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Friday, May 6, 2016

Walking With Jackie the Ripper

Thursday, October 9, 2003

In the hill country where I grew up in the 30s, there is an old joke that makes the rounds occasionally about a small, rural church which has been left a sizeable sum of money by one of its members. A special meeting was called to decide how the funds might best be used and one of the trustees rose to her feet and said, "Several of us think we need to get a nice, big chandelier for the sanctuary. We've needed one for a long time and they've got a good sale at Penney's. I'd be happy to help pick one out."

This brought an elderly man to his feet in a big hurry, and he loudly voiced his opinion. "Ain't nobody with any sense a'tall thinks we need a chandelier. We've never had one and there ain't a bit a use trying out new stuff all the time. Nobody in the congregation could play it if we had one. If ya ask me, what we really need is a big ceilin' light."

When I hear the joke I always think of Mama and her story of how in her childhood she "carried the lamp" on Sunday evenings when she and her grandfather walked to church together. The path they followed lay in the woods, and in the winter months it was pitch dark, gloomy and undoubtedly scary to a small child, but Mama enjoyed it because she was with her grandpa and because (and she always smiled when she said it) "I got to carry the lamp."

Having not been blessed by an excess of intelligence, it took me years to figure out just what she meant. I had been shown the old lantern they used so long ago for getting around at night to do farm chores, and I felt it would have been much more suitable for lighting a path through the woods than would the household lamp which was fragile and difficult to handle.

Finally I questioned her and was made to understand that the lamp was not used to show the path in the woods, but rather to light the church for the evening service. The little group of Methodists did not have the money to buy extra lamps so each family was expected to bring one from home. The bigger the crowd, the brighter the church. To my childish mind that seemed nice. It still does.As I grew older the idea of Mama carrying the lamp began to bring new meaning to me. As was true with so many women of her time, life was not ever very easy, and problems tended to be solved by "grace and grit," an expression passed down to us from our grandmother. With a family of eight children each day seemed to bring an endless supply of difficult situations which needed to have light from the lamp of Mama's wisdom cast upon them. Somehow she met our needs.