discussion. Before we went inside for supper, however, he reminded us that grandma wouldn’t understand gut words so there was no need to bring them up.
In college I applied for a position assisting the director of the university’s winter writing conference and somehow landed the job. It had nothing to do with my writing ability. I had submitted at least two features every semester in hopes of being published in the school’s quarterly magazine. I was still waiting to see my words in print.
The conference was held the week before students returned for second semester, and my first task was to drive a university van and retrieve four participants from the airport. On the one hour return ride my cargo included Dante the poet from Boston, Nina the New York playwright, and two novelists, seemingly silent Susan and a bearded gentleman named Charles who appeared to be from the Old Testament.
My passengers made introductions, discussed their flights, talked about families, writers, publishers, and eventually mentioned their under-construction manuscripts. Only New York Nina seemed to be making her initial trip to the South.
“Hey driver, Grant right? Will this interstate go all the way to the campus or will we hit dirt roads?”
“Paved all the way,” I responded, using the mirror to locate New York Nina. She appeared to be writing in a notebook.
“Yo Grant,” piped Dante, “Are you just a student or do you write?”
“I write too, well, I try. I’m a junior, I’m just working for Nancy.”
“She does a great job with the conference,” said Dante. “I’ve been here twice, you should attend some of the sessions, you can really pick up....”
“Do you know if Tate McGreer has arrived yet?” interrupted Nina. “I can’t believe he’s going to be here, he’s the reason I’m a writer.”
As the passengers discussed their favorite Tate McGreer novels, we arrived at the participants’ dormitory. The van instantly fell silent as everyone recognized the man standing on the sidewalk chatting with Nancy.
“He looks just like his book cover photo!” shouted Nina, scribbling with a fury.
Nancy motioned for me to pull to the curb. I lowered the passenger side window.
“Grant, this is Tate McGreer, would you mind giving him a lift to the dining hall?”
Tate McGreer reached across the vacant front seat and shook my hand.
“Nice to meet you Grant,” he said, “If you don’t mind, I need to get an item from my car, can you pull up and get me after you drop these people off?”
I nodded, speechless. Only Old Testament Charles decided to exit.
My passengers buzzed, I shook. Thirty feet away stood Tate McGreer, waiting. I drove up close as he stood in the roadway behind his car, keenly occupied with his retrieved cell phone.
I pulled too close.
Tate McGreer’s face contorted and the phone fell from his hands. He grabbed the door to steady himself and unleashed a painfully long gut word into the open window.
I had driven over and cracked Tate McGreer’s foot, but he obviously walked close with the Lord.
Fifteen minutes later, after New York Nina and the Dante the poet helped Tate McGreer into the emergency room, I bounced my forehead a dozen times off the steering wheel.
“Son, I wouldn’t worry so much,” spoke seemingly silent Susan from Arizona, my last remaining passenger. “God uses all for His purpose. Tate McGreer will never forget you, and who knows? You may even write a story about all this someday.”
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