Son of a Preacher Man: A Rock & Roll Cowboy Grows Up Southern Baptist
Chapter Five: The Lake of Fire and Brimstone
Except for missing Wagon Train I was happy with my church life at six years old. I got to see my friends there, I enjoyed the Bible stories and the Sunday school books with their pictures of kindly Jesus gathering the little children unto him. Sometimes I’d listen to my father's sermons, but if I tired I could lie down in the pew and rest my head on my mother's or my sister Wylene’s lap. Wylene would have been seventeen, and she would tickle my face with torn shreds of church bulletins.
And after the service ended there would be freeze tag while the deacons and other menfolk-- almost all WWII veterans-- would smoke cigarettes and shoot the shit or speak of comrades whose shit had been shot. It was, as the first Bush would say thirty years later, a kinder, gentler time. There were lightning bugs in the soft summer night and I was so fast and agile at freeze tag. There were frozen maidens in waiting and I was their Sir Galahad.
That was my life until sometime in the summer of 1957. I was six years old and attended every revival service, and there were a lot of them, like three home with guest evangelists and three away that my father preached. During this particular revival, not only did I miss a whole week of westerns, but the guest preacher was a man named John Ayers who put the fear of god in me.
[I've been writing this over several days. At this point, Memorial Day 2019, Wylene died. It wasn't unexpected. I was watching Saving Private Ryan which I’d recorded for the occasion - my first viewing of a brilliant film. War is hell. Those young Americans charging French beaches where half of them were sliced into shreds with their feet still wet to save the world from fascism, made me think of today's young americans and the threat they face. They don’t have to charge Omaha Beach; they just have to vote - ( damn, that was a long aside from an aside. Get ready now; back to the sentence) when Cynthia told me she'd seen from messaging that Wylene had passed.
It’s a long movie. I said she'll still be dead when I saved Private Ryan and I’d deal with it then.
When I finished the film, she was, in fact, still dead. I cried buckets. I’d meant to tell you more about Wylene-- eleven years older than I, my last surviving sister-- except Clara, sixteen years older. She’s in an institution ( I can’t call Clara.They won’t let her have a phone. She throws it at the other residents)-- but I didn't figure on her (Wylene, back to the sentence at hand) up and dying while I was in the early chapters.
My mother had almost raised four daughters before I came along. She left a lot of my rearing to them, especially Wylene. Wylene was my first best friend. I believed that Jonah had lived in the belly of a whale and I also believed in Satan. Lucifer did not bother me in my waking hours but in my earliest dream I can recall I am in a beautiful garden when Satan, replete with horns and pointy tail, entices me with a shiny apple. He is so oily slick and the apple looks so good, but I am fearful because I know this story. I call out for Wylene and she comes running. Satan, terrified of my sister, vanishes.
I have lost a layer of protection I will never regain. I'll cry some more and get back to John Ayers and the lake of fire and brimstone later. Selah.
Ellis "Da" Millsaps is a recovering Attorney but has worn many hats over the years: father, bus boy, stand-up comedian, novelist, wiffle ball player, rock'n'roll band manager, and at one time wrote a popular and funny column for The Covington News. A Fannin Co. mountain boy originally, Mr. Millsaps now stays at the mill village of Porterdale by way of 20 years in Mansfield. Usually funny and at times irreverent and subversive, he leans left in his political philosophy but can always be counted on for a pretty darn good write-up. The Chronicles are proud to have him involved...