By Tony R. Lindsay
My father is a tall, strong, stern, no-nonsense kind of man. Fiercely religious, Dad considers himself to be a soldier in God’s army, a prayer warrior opposed to dancing, drinking, and movies. I love my father, and I fear him as well.
At the age of nine, I visit with the family of my friend Otis Lee Harper. The atmosphere in his home is more relaxed than mine. Mr. Harper wears an old sweatshirt and Mrs. Harper has her hair in rollers. It’s time for dinner and time for Otis Lee to say the blessing. His face is lit with a mischievous grin. He blurts, “Lord, bless the meat, let’s eat.”
Otis Lee is beaming over his clever remark. His parents laugh and hoot. Mrs. Harper asks where she went wrong to raise such a naughty boy. Old Grandmother Harper looks toward heaven. “Lord, Otis Lee ain’t right. You know he ain’t ever been right.” Dinner is filled with wit and laughter.
The following evening it’s dinnertime at my house.
My family waits for me to say the blessing. As always, Dad wears a tie and Mom has on her makeup. I begin with some traditional words, and then I suffer a total brain lapse. My mouth spews, “Lord, bless the meat, let’s eat.”
Holy cow! What am I thinking? Am I tired of living? When did I decide to turn my tender behind over to the mercies of a saint?
Dad’s face glows with a radiant purple. Then all color drains away. I lose feeling in the lower portion of my body–a condition I hope will last through what was about to happen next. Then the numbness is replaced by an urgent need for bladder control.
Sweat pours down my face as Dad’s lips finally begin to move. “Boy, if you ever do anything like that again, I will….”
He does not finish the sentence, but I know that servant of God will heap righteous wrath upon my skinny body. Say goodbye to my backside. It’s toast.
The keyword in my father’s statement is “again.” It means he will spare my life for the moment. But, he can change his mind in a heartbeat.
Not another word is spoken during dinner. Even Mom does not want to risk breaking the agonizing silence.
Our home is unusually tense for the next twenty-four hours. I feel like a condemned prisoner waiting for a call from the governor. At exactly 6 pm, we sit down for the evening meal. It’s not my turn to say the blessing, but I know what to expect. My father whispers in a voice loaded with promise, “Tony will say the blessing tonight.”
Oh, God, this better be good. I thank the Lord for hard-working farmers who toil in the fields to grow broccoli and turnips, and for truck drivers who bring vegetables to market. I thank God for the loving hands that have cooked a delicious meal. After mentioning something about sailors in peril upon unruly seas, I ask for permanent fair weather the world over. I pray for my mother, and her mother, and mothers everywhere.
I ask for a quick recovery for the sick and afflicted, including a special blessing for anyone suffering from diphtheria or diarrhea. I plead for the kind treatment of the world’s animals, especially puppies. I express concern for those who commit “sins of the flesh.” I’m not sure what that means, but it’s some bad stuff.
Our dinner is stone cold when I can’t think of another person to benefit from the love of God or another illness suffered by mankind. My voice quakes as I squeak, “Amen.”
With head still bowed, I wait.
“Amen,” my father says.
Tony R. Lindsay lives in Winston-Salem, NC with his lovely wife and aristocratic cat. He tools around in a “new” 1957 Thunderbird. Tony likes to boast that his wife and TV both work. He was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and graduated from the University of Tennessee.
He is a former director of Winston-Salem Writers and 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. Tony’s books, Tattletale Roadhouse and Social Club and Lucas Lee, are collections of stories that are often humorous, sometimes pathos-filled, always truly Southern.
Founded in 2005, Winston-Salem Writers is a group of writers who write fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry, and who care about the art and craft of writing. They offer programs, workshops, critique groups, open mic nights, contests and writers’ nights out for both beginning writers and published authors. For more information, click HERE.