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.