Montgomery

The first dish on the line was always squash and cheese casserole.

MONTGOMERY—I am giving a speech to six hundred Methodists tonight.

These are happy people who smell very nice. Their combined scent in this auditorium is so wonderful that I could keep breathing until I hyperventilate.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Methodists. I’ve known a lot of them. I even married one. Well, sort of. My wife is half Methodist on her mother’s side.

My buddy Allen went to a Methodist church and after every service they had huge potlucks. The first dish on the line was always squash and cheese casserole.

The church also had a bell choir. You’ve never seen anything more fun that a bell choir.

Methodists set up fifty bells on tables and ring them at rehearsed intervals. Some musicians are better than others.

If you are good bell-ringer, they let you play more than one bell. If you are great bell-ringer, they put you on salary.

Once, I was in the Methodist bell choir. I was filling in for Miss Henrietta, who had hip replacement surgery. Miss Henrietta was also the church pianist. I filled in for her on piano, too.

After service, we visited Henrietta in the hospital. Her visitors brought so much cheesy squash casserole the nurses had to tell people they weren’t allowed to bring any more.

When Henrietta got released, they say it took seven coolers to store all her squash casserole.

The very next Sunday, she played piano at service. They dedicated the service to her as a surprise. After the singing, people got up and read memories about her.

There were a lot of memories to be read, the old woman had been attending that church since Calvin Coolidge was in office.

At the end of service, she was invited to say a few words to the congregation. She was overcome, all she could manage to say was, “Why do I feel like I’ve just attended my own funeral?”

Everyone laughed, then we filed into the fellowship hall and ate so much cheesy squash casserole that many of us went blind.

When I started public speaking, I started talking at a lot of churches. And I would tell some of my favorite religious jokes over microphones to lighten the mood.

I grew up Southern Baptist, we didn’t believe in jokes, or microphones, or Disney World, so I have a lot to joke about. I discovered that not all Baptists find these wisecracks funny.

But the Methodists love it.

So I started getting invited to speak at Methodist churches out the wazoo. And after every speech, they would feed me squash casserole. I gained nine pounds in two months.

One time, I gave a speech in a small town—which shall remain nameless—and I told a few religious zingers. It was a good night, and the casseroles were exquisite.

But when I was on my way to the parking lot, a man was waiting for me. I could tell by his smell that he was not a Methodist.

I have a nose for fundamentalists like the sort I grew up with. If I had to guess, I’d say this old man was either church treasurer, or head of the church committee against mixed bathing.

The man let me have it. He shouted at me, he hollered, he was offended by my jokes, then said I was going to Hell.

I was starting to feel pretty badly. I apologized for offending him. Then he started quoting scripture at the top of his voice, waving his hands, saying my soul was filthy.

But we were interrupted by an old woman, smallish, with thick glasses. A lifelong Methodist.

She approached the irate gentleman and spoke with a tender voice. And somehow—I don’t know how—she convinced the man to calm down.

Soon, the angry man started apologizing to me. Then the woman patted the man’s shoulders and said “Are you hungry, sir? We got plenty of food inside.” And she fed him.

I have never seen anything like it before. I will probably never see it again. But I saw it at a Methodist church.

So I’ve had some good times with the First United Sprinklers. Once, I spoke in Luverne, they served more squash casserole than is legally allowed by U.S. law.

The Methodists at Enterprise know how to throw a shindig, too. The barbecue was out of this world.

The ones in Ozark have killer fried chicken.

In Millbrook, they do pretty good ambrosia.

The ones in Hartford are so precious it hurts.

Blue Lake Methodist Camp in Andalusia is where God takes canoe rides.

Tonight, when I finished speaking, I met a woman I recognized from a long time ago. She followed me when I left the building. She had in her hands a Corningware dish.

She told me that her hip is doing much better than it was the last time I saw her. The woman handed me the casserole and kissed me on the cheek.

“This is cheese and squash casserole,” she said. “Have you ever had this dish before?”

Once or twice.

But not nearly enough.

21 comments

  1. Jean - June 5, 2019 10:26 am

    Here sits a Baptist who loves squash and cheese casserole!!

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth - June 5, 2019 11:09 am

    I’ve got squash in the fridge, guess what I’m making today!

    Reply
  3. Karen - June 5, 2019 11:33 am

    I take squash casserole to our Methodist church potlucks. I also take hominy casserole. Thank you for your lovely story about the man in the parking lot. There is no one else like you. Please keep giving us our daily dose of your gift of writing.

    Reply
  4. Mike Bone - June 5, 2019 11:42 am

    Methodist dance. Baptist don’t dance. Baptist know what dancing is, a vertical expression of a horizontal desire.

