Curvy roads, straight preaching

Published 7:28 pm Thursday, August 3, 2017

Every time the good Lord blesses us with an opportunity to re-dip our toes in that Georgia red clay, we walk away realizing some things never change. That’s a good thing.

We experienced that again last Saturday night after the amazin’ blonde and I got to town. Coca-Cola Mike and Glory loaded us all up and carried us to a gospel meeting up in Piedmont, Alabama. I had to smile at the memory, because those curvy roads are as crooked in 2017 as they were in 1972. We weaved through a hundred miles of them on this little excursion, admiring every tall pine we passed along the way, and marveling at the kudzu, old rundown houses with crumbling chimneys, and all the other sights you who travel such roads daily may take a bit for granted. You leave for a while, and you won’t take them for granted any more.

As we curved our way down those narrow, winding roads all over again, I went back four decades, Preacher Miller sitting right along beside me as we drove. Back in the early 70s, the South’s best preacher would pull up beside our house on Juniper Street around 6 o’clock, give the horn a gentle honk, then get out and move to the passenger side to let me drive. I always knew he was a brave man — why, we’ve spent a lifetime telling stories to prove it. But his greatest feat of courage must’ve been sliding over and putting a 16-year-old, wet-eared boy behind the wheel to negotiate those crooked Georgia, Alabama roads.

But I’m glad he mustered up that courage, because it became one of the highlights of my growing up years. Driving those roads may not sound too exciting to you young folks, but remember that we lived in a time before technology was born and video games invented. A 1968 Buick spinning along on cold, black pavement was our video game.

My granddad’s Buicks were cleaner than anything you’d find in one of those games or on a car lot. He even had power steering, something Mama never had. Once we pulled out and headed down the hill in that squeaky-clean Buick, our destinations were many and varied: One night it might be driving 40 miles to the southeast to Columbus to hear Jimmy Smith from Arkansas preach, and the next it might be 40 miles northerly to Napoleon, or Temple, Georgia, or the Piedmont church to hear the likes of Oklahoma’s Joe Hisle or Carl Johnson or Texas’ eloquent Wayne McKamie. Regardless of the preacher or the country church, when you got there you knew there were some things you were not going to find, such as air conditioning, fancy preachers or a Starbucks.

I had a special liking in those days for the Napoleon church, because it had a graveyard beside it. Some of my own kinfolks are even buried there. It just had a good feel to it way, way out in the country. It seemed as if you would drive forever trying to get there, and you couldn’t tell anybody was even alive out there until you came to the graveyard.

But with those roads narrow and curvy, you’d better be a skilled negotiator, if you expected to join the folks at the church at not your kin folks next door.

We learned a great deal more than how to drive going to those meetings. I learned what was most important to Preacher Miller, too, and that was the church the Lord died for and the gospel that He preached. We sat many a long night and listened to many great preachers, few of whom sported advanced degrees; but they all had a degree in knowing the Bible, and they had an advanced-degree in loving to preach it.

One of the best was Lynwood Smith from Brookhaven, Mississippi, a well-known orator who just left us about a decade ago. Brother Lynwood could paint a picture better than Norman Rockwell — not with a brush, of course, but with words. You’d sit in one of those old buildings — your heart still racing from a little scare or two you had from a couple of those “S” curves — and listen as he’d paint some biblical picture in living color, such as the one of that boy coming home after leaving his father to go to some far country. Before Lynwood would finish, you would see the tears on the father’s face and the dust on the young boy’s feet!

A couple of hours later — driving home slowly around the extra-challenging curves of a now-dark road — Preacher Miller would fill in any gaps that Lynwood might have left.

When the night was through, and the preacher would let me out at the house, two things were for sure: Those country roads were twisting and curvy, and the preaching was straight as an arrow.

Steven Ray Bowen is a former Granger who lives in Red Oak, Texas.