Thursday, February 3, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

The caring ways of small town folks

My friends lost track of me briefly last week and sent a search party over to investigate. I had been under the weather and was glad to be missed. I remember stories when I lived in Chicago of people that were found in their apartments after being dead for weeks. That never happened to a member of our congregation there, but there was the case of poor Miss Bott.

Miss Louise Bott was a faithful member of my Sunday school class, a feisty little woman who always dressed in black. She always reminded me of “Momma” in the comic strip of that name.

Miss Bott had no one to help her in old age and so the church deacons had to take charge and move her up to the Presbyterian Home in Evanston. She resisted mightily, but the health department condemned her apartment, so she had to go. They had to carry her out kicking and screaming.

One of Miss Bott’s friends in my class was also getting along in years. When a minister-colleague innocently asked if she wanted to ride with him up to visit the Presbyterian Home, this lady thought it was a conspiracy to move her out also, and she slapped poor Mr. Donovan with her umbrella!

Another member of my Holly Springs circle of friends was also missed recently and searched for. This gentleman has been really ill with pneumonia, but is recovering. Someone came to his door at a very early hour, and my friend is not an early riser. Not wishing to come downstairs and go scruffing down the front hall in his fuzzy slippers, my friend told his visitor over the intercom that he was not feeling too well and would receive him later that day.

That visitor happened to remark at the hardware store that he did not think the first gentleman was feeling very well. Of course, by the time this delicious bit of intelligence had gone around the square a couple of times, our friend was nearly dead. (We have so little to talk about in Holly Springs!)

Meanwhile a second friend came in from hunting and was dispatched from the square over to see what was going on, call the ambulance, summon the coroner, or whatever was needed because someone was either dead in that house on Salem Avenue, or gone to the hospital — or strangled, kidnapped, or otherwise in a terrible predicament!

It was at this point that I entered the picture, strolling into the City Café with my colleague Bruce McMillan, and we spotted our hapless friend having lunch with one of our city’s loveliest ladies.

Had we all known what a desperate search was going on outside, we would have quieted the alarm, but none the wiser, we each went to our tables and enjoyed a quiet repast. (My friend then went to his house and found that the searcher, having found his door unlocked, had gone inside and was searching the premises high and low for any evidence of catastrophe or foul play. They surprised each other and the much-relieved searcher, I’m told, uttered some curse words that cannot be re-printed in this newspaper. The dead are supposed to stay dead, or finding them is not any fun.)

None of these stories can compare with what happened to me in the second or third week of my pastorate here. It was late on a Saturday night, and I still had not gotten a Marshall County tag for my car. I had been to Memphis and came home with one of my awful migraine headaches. I decided I needed uninterrupted rest for the Sunday services to come, so I unplugged my phone and went to bed.

Meanwhile, the police were checking license plates outside, and having noticed my “foreign” (Illinois) tag, they decided to check this out. Meanwhile another squad car was working a terrible wreck out on the Highway 78 bypass, in which someone was killed. Those who listen to the scanner (and there are many who listen to the scanner — we have so little to talk about in Holly Springs!) — were evidently treated, therefore, to a jumble of conversations about Milton Winter’s Illinois license plate and the gentleman in the car wreck who was lying out on the highway dead.

The lady in my congregation who was “tuned in,” fearing the worst, did the sensible thing and phoned me. But I lay a-sleeping, with my telephone unplugged. From her receiver, it sounded as if it was ringing, but in my apartment, not a creature was stirring, not even the mouse.

Not one to take things passively, my church lady worried all night, and first thing the next morning she got on the telephone to inform our congregation of my absence from home and feared plight. I still had not plugged in my phone.

So when I strolled over for Sunday school, I beheld a much larger crowd than usual, all milling about outside and concerned that their new minister had not lived even unto his formal installation day. They were glad to see me, and I them, and it was one of the best attendances for Sunday school we have recorded before or since.

Having said all this that is intended to compliment the caring ways of small town folk, I do recall that when there was a small fire at “McCarroll Place,” several of my fellow Rotary Club members did notice and remark to the assembled group about the fire trucks and smoke pouring from the dwelling where I then lived.

However, none of them were bestirred to abandon their lunches and come see what had happened, except for Curtis Greer and Bob Carrington. They held the insurance policy on the house.

As I say, I do not mind being missed. It did not seem right in our big Chicago church — as happened to me one day — to go strolling past our chapel and see a funeral under way for the mother of a close friend, and I did not even know the lady had been sick.

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