Its Good Friday so it's Rednak time.
First a little music, from three greats, that sheds some lite on these times. Earl Scruggs, Johnny Cash & Don Henley bring on Passin' Through . . .
This is a mighty world and an amazing one. Watch and listen to this special child prodigy, Joshua King. Click Here
Wake Me When It’s Over
Cousin Haddabenna Rednak - Jones passed last month and her children needed some family support for the funeral so the call went out and the Rednaks came filtering through to the low hills of southern Kentucky for the sendoff.
On the telephone one Monday night: “Uncle Alce, it wouldn’t be a rightful family remembrance without you and Daddy there to kick shit and stir up family dust,” my brother Albe’s daughter knew how to generate motivation. A little flattery and - or, a little shame if convincing’ wasn’t comin’ on quick enough!
“It’s been a while, you know, Uncle Alce, since Rednaks and kin have been reminded of how much they have in common and where we came from - - - like it or not. Clan members who know this truth always bring outsiders and it always turns out to be one of the most memorable incidents in an innocent’s lifetime. We can’t help it if we’re fun,” she cajoled.
I said, “Yes. If Albe’s goin’ I have to go to keep him straight on the lie telling!”
At the appointed weekend, we all began to fill the cut rate motels and rooming houses for miles around Stillwater, Kentucky. The Catbrier Creek Holiness Tabernacle had a bingo hall just down the road far enough to escape the limits on loud music and fraternizing through dance. The building could sit over a 150 people, had a kitchen and had a covered pavilion on the side, with picnic tables, where the hard shells could congregate and not have to look at the open bar or the dance floor.
Haddabenna had belonged to the rite of the Eastern Star for over fifty years. She knew the order’s sacred, unspoken codes, and the secret handshakes. Moors, Hottentots, and Huguenots couldn’t drag them out of her and she had reached a high enough degree to be boiling water, if needed. She had been awarded a squat little fez colored pink and adorned with two gold tassels. And she had thirty three stars embroidered on her ceremonial vest, of which she was almost as proud of as the camel tattoo on her ass she and the Longevity Committee had gone to get while celebrating her 68th birthday during an ES convention in Nashville. All of Haddabeena’s girlfriends were members of the Eastern Star in good standing.
Haddabenna Jones weighed 101 pounds and was five feet, ten inches tall. Brick Jones, her husband, looked exactly like Popeye the Sailorman and was, of course, four inches shorter. Olive Oyle had nothin’ on Haddabenna! She and several of the other girls kept their hair platinum blonde, complements of Breck’s Who’s That Girl? The startling blonde color made the super red lipstick, they loved to wear, so shiny and outrageous that you could see it on the new moon just as well as at noon.
The older she got, the more often she pointed out, “The two most important things a girl has are her face and her butt. And as we get older it gets harder and harder to keep the two separated.”
Hadda was full of all kinds of sage wisdom at 81. She told Brick the day she died that she had a notion when she woke up that she was going to feel poorly that day.
“Brick Honey, Call Gladys Markey and let her know I hear the bells tolling. They’ll all want to get their Star jackets and Salome leggings out of moth balls before the wake. And there’s serious baking to do. . . . . And the punch has to steep for at least 48 hours before the bourbon goes in! I don‘t want to hold my sisters up just cause I‘m passin‘.”
Brick, knew better than argue whether it all was wasted motion or not. “Alright, Hadda- - Alright.” He was holding his breath that she wouldn’t start a litany of things for him to accomplish. . . . . And she didn’t.
That night she stretched out on the couch as “Bonanza” re-runs started on the cable. When Brick came to sit in his recliner she shifted and looked over at him,
“Night, Brick baby, see you on the other side.” She closed her eyes, sighed quietly, and left the house - - - - - permanently.
The Tabernacle is 120 years old. The entry is crowned with a steeple that covers the bell tower and tops nearly 75 feet above ground. The years of foot stompin’, thunderous praise clapping, and unified wailing had failed to shake the steeple or the solid frame church below. Its clapboard siding gleamed white and the window and door trim was kept smart with black enamel. On the inside the church walls and ceiling are tongue and groove heart pine, painted white. The baptismal pool is at the back of the sanctuary and the pulpit is natural stained and polished wood elevated enough that the sinners below can easily imagine GOD himself pointing down to them as the preacher offers up Sunday’s fire and brimstone. Yellow pine flooring supports the bench pews.
