Tony R. Lindsay’s first venture into social commentary and is a riotous collection of forty-three vignettes rooted in the Deep South and skewering preachers, salesmen, marriage, big shots and especially the down-home, hard-drinking,overly affectionate folks who are his heroes.
THE ANGEL OF LUDOWICI
Twelve-year-old country boys, Homer Guthry and Elwood Hatmaker, had more in common than tattered clothing and enjoying the adventures of growing up in southern Georgia. They had a devoted interest in girls, especially for a statuesque brunette with stunning blue eyes—the lovely Veronica Hightower. Two years older than Elwood and Homer, Veronica was mature in mind and body. She wore expensive clothes and took private piano and voice lessons.
The Hightowers were prominent members of the First Presbyterian Church of Ludowici, a town of 1440 souls located along the west bank of the Altamaha River. Elwood and Homer arranged to be in town at noon on a Sunday when the congregation filed out of church. The boys observed the procession from a low stone wall. Elwood kept an eye peeled for Veronica as he whittled a birch block into the shape of a raccoon.
Most of the crowd had drifted to their cars when Veronica finally appeared. The boys scrutinized Veronica’s every move from the church door until she was sequestered in the family’s large, black sedan. Elwood and Homer giggled and elbowed each other.
“She’s damn beautiful,” sighed Homer.
“Hell, she’s better than that. She’s whatever is better than beautiful. Did you see her smile at that stupid preacher? Do you think he knows she’s so pretty?”
“Naw, I don’t think so. Preachers ain’t like that. They just think about the Bible and doin’ a bunch of good stuff.”
“I ain’t so sure. He’d have to be deader than roadkill not to see that she’s the prettiest girl in Ludowici, maybe the prettiest girl in the world.”
Elwood tugged his suspenders. “I wish we could see more of her. You know what I mean, see her more often than just a few minutes on Sunday.”
“Yeah, I hear ya.”
Elwood moaned. “Even her name is beauteous. It makes me weak. Do you reckon there’s ever been an ugly girl named Veronica? Her mom and dad must have known with the first glance at their baby daughter that she was gonna be special, and they said, ‘Let’s name her Veronica.’”
The following Tuesday, Homer received the best news of his life from no less an unimpeachable source than Lefty Goins, proprietor of the Tattletale Roadhouse & Social Club and the local purveyor of strong drink. “Hey, kid, I hear you and Elwood are in love with that Hightower girl.” Lefty threw back his head and made a howl like a wolf. “You fellers might as well wish for the moon. I guess you know that she’s gonna be a special guest at Mount Harmony on the third Sunday in September. She’s gonna sing and play a damn piano. Give them Baptist bastards a touch of class.”
“Yeah, no shit.”
Homer rushed to give his friend the lowdown.
“That’s damn good, Homer. We can see her when she goes into Mount Harmony and see her again when she comes out.”
Homer’s eyes squinted and his lips slanted into a wicked grin. “I’m thinkin’ way better than that.”
“I figure we can go to church just like regular folks and watch her play and listen to her sing.”
Elwood rubbed his hands together and bounced around like a puppy. “Hell, I’d be happy to watch her breathe. But we don’t go to that dumb church. We don’t go to any friggin’ church. They wouldn’t let us in the place and, even if they did, they’d know we was there just to see Veronica.”
“I’ve thought about that.”
“Elwood, you know I’m smarter than you, right?”
“Well, here’s what we’re gonna do. First of all, they got to let us in when we show up at the door. Momma said it’s a church rule. We’ll go to Mount Harmony beginning the first Sunday in September. After a couple of weeks, nobody will notice when we’re there the third Sunday to hear Veronica sing. Won’t that be funner’n hell?”
“Homer Guthry, you’re damn smart. Sharp as a rat turd, that’s what you are. Let’s do it!”
“Now listen, Elwood, let me do the talkin’. Remember, them are nice people. Them folks ain’t like you and me. They call each other Sister and Brother even though they ain’t no kin at all.”
“Dumbest thing I ever heard.”
“That’s why you got to let me do the talkin’. I know more about sayin’ stuff like Praise the Lord. Momma said they say that a lot. But I ain’t gonna wave my arms and shout and carry on.”
“Homer, you’re sharp as a reindeer’s peter.”
“Yeah, damn right.”
Homer and Elwood, dressed in their best bib overalls, shirts buttoned up to their necks, clean boots, and hair slicked down with axle grease, appeared at Mount Harmony on the first Sunday of September. Two sturdy men and a prim lady met them at the door and looked the boys up and down. Then they broke into wide smiles and extended friendly handshakes.
Homer responded to the hearty greeting by replying, “Yeah, and a good mornin’ to y’all.”
Elwood got a warm welcome to which he offered a tentative, “Praise the Lord.” He received another greeting and responded louder, “Praise the Lord.”
Homer gave Elwood a disapproving glance. The boys sauntered about halfway down the aisle, and settled onto a pew.
The sermon included several references to the gathering of sheep. Elwood whispered to Homer about the meaning of almost everything, especially the part about sheep. “What you reckon he’s gonna do with all them sheep?”
