Tandy's eyes lit up at the challenge. With that big grin all over his face he shouted, "I'll supply the mule!".
It must have been 8 or 9 years ago, and I was issuing a challenge to the members of Ashland Baptist Church to fill up the house for High Attendance Sunday. I had told them how my son had made a deal with his congregation down the river in South Shore, KY that if they broke the attendance record for Homecoming, that he would kiss a pig! The Ashland Baptist folks got a big laugh at the story of how Jay had been forced to pucker up for a porcine smooch. Someone in the congregation asked me, "Hey C.J., if we hit the goal for High Attendance Sunday, will YOU kiss a pig?" I thought about it for a moment but then my eyes fell on Tandy Kemper in the third row.
"No", I said firmly, "But if we get 120 in Sunday School or 150 in morning worship, I'll ride a mule home from church."
I knew Tandy Kemper had a couple of mules among the other animals he kept out on his Crane Creek, KY farm. I also knew that Tandy was always ready to load up old Kate and Barney and put them on display. He took the bait immediately. "I'll supply the mule!" he said.
The sanctuary at Ashland Baptist could seat 160, max, without putting out folding chairs. A crowd of 150 would pretty much fill up the building, and the folks rose to the task. On High Attendance Sunday, we missed the Sunday School goal by about 10 folks, but the tally for the worship service was 155.
The event was on. I would ride the mule home after church the next Sunday.
The crowd that day was even bigger than the previous Lord's Day. Folks were chomping at the bit to see me ride a mule. (Strange what some pastors will do to get a houseful of people to preach to). Tandy had brought both mules, and it was agreed that my Sunday School Director would ride the second one.
Earlier in the week, Floyd Paris (pastor of nearby Unity Baptist) had asked me the big question.
"Have you ever ridden a mule before?"
"No" I admitted, but I allowed that it couldn't be too hard.
"Well when you get up on his back, scoot as far back on it as you possibly can."
Being a total novice at mule riding, I agreed to follow Floyd's advice.
The big day came and the crowd outside the church was buzzing with excitement. Someone had called the newspaper and a photographer was present (front page - slow news day!), and the police were there to ride slowly along, lights flashing, for our protection as we covered the 1 1/2 mile trek up US Rt. 23 toward my home.
Tandy threw a blanket over Kate's back and boosted me up on her. (I never realized that some mules are darn near big as a horse.) Remembering Floyd's bogus advice, I scooted back toward the mule's hindquarters. Tandy, standing along side the mule, kept pushing me forward, "Move up! Move up!" he continued to say. When I told him of Floyd Paris' instructions, Tandy glared at me and said sharply, "He's trying to get you killed! You listen to me!"
I listened to Tandy. It was always good to listen to Tandy.
He was quite a guy. A bachelor until he was nearly 40 years old, Tandy had built a body shop and scrap yard business, and sold used cars on the side. He was a good business man and a work-a-holic, but his true love was for the horses and mules he prized so dearly. Tandy and his mule drawn covered wagon was a fixture in all of the local holiday parades. They tell me he was quite the rounder in his younger days. He was a body man by day but a cowboy at heart.
He met his wife Judy on a trail ride or a hay ride (I don't remember which for sure) that he sponsored on weekends out in Carter County. She was an attractive young widow who worked in one of the city's finest ladies clothing stores. They fell in love (an odd couple to say the least), got married, and embarked on the trail of holy matrimony. Judy brought out the best in Tandy. She cajoled him into attending church on a regular basis with her, and sure 'nuff he eventually accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord. His life was changed forevermore.
The story is told that when Pastor Phil Haney baptised Tandy, it was the biggest crowd that had ever been in the old church building. They were standing around the windows on the outside of the packed building, peering inside to get a glimpse of what many people thought would never happen in a million years. Tandy Kemper was being baptized! "Who'd a thunk it possible?", many said. "Do you think he really got it?" was the common question.
Well, Tandy must have got it, because from that day on he was faithful to his Lord, and became a stalwart member of Ashland Baptist. He served for years as the church treasurer - using the talents of his own book keeper to do the church books, on his dime and his time. Many were the times he'd send a group of his employees down to work on some project at the church, while they were still on the time clock at the body shop. He kept the church van serviced and in top shape, and he practiced the grace of tithing to his church, while often helping other worthy causes or families in need.
He loved and supported his pastors (of which I was one for a little over 7 years). He was generous, almost to a fault. Eventually Tandy was ordained into the office of Deacon, where he served faithfully for many years. His work ethic, generosity, and friendly manner made Tandy one of the best known men in all of Boyd, Greenup, and Carter counties. Even though his health had been slipping in the past couple of years, he still kept up his gruelling work schedule until about six weeks ago. He was a well known fixture in the community, and you might see him anywhere in the area driving that red and white tow truck with the words, "Here Comes Tandy" emblazoned across the front of the truck and "There Goes Tandy" over the back window of the truck. He was an American original, and it was my pleasure to have called him "friend".
Early this morning, Tandy escaped the non responsive body that lay quietly in the hospital bed in his living room for the past eight days. He left a world that had given him more than his share of good times and bad, pleasure and pain. He simply cast aside the worn out 81 year old garment that he no longer needed as he was going into the presence of the Lord.
One can only imagine the gatekeeper of Heaven calling out to open the Gates of Pearl for his arrival.
I can almost hear it now...
"Here Comes Tandy"!