Sue Kinda Rednak - Jones - Miller, Haddabeena and Brick’s oldest daughter, arranged the funeral and was liaison to the Eastern Star ladies for the wake. The preacher was 89 year old Luke Pernicious Framer, the third. His family tree had roots to the Revolution and one unconfirmed suspicion that a Framer of his faction had disembarked from the Mayflower with the other Pilgrims.
The day before the funeral William Joseph Mindstart knocked on the front door of the Jones’ house at 10 AM sharp. Sue Kinda answered.
Now, Billy Joe (How’d you guess?) was known to be slightly touched in the head - but harmless. He played over six different stringed instruments and knew probably 1,000 songs and hymns. His mother insisted Billy Joe was a savant and no one in Stillwater ever argued that he wasn’t until one Saturday, he’d played about a hundred songs nonstop down in the town square and wouldn’t stop until it got dark and people quit walking by and dropping change in the dulcimer case laying at his feet. From that day forward he became “Crazy!”, not gifted. And no one argued about that point either!
Anyway, Billy Joe had come to offer his condolences and proffer a special request. Sue Kinda listened respectfully as Billy Joe asked if he could play at Hadda’s funeral as he loved Miss Haddabenna, and wanted to honor her memory. Hadda had given Billy a thousand cookies since he was a child and always tousled his hair and patted his head when she saw him, he explained. Sometimes she would plant one of those outrageous red lipstick kisses on his forehead and he would wear it for days before it finally washed off.
“Please, Miss Sue Kinda, I promise to be good,” he pleaded.
After a few minutes of consideration she said, “Billy Joe, I am going to have you play Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, right after Miss Mary Beth Wilson, the organist plays, Shall We Gather at the River? Yours will be the second hymn played. I want you to play the first four verses on the dulcimer, and then quit - - wrap it up - - don’t - go - any - further. Do you understand, Billy Joe?”
“Yes Mam, Sue Kinda. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot - the first four verses - then quit. And I won’t start playing ‘til Mrs. Wilson finishes Shall We Gather. And I won’t hum along. And I will play joyfully for Miss Hadda so, no one gets weepy. Is that good, Sue Kinda?”
“Yes, Billy Joe, that’s good. I’m sending you home with a note to your mother. Remember just the one hymn and just the four verses. Got it?” She was hoping, and praying, she hadn’t made a mistake.
The next day dawned and turned bright. The expanse of Kentucky sky was deep blue and laced with drifting cumulus as white and puffy as freshly ginned cotton.
At eleven, people were arriving and gathering under the huge water oak whose twenty foot limbs, covered in resurrection ferns, spread a canopy of refuge from the sun a few steps from the stairs into the church. Preacher Framer was fresh in a starched white shirt, black satin bowtie and black patent shoes that perfectly complimented his wide lapelled charcoal suit. His full head of white hair gave him the air of apparition of something angelic, come to exhort the sinners left behind and escort the departed to the path leading to the pearly gates. The bible he carried in the fold of two frail arms was as large as a cornerstone and to the preacher as heavy.
The preacher opened the front doors of the church and the music director, Olmy McGregor, started playing on the piano, Who Knows How Near My End May Be.
By 11:25 about a hundred and fifty had gathered in the old church pews. The eight sisters of the Eastern Star sat in the front row on the left and the immediate family sat in the front two rows on the right. The sisters were replete in their pink and red fezzes, white bowling shirts covered by the blazing red vests embroidered with gold stars of accomplishment and gold braided piping. Some of the ladies had on short red skirts and wore the shear Salome pants underneath, with red slippers. They were a sight that would have warmed the heart of P.T. Barnum!
Hadda was in repose two steps up on the sanctuary. Brick had refused to let the undertaker dress her in the ES regalia as she had requested, and had compromised by allowing that her fez be placed on her chest above her folded arms, never mind that when the coffin lid closed it would crush the fez unless it was laid down - - - Brick had no intention of interfering with that last little bit of symbolic finality. The gaudy vest was laid at her left side. The paleness of death’s pancake makeup made the bright red lipstick, more radiant still.
The preacher stood and extended his arms upward. Everyone in the church stood up in unison as the organist began a rousing rendition of Shall We Gather At The River?. Two of the ES girls pulled tambourines from their basket purses and joined the hyped up rhythm with clapping strokes on the tambourines held over their heads. Soon everyone was clapping and tapping their feet.
