Poppa would have nothing to do with what he said was religious hogwash but he did have fun at Christmas pretending there was a man in a red suit who slipped down our rickety chimney to leave a few presents under our paper-chain draped, tinfoil-star topped tree. Momma’s the one who went to church and took us kids.
When electricity came to our backwoods rural sanctuary he was a little apprehensive about getting our dilapidated old house wired, until he went to town and saw all those Christmas trees decorated with colorful lights. He admitted he stood in the front of the dime store display and stared, mesmerized by the sight.
“Why younguns,” he gushed like an excited child, “some of the lights seem to have a bubbling colored liquid inside. It’s the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.”
We think that’s what finally pushed him in the direction of embracing Edison’s magnificent invention.
Poppa made good money down at the mill and we all worked in our big garden which provided an extra bit that Momma socked away for what she called a rainy day.
In anticipation of the big hook-up, Poppa came home loaded down with multi-colored lights for the tree waiting in a bucket in the living room. Momma met him out on the porch. I listened at the half-closed door.
“Now Earl, I have to warn you, Preacher Booker is here. I’m asking you, as nice as I can, not to embarrass me the way you usually do. After all, it’s nearly Christmas.”
“Ah, Vernetta…I ain’t gonna say nothing, as long as he keeps that infernal preaching stuff to himself.”
Poppa had a sack full of stuff from Woolworth’s, including some tacky lamps and a few light bulbs for the exciting entry of real illumination into our humble abode. The last thing he pulled out of the bag was the best.
“Ta-dah! Christmas tree lights!”
After our exclamations, he acknowledged Mr. Booker.
“Howdy, Preacher. You got here just in time. They’re turning on our power in a few minutes and then we’re gonna put these nice lights on that big ole tree. Now won’t that really be somethin’?”
“Yes Earl. It really will be something all right.”
I never understood how sometimes adults could make conversation and still not say anything. In our neck of the woods it was a fine art.
Momma got us kids out to the kitchen to help make some popcorn to string. We could hear the men talking.
“Say, Earl…when you coming on over to the church and get saved?”
Poppa guffawed in an incredulous tone. “Now don’t get started on that nonsense John Booker, you know how I feel about religious stuff.”
Mr. Booker sounded a little exasperated. “I know, Earl, but you can’t keep putting this off. You have to accept the truth about where you’ll spend eternity.”
We heard more ridiculing from Poppa.
“I tell you what, John. When I’m old and sittin’ in my rocker, we’ll talk. Right now, I’m feeling fit as a fiddle and have a lot more drinkin’, chewin’ and spittin’ to do before I die. Just leave me alone.”
The preacher began to hum Away in a Manger. We all filed in and sat in a circle as if we were about to witness some kind of miracle. It turned out that’s exactly what happened.
Poppa wasn’t that familiar with the intricacies of electricity so when he stuck his finger in one of the live sockets there was a loud pop and he flew backwards like a rag doll. He looked unconscious. Momma screamed, but Preacher Booker calmly walked over and knelt down and put his hand on our father’s heart.
“He’ll be okay. Vernetta, go get him a nice drink of water. Kids, y’all run out to the car and bring me my Bible.”
When we dashed back, Poppa’s eyes were open. Preacher Booker was sitting cross-legged on the floor beside him. The last thing I heard before we were summoned to the kitchen was a quiet, matter-of-fact, “We’re gonna talk now, Earl.”
We were thankful for Poppa’s well-timed epiphany. Momma used some rainy day money to buy him a big leather Bible. He laughed and hugged her.
“Vernetta, honey, thank you for praying ‘til I finally saw the true Christmas light.”
One thing though--he turned over the annual tree trimming to us. He said the shock was enough to last him a lifetime, even into eternity--and that’s no religious hogwash.
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