A church potluck in the country. I’m a visitor with a bloodhound named Thelma Lou. Thelma is begging for food from anyone on this church lawn by using her hidden super-power.
Very, very big eyes.
People feed her left and right. A ten-year-old girl gives Thelma two cheeseburgers and a drumstick. I ask the girl why she does this.
She answers, “Just look at those eyes.”
She’s got a point.
This is a country church. There’s a carport behind the chapel—a church van parked beneath it. And a cemetery behind that. And a hayfield behind that. And cows behind that.
Tonight this place is buzzing. Boys throwing baseballs to fathers. Grannies chasing toddlers.
There’s music. A makeshift band is serenading a line of people at a buffet table. I’m standing in line with folks who all pronounce “‘nanner puddin’” and “tater salat” the right way.
I’ve met people tonight.
One woman hugged me and said, “Did you know that my Shih Tzu is named Dolly Parton?”
I did not.
I meet a man named Jeremiah, who wears a bowtie and suspenders. Jeremiah is late seventies, an elderly version of Bernard P. Fife.
Jeremiah tells me his first wife passed sixteen years ago. He still misses her. Then, he shows me his left hand.
He wears a brand new gold ring.
“Just got married to a younger woman,” he says. “She’s practically a baby!”
His new wife is two months and four days younger than he is.
A child runs, hollering, laughing. The kid crashes into me so hard I almost spill my plate. His name is Chris, and he’s playing football with his brother.
Chris hands me the football. “Throw it!”
I’ve never been able to throw a spiral. I lob the ball like guy who couldn’t play competitive shuffleboard on an AARP cruise. The ball flops through the air. The kids ridicule me.
I meet a young woman. She has a pronounced limp and she is beautiful. Late twenties, wearing a sundress.
“I was in a car accident when I was thirteen,” she says. “Doctors said I’d never walk again.
Her mother kicked into high-gear. To fend off sadness, she threw parties.
“Parties?” I ask.
“Yep, parties,” she goes on. “Every Friday night for a few years. People came to eat and play games. There were ALWAYS people at our house, and food. I didn’t have time to be sad.”
And today she walks.
Thelma Lou sprints between my legs. And she’s gone. Three little girls are trailing behind Thel—who is making a serious attempt at breaking the sound barrier.
Musicians play a song that isn’t a church song, but it is pretty.
“Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.”
The young band is singing the lyrics sweetly. My new friend Jeremiah is all ears. He can’t eat his chicken, he’s too busy listening.
“I like this song,” he says.
“Me, too,” says his adolescent bride.
As it happens, my mama loved this song, too. She would sing it to me when I was a kid. She sang it while she taught me to swim. It’s funny what a song can do. It can bring back a lot.
So I’m humming, eating a plate of baked beans and ‘tater salat.
I see Thelma Lou again. She runs toward me. She has flames behind her.
On her tail is a crowd of children, chasing her. Maybe six or seven kids. They are behind the canine demon. Thel dives into my arms. She’s soaking wet. And now, so am I.
And I’m grateful.
I’m grateful, though I don’t know what for. Grateful that I’m here. I’m grateful for songs about raindrops that make me think of my mother. Grateful for men in bowties who manage to find love. And for young women who defy the odds and walk when doctors tell them otherwise.
I’m grateful for little places in the country. Tiny chapels the whole world drives by without even looking at twice. Places with old church vans in the carports. And nice folks. People like you.
People who teach me that life isn’t about what you accomplish, but about who you get to love.
The song is over. Jeremiah kisses his wife. I kiss my dog. And I am making a solemn oath tonight that I will never feed Thelma Lou from the table hereafter.
But then again.
Just look at those eyes.
MaryBurns - June 24, 2018 11:22 am
Like! And I love Raindrops are Falling on my Head, too!
Sue Cronkite - June 24, 2018 12:21 pm
You take me back to my childhood with this one. I come from a community like this. It’s still a wonderful, magical place.
Connie Havard Ryland - June 24, 2018 12:30 pm
I never pass a country church without wanting to stop and walk around. I love to visit old cemetery’s and think about the lives they lived. My moms people are all mostly buried in an old cemetery in the woods, and visiting there is like walking into the past. It’s beautiful and sweet and it’s where I’m from. And there’s nothing like a good old dinner on the ground.
Connie - June 24, 2018 12:58 pm
Sunday morning perfect! Well, everyday perfect…you are my way to start the day! By the way, skippylou is a little bitty dog named Louie who skips when he walks, just his back legs about every other step. He’s a little rescue dog from the humane society that we’ve loved for about the last 6years…oh by the way he thinks he’s a doorbell!?
Karen Irby - June 24, 2018 1:47 pm
Those eyes will get us every time! And our Scout has learned well how to use them! Love you guys!
Jack Darnell - June 24, 2018 1:50 pm
This is good, and of course I like ‘tater salat’ my mama’s was the best!
Jones - June 24, 2018 2:22 pm
Excellent!! Quite a way with words! Your writings take us all there with you! ??
Linda Lovvorn - June 24, 2018 2:39 pm
Your words are precious!
Edna B. - June 24, 2018 3:20 pm
Thanks for bringing me along to enjoy this awesome church outing. Kind of makes me yearn for my younger days. At least for a little while. I imagine Thelma Lou was the life of the party. My little Pogo has learned that eye trick so very well too. It just makes you love them more. You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.
Patricia Gibson - June 24, 2018 3:32 pm
You make my day everyday! I thank God for you!
Jack Quanstrum - June 24, 2018 4:01 pm
Great, lighthearted story. Just right, like baby bear porridge! Keep on trucking #
Minnie Bourque - June 24, 2018 5:40 pm
Oh, what memories return to me! Thank you, Sean! I fondly remember each and every visit to the family cemetery in Ward, Alabama, esp. on Memorial Day. Such warm, loving memories! Hugs! Sure miss my Mother and Daddy.
Sue H. - June 24, 2018 5:59 pm
There’s a little country church in Iowa. Last visit 3 yrs ago to see all the refurbishing of a 150 yr structure. We contributed a bit in honor of Irish ancestors who came here instead of starving. Simple, sturdy and beautiful, just like the folks who donated and worked to bring it back. Wonderful, welcoming lunch mostly prepared in farm kitchens and lots of folks who said” aren’t you one of Rita’s folks?” Yes I sure am….
Jody - June 24, 2018 6:07 pm
Happy Day. Food. Fun. Good people. And Thelma. Lou the star of the party!!!
Sylvia Holt - June 24, 2018 10:43 pm
Thanks you for your beautiful stories.
Janet Mary Lee - June 25, 2018 12:10 am
You and Thelma make my eyes and heart light up! Thank you!! My hound says angels come around and tell dogs to make them eyes, lol….
jimmy Chinnes - June 25, 2018 10:07 am
Beautiful-Beauty in the eyes, if you’ll just look hard enough… Thanks!
Cheryl Clem - June 25, 2018 12:23 pm
Raised in lower Louisiana, going to .Country church every Sunday, I know all about, fried chicken, tater salat, chicken and dumplings, collard greens and banana puddin. Love reading your blog. So far, I could be in everyone of those stories. So glad I found you.
Minnie Tate Bourque - June 25, 2018 11:10 pm
Me, too, Cheryl! Wonderful memories!
Anna Ehrhardt - June 29, 2018 6:33 pm
Love this story. Reminds me of the dinner on the ground after church. Bring back memories.
Fire Lady - April 1, 2021 4:29 pm
Life will always be a wonderland as long as you try and find the grateful