Blog 1319 – 04.20.2019
One Of My Favorite Wally Stories
Yesterday in South Carolina many friends and family members gathered to pay tribute to the life and passing of my father-in-law (Dad) Wallace Mendel Stokes. I think even his children were a bit surprised at the multitude of people who came to express their sympathies and say how much Wallace meant to them. I am sure countless stories about him were told and retold and will be for years to come.
One of my favorite Wallace stories took place almost twenty-five years ago on a Good Friday, as was the day yesterday, when they put Wallace’s body in the ground. As the angel said to those on that first Easter morning who came to see where they had put Jesus’ body, “He is gone, he is no longer here.”
On that Good Friday many years ago I was off work and Wallace and his beloved and lovely Betty were visiting my lovely wife Linda, handsome young son Jonathan, and I in Houston. I was at the time attending a Presbyterian Church a few blocks from our house in the Oak Forest community just outside the 610 beltway, the first beltway around the city. Now there are two others further out and much longer around. The Presbyterian Church, as was their custom, was taking part in a unity Good Friday service with the nearby Episcopal church and Lutheran church. It was St. James Lutheran’s turn to host the gathering. So I invited Wallace, a long time churchman though of the far more Fundamentalist group I was raised in, to go with me. The ladies and Jon opted out. I admit I figured I would have some fun with Dad as I was sure he was not used to the rituals of high church and boy did I ever. First of all I am pretty sure the only song he recognized, if even that, was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Then the pastor (priest) leading the service was wearing a monk-style robe that was even more high church than the Presbyterian or Episcopal pastors’ judge or choir-style robes. But the coups de grace was when in the course of the service a robed figure with long brown hair came down the center aisle carrying a cross. The person representing Christ was a beautiful woman. I was proud of Dad for not losing it. Actually he did not even mention it afterwards, I think because he had other plans.
That summer we return the Stokes visit to us by visiting with them on their farm in South Carolina. My son Jon always loved fishing in Grandpa’s pond as did his mother and I. As I am sure dad figured would happen there was a Revival meeting going on at his love and long deceased mother’s church, a Primitive Baptist/Pentecostal sort of church even more Fundamentalist than the Church Of God, Anderson, Indiana, that Wallace usually attended called St. Andrews Church Of God. So he invited me to come with him to an evening service and since he had been such a good sport about our Good Friday outing I figured I owed it to him to go. Once again the ladies and Jay opted out, the wise acres.
It was Wallace’s turn to have fun. The singing was boisterous and I only recognized the lyrics of one song, if that. But when the young man with barely any formal education got up to preach I could tell by the way he held his Bible and the look in his eye that he had no short homily planned but a hell-fire and brimstone come to Jesus sermon. Wow, he ranted and raved for almost two hours before his long altar call. One very attractive short-haired lady stood up confessing her grievous sins of wearing pants, short hair, and make-up. At one point in his ravings he had yelled out how many of you men would want to marry a hussy with short hair – raise your hand, wearing pants – raise your hand, wearing make-up – raise your hand. It was all I could do to keep from raising my hand three times. I had to hold it down with the other hand as I thought of my beautiful and sexy wife back at the farm and her short blonde hair, snuggly fitting short pants, and carefully applied make-up. That was the heavenly vision that I longed to get back to that night. And I know we should be tolerant of others people’s firmly held religious beliefs but sometimes ignorance and superstition need to just be called out. Still, like my beloved and now departed Dad I held my peace, I bit my tongue, and allowed those people to have their own experiences.
I can still see Dad smiling that, “I got even with you, Boy, didn’t I?” Yes, he did and I had to smile right back at him. I love you, Daddy Wally, and I always will. See you later after my chores are through.
When Jonathan was a boy we bought him a metal toy farm tractor, painted green like a John Deere, that when you push down on the top of it a voice sounding just like Dad Stokes would say, “Let’s get to work.” Rest a while, Dad, you deserve it. We’ve got this.
Your friend and fellow traveler,