Three verses in Billy Joe had jumped to his feet and begun to stroke the dulcimer like a guitar. Every 6th or 7th stroke he would shuffle closer to the small stairs that ascended to the raised pulpit. Now, each dulcimer stroke clanged out loudly in time with Miss Mary Beth’s organ riffs. Finally with a flourish and a sweep of the organ’s keys Miss Wilson was satisfied that indeed, all present were gathered to witness the spiritual take off from the banks of this heavenly river. Preacher Framer stood and motioned that all could be seated as Billy Joe sat on the stairs, smiling out at all the Eastern Star sisters. He didn’t hesitate 5 seconds and with a string by string down stroke broke solidly into Swing Low.
It was masterfully delivered and so sweet that it sounded much like the voice of a child singing in a whisper just behind the harp like notes from the dulcimer hammers. Billy Joe played on using both the small hammers and stroking the instrument , sometimes simultaneously. He played for about seven minutes, a little longer than the agreed upon four verses and then to Sue Kinda’s relief, he struck three gentle notes to close.
Fifteen seconds of reverent silence . . . . . The preacher labored to rise but before he was completely upright Billy Joe broke out with The Old Rugged Cross. Simultaneously Mary Beth Crushed out the first few bars of Amazing Grace trying to head off Billy Joe, to no avail. The preacher looked balefully around and then slumped back down in his chair.
As Billy Joe came to the final bars of the classic, Mrs. McGregor joined in with the piano. She stopped with two bars of finish and so did Billy Joe. The preacher gripped the arms of his chair to rise and off went Billy Joe again, this time singing and hammering Tell Mother I’ll Be There. When that hymn closed Billy Joe’s concert had been going for fifteen minutes. Sue Kinda was up pulling on Billy Joe’s arm but he fended her off and began again, to play Amazing Grace. The old favorite seemed to calm the combatant’s and brought instant tears to the eyes of all those that weren’t asleep. Mrs. McGregor and Mary Beth joined in with the keyboards and the congregation sang out the time worn verses, many with their arms outstretched to the heavens. As the hymn finished Sue Kinda and Albe jumped to their feet and grabbed Billy Joe by the arm and around the neck and wrestled him out the side door of the church.
Gracie Campbell was startled awake as the door slammed and her Fez fell to the floor along with her hairpiece that normally covered her bald crown. Someone in the back of the church was giggling so hard they farted loudly.
Preacher Framer had managed to climb into the pulpit and was banging on the side like a judge trying to quiet an unruly chamber. Laughter and conversation were approaching the level of din.
Finally, quiet returned. Preacher Framer stretched his frame like a small rooster getting ready to crow at the rising sun. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Dust to dust - - - Ashes to ashes. We trust that we will see our sister, Haddabenna, in the garden of the Lord’s house. Well, some of us sooner than later. Imagine now - - - Hadda standing at the gates to heaven. Some need to take a long look - - - - probably their only look. Alleluia!” “Amen!”
Everyone present worked their way out of the church, spilling steadily into the yard. The pallbearers, followed by the sisters of the ES walked Haddabenna out to the graveyard. Reverend Framer quoted scripture, recited the 23rd Psalm, and summarized Hadda’s long and fruitful life. Most were smiling at those recollections. The family tossed flowers, confederate roses and lilies down to the coffin. The red fez ladies flipped in fake, gold, bar tokens with crescent moons stamped on one side and “one free” on the other side. Some of the “mourners” snickered and one or two sniffled quietly.
Bystanders didn’t tarry long. Most said goodbyes as though headed home. However, each and every departing car turned left out of the church yard and rode the two-tenths of a mile to the Lucky Loo Bingo Hall parking lot.
The smoker was stoked. Bowls of potato salad and slaw, and trays of biscuits were lined up next to platters and pans full of fried chicken, pulled pork and sliced summer ham. Pitchers of tea and lemonade were dripping cool condensation. A wash tub of the Eastern Star’s punch sat on a sturdy wooden table just inside the door from the covered pavilion. A lot of folks got iced tea outside, gulped about half of it on the way in and topped it off with punch in a slick sweeping movement of carefree abandonment. Each one attempting an expression of innocence with a wry smirk.
Two hours was enough to appease the “hard shells” that an appropriate remembrance had in fact been accomplished and the last of them departed the wake about fifteen minutes before the Hayseed Boys Band struck up with a foot stompin’ opening of Dixie. Pints of Sloe Gin and bottles of beer began to appear on tables. Haddabeena’s passing and the Rednak’s celebration of same rocked on from there ‘til the wee hours.
That wake should have been noted in the huge family bible . . . Regardless it won’t be forgotten by this generation - - -
You can buy my book on Amazon and it is also in Kindle format. Click Here