“Dunno, but he’s mighty keen on getting his hands on some sheep, and he don’t care who knows it. And them church ladies smilin’ and noddin’ like they knowed it all along.”
Elwood shook his head. “The man’s got no shame, I can tell you that.”
The lengthy service wound down and the boys made their way out of church. Several persons thanked them for joining the group in worship.
A hefty lady in a polka-dot dress beamed at Elwood. “Young man, we’re so glad you are here in God’s house today. I bet you have a sweet family.”
“Oh, hell, yeah, you can book it. Momma’s as good as they is anywhere. But Daddy’s crazy about sin and the Widow Murphy.”
“Ouch! Homer, that hurt.”
Homer smiled up at the polka-dot lady as she clasped a hand over her open mouth.
The second Sunday in September found the boys again at Mount Harmony. The preacher announced that the topic of the sermon would be “Lot’s Wife.” He related the Biblical account of Lot leaving the wicked city of Sodom, along with his wife, on the day the city was destroyed. Against God’s command, Lot’s wife looked back on the city and the pleasures she was leaving behind. Zap! She was struck dead and changed into a pillar of salt. Elwood licked his dry lips.
omer’s mouth to become dry and Elwood’s eyes to buldge.After the service, Elwood had several questions for his friend. “Did Lot have another name? Did Lot’s wife have a name of her own? What in hell was goin’ on in that place that was so bad?”
“Elwood, I ain’t sure what they was doin’, but whatever it was, it must have been awful damn good to be so bad. The point is, God’ll strike anybody dead if they don’t follow a straight-out command.”
Another week passed as the hills and lanes of Long County were transformed into a canopy of reds, yellows, golds and greens. Maple trees seemed to shout, “Hey, look at me.”
At last, it was the third Sunday in September. Homer and Elwood arrived early at Mount Harmony. They wanted to get a seat as close to the pulpit as possible.
Musical equipment in the country church consisted of an ancient pipe organ. But that Sunday an elegant grand piano had been positioned on a three-foot high platform especially constructed for the occasion.
With a groan, Elwood eyed the piano bench where the scrumptious Veronica would sit. “Lucky bench.”
“Hush up, Elwood. Damn your ass, anyway.”
The boys turned around to see the object of their devotion as she pranced along in high heels and took a seat two rows behind them. Veronica was even prettier up close. Her dark hair cascaded over her shoulders and onto a white dress with a lacy collar. Her bodice provided a hint of her high, youthful bosom; almost more than poor Elwood could stand.
The pastor announced that the day would be special for the good people of Mount Harmony. Miss Veronica Hightower would worship with them by playing her very own piano and singing a medley of her favorite hymns.
Veronica sashayed down the aisle and lightly ascended six steps up onto the platform. Her knee-length dress swung rhythmically left and right, left and right, left and right.
Veronica smoothed her dress down the back of her legs and sat down on the bench as if she were about to sit on an egg.
Homer swallowed hard.
Elwood used the back of his hand to wipe drool from the corners of his mouth. “Oh Lord, she’s gotta have a light in her head behind them blue eyes. Homer, you know I ain’t never been outside Long County, but you can trust me on this—girls don’t get no better nowhere in the world.”
“Damn straight. Think about it. Millions and scads of women and none of ‘em any better than the Angel of Ludowici.”
Veronica began with “Peace in the Valley.” She wowed the congregation for two minutes before the church was rocked by the sound of timbers splitting. The forward edge of the platform gave way, dividing the stage into two sections. The heavy piano slid toward the rear, spilling Veronica off her bench and onto her head between the two halves of the collapsed platform. Wedged into the crevice, she began to yell and struggle. Her feet flailed straight up in the air, but the more she maneuvered, the deeper her torso sank between the planks. The hem of her dress fell to her waist, exposing long shapely legs and gleaming white panties stretched over two perfect globes. Homer and Elwood’s eyeballs stood on stems.
One woman and a score of men rushed to assist Veronica. The preacher bounded onto the pulpit and commanded everyone to look away from Veronica. When his instruction had little effect on the audience, and zero effect with Homer and Elwood, the preacher exclaimed, “Look away this instant, or God will strike you blind!”
Recalling with horror what had happened to Lot’s wife, Elwood and Homer clasped both hands over their faces and lowered their heads. They could see nothing.
Elwood nudged his friend. “Homer, I’m gonna risk one eye.”
Tony likes to boast that his wife and TV both work.
He was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1964. That’s right, 1964.
He is a director of Winston-Salem Writers. Tony is an avid storyteller at civic events and Open Mic. His stories have been published in World Audience Magazine, The Houston Literary Journal, Deep South Magazine, People of Few Words (England) and other periodicals.
Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) published Tony’s first book, Tattletale Roadhouse and Social Club, on May 1, 2012. The book consists of forty-three humorous stories about life in the South and human nature.
Tony’s five grandchildren will tell you that Grandpa never lets the truth get in the way of telling a good story.