Thursday, February 25, 2010

"God Bless You, Brother Racoon!"

One of my old bosses used to say “there’s one in every church.” He was speaking of those wonderful folks that can simply be identified as the “church character”. Now the church I grew up in was blessed with numerous colorful characters. However, if there was a “church character All Star Team", the consensus captain would have to be Mallie Adkins. I will hasten to add that Mallie (although he shared our very common surname) was no relation to our branch of the family. At least we hoped so. In the interest of fairness, it should be mentioned that different sets of Adkinses in Wayne and Lincoln Counties of West Virginia rarely claimed kinship with other sets of Adkinses. However, serious genealogists will note that all of the Adkinses in our area migrated here from Wales, by way of Henrico County, Virginia, so, like it or not we probably were some distant relation to Mallie.

I must have been about twelve years old when I first became aware of this very interesting character. Mallie was not a member of our church – yet he seemed to be there at every revival, homecoming, or other special event. In fact, he seemed to be at EVERY revival , homecoming, or special event in EVERY church with which I was familiar! I later learned that Mallie was a member of 18th Street United Baptist Church. Now the term “United Baptist” sounds impressive, but my personal experience has led me to believe that the terms “united”, and “Baptist” are a classic example of oxymoron (like “Military Intelligence” and “Jumbo Shrimp”).

Some of the greatest fights I have ever seen were in Baptist churches, but I digress!

The United Baptists to which Mallie belonged was a loosely associated group of small churches mostly in rural areas of Cabell, Wayne, and Lincoln counties in West Virginia. He was a tad more “ecumenical” than the typical “hardshell” United Baptists, in that he would visit just about any kind of garden variety Baptist church – especially if there was going to be some type of fellowship dinner involved! Hence, you’d see him at many country Free Will, United, Missionary, and Independent Baptist Churches all over the tri state area of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. That is, whenever he could catch a ride with someone. My Dad was often that someone.

Mallie was a middle aged life long bachelor, who was unable to hold a regular job because, as the old folks used to say with a knowing look, “He’s not just right”. However my Mom would always reply that, “He was “right” enough to love Jesus, and to want to be in church, and there’s surely nothing wrong with that!” Well, Mallie did want to be in church. Every church. Every night. It was his life. The thing that first called my attention to his existence was his penchant for making announcements. At every service Mallie attended, he felt it his duty to announce upcoming events (revivals, homecomings, etc) at other churches. One of his favorite churches, apparently, was the Raccon Baptist Church out on Mallie’s native area of Beech Fork, in Wayne County.

In whatever church he may have been in, when the pastor would ask at the close of the service, “Are there any announcements?”, invariably Mallie would have an announcement about some big doings at the Raccoon Church. For the longest time, Dad didn’t know Mallie’s name, and would always just refer to him, privately, as “Raccon”.

One night at the close of a revival service at Thomas Memorial Church, Dad and fellow preacher T.C. Morgan were standing up front as the service was closing with a “handshake” time. T.C. was a pretty colorful character in his own right. He worked for a local dry cleaning company and was very active in the local Free Will Baptist Association, serving as it's Clerk. I remember him as an older man with a real shiny balding head, with salt and pepper fringe benefits, and a toothbrush moustache. He also fascinated me because he got around on a wooden leg and he was the first person I had ever known with a prosthetic device. He had a daughter (whom I avoided like the plague) and a couple of sons. The older of the two was Luther (also a preacher) and the other was named Morgan Morgan. (that is another story for another day!)

Anyway, Dad , T.C., and several other ministers were standing there shaking hands with, and greeting the members of the congregation as they came around at the close of the service. T. C. saw Mallie approaching in the line. Like almost everyone, T.C. recognized Mallie, but had no idea of his name. He leaned over to Dad and whispered, “Caudle, who is that fellow back there with the glasses?” Dad looked up and jokingly said, “Why, that’s old Raccoon!” Not realizing that Dad was kidding, T.C. firmly grasped Mallie’s hand and said, “God bless you, Brother Raccoon.” I thought Dad would die laughing!

As the years went by, Dad apparently became one of Mallie’s favorite preachers. He constantly desired to travel with Dad to his revival services. The longer the trip, the better Mallie liked it! I suppose Dad actually appreciated having company on many of those long lonely drives when the family wasn’t along. Mallie may not have been the best company, but he was company nonetheless. The phone would normally ring at our house about 4:00 pm and Mallie’s voice on the other end would say, “Brother Caudle, do you have room for me to go with you tonight?” The answer was usually, “Sure Mallie. Be here by 5:30.”

Mallie was close to being legally blind, and wore glasses that were roughly the thickness of the bottom of a coke bottle. So, he never got a drivers license, and walked nearly everywhere he went in town. He wore the same brown wool suit every night, and walking all over town in the hot summers, well let’s just say that he could get pretty ripe. Dad didn’t have air conditioning in his car in those days, so there was more than one reason to roll down the windows!

Summer, with it’s church picnics, and the early fall with homecomings and “dinner on the ground” seemed to be Mallie’s favorite time of the year. If there was a feed going on anywhere, Mallie would be there, his paper plate piled high and overflowing. He was always back for seconds and thirds and the ladies would usually see to it that he had some leftovers to take home with him. Living alone, he probably ate better at that time of year than any other.

If there is one thing Mallie liked to do as much as attending church, it was visiting the hospitals. Since he visited so many churches and knew so many people, he was a walking “patient information directory”. He could tell you who was in what hospital, how long he’d been there, and what was wrong with him. One of my favorite stories regarding Mallie comes from 1968, when Dad had Gall Bladder surgery. Dad had some huge gall stones, and as anyone who has ever had gall bladder trouble can verify, he was very sick! Well, gall bladder surgery was much tougher back then than the laproscopic variety they do now. Dad was feeling really rough, and there was a steady parade of people who kept coming in to visit him. Now, Dad was pretty well known, but he couldn’t figure how so many folks knew he was there. Finally asking the nurse to put a “no visitors” sign on the door, Dad said, “I don’t mind company, but I don’t know where they’re all coming from!” The nurse then informed him that there was “a little man with thick glasses” down in the lobby telling everyone who came in, “Brother Caudle Adkins is in room 5117. Go by and see him!”

He may have been one of those “characters” but Mallie loved Jesus, and he loved my Dad. When Mallie passed away, the crowd at his funeral was huge. Not a bad turnout for a fellow who seemed on the surface to just be “one of those characters”. I can picture Mallie now walking streets of gold, wearing a new white suit, and eating at the King’s Table. I can’t help but think that when we get to Heaven, he’ll meet us at the gates of pearl, make all necessary announcements, and give us a guided tour, pointing out who lives in what mansion.

That’s just the kind of guy he is.

1 Thessalonians 5: 14 “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men”. (KJV)

Hebrews 13: 1-3 “Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.” (NASB)

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