    Reply
  5. Dorothy Johnson - June 5, 2019 1:39 pm

    Thank you for this lovely post. I grew up in the big First Methodist Church in a little Arkansas town. Maybe the size of the congregation is why we didn’t have so many potlucks, but I ate lots of Shepherd Pie and spaghetti at MYF. Since then, I’ve attended two small Methodist churches that sound much like the places you’ve written about here. Those memories make me smile.

    Reply
  6. Kay Keel - June 5, 2019 2:04 pm

    “You’ve never seen anything more fun than a bell choir!” I have to agree sir! I played handbells with some wonderful “Ladybelles” in my Baptist Church Handbell Choir. It was always fun!

    Reply
  7. Freddi Rein - June 5, 2019 3:10 pm

    Wish I knew where you were speaking, I’d be there with bells on!!! Freddi with an “I” cause daddy wanted a boy😧

    Reply
    • Queenie - June 5, 2019 5:20 pm

      Freddi…girl you will definitely recognize where he is: Frazer! Annual Conference!
      Hope you are well!!!

      Reply
  8. Anne Godwin - June 5, 2019 3:25 pm

    You do know how to turn a phrase! I’m thankful that others had faith in you, before you did. I just found letters from 1958 that my Mom saved after Dad died by suicide. I wish we’d talked about it more. She was pregnant with child number six when it happened. Words are powerful. Thanks for sharing yourself with the world. Hope to see you in Fairhope. (I mistyped that, and spell correct made it Barhopped.) My Mamaw made THE BEST squash casserole. Thanks for a sweet memory.

    Reply
  9. Tammy Moody - June 5, 2019 4:00 pm

    Last week you made me so hungry for hot chicken salad casserole that I made it for supper. Guess what we’re having tonight?!?!

    Reply
  10. kathleenivy - June 5, 2019 4:05 pm

    God bless you Sean. I am a recovering Baptist and joined the Methodist church when I was old enough to choose. I am so glad that good hearted Methodist lady could help that angry man. I LOVE your words and truly appreciate your sense of humor. Thank you so much!

    Reply
  11. Connie Havard Ryland - June 5, 2019 4:40 pm

    Pure sweetness. My son is music minister at a Methodist church. I love visiting there. Thanks for the smile today. I needed it. Love and hugs.

    Reply
  12. Linda Moon - June 5, 2019 8:42 pm

    My mother, a Southern Baptist, married a Methodist the second-time-around. She soon joined up with him for church membership. Sunday lunch with them was always ready and waiting for those of us in the family who remained Baptist. My stepdad knew that the preacher would “throw out the lifeline” (his words!) to many verses of “Just As I Am”, so he had plenty of time to prepare Sunday lunch for the arrival of us Baptists. My daughter now plays handbells with the Methodists. Her “Nanny” and “Papa” would be proud! I bet there are plenty of Methodists who are proud of you, and maybe even a few Baptists…ya’ think?

    Reply
  13. Bernadette Wyckoff - June 5, 2019 9:47 pm

    Marlow UMC pastor and lay leaders are in Montgomery at conference meeting. Can’t wait to hear what they thought of your talk. I love reading your work…had I known you were going to be there I would have come as a stowaway just to be able to have heard you in person. God bless you always.

    Reply
  14. Karen Erwin-Brown - June 6, 2019 2:48 am

    We Methodist do love to eat. Guaranteed to have potato salad, ham, and green beans with homemade rolls at your funeral and the dessert table will be to die for…your friends will almost be happy you’ve passed.

    Reply
  15. Carol Pepper - June 6, 2019 11:08 am

    I am a United Methodist! I especially loved this one. ❤️

    Reply
  16. Andy Gartman - June 6, 2019 4:52 pm

    Great seeing you and Jamie Tuesday night. Thanks for your kind words about the United Methodists here in Hartford. Look forward to seeing y’all again when we get to Atmore!
    Your preacher buddy.

    Reply
  17. Jack Darnell - June 8, 2019 1:10 am

    I was glad to read something good about Montgomery, the last time through there last year we blew our cummins diesel, and were towed to Atlanta. It cost the price of a triple wide house trailer to get it out of the shop!
    But all in all it ain’t a bad city, if you get to eat the casserole Imma guessing.
    Enjoyed the read,
    Sherry & jack

    Reply
  18. Beverly Maddox - June 9, 2019 6:35 am

    Loved meeting you and your sweet Jamie in Montgomery. Thank you for a wonderful evening and the smiles I saw on my Bishop’s face!

    Reply
  19. Russell McLaney - July 6, 2019 12:31 pm

    My parents were married in the Methodist church in Hartford , I bet there was some squash casserole at that reception!!

    Reply
  20. Wendy Williams Franklin - July 7, 2019 9:45 am

    I make a squash casserole with Campbell’s cream of shrimp soup. It’s easy and delish!

    Reply

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