TITLE: The Backwoods Preacher
By chandra mathis
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My papa was a preacher. Most folks from where I
grew up, called him a "backwoods Bible thumper."
It was just another word for an uneducated
preacher.Papa was a "third generation preacher."
That meant his grandpa, and his papa were
preachers before him. Hmmm… almost sounds like
Anyhow, down in Mississippi, a little place
called Rolling Creek is where it all began. We
were living way back in the woods, a place where
neighbors were few and far in between. My papa,
mama, and me had to walk, if we wanted to go
anywhere. Not a soul had a car in those days. We
were too poor to afford a horse and buggy at the
time. We managed pretty fair back then. It was
only by God’s grace.
Those long walks to church were a bit tiresome,
and painful too. I would get blisters on my feet
from all the walking everytime I wore my Sunday
shoes. Those shoes were entirely too small for my
feet .All the fast walking we had to do, didn't
help matters either!
We were never late for Sunday meeting.It was out
of the question, cause my papa was the preacher
there. We were going to be at Sunday meeting no
matter what. Papa didn’t care; if it was pouring
we were going.
Papa was a tall thin man, with a sharp chiseled
face. He had eyes that were black as coal. That’s
where I get my real fine looks. How blessed I
am! I don’t spend much time in front of the
mirror to this very day. No point in looking,
cause I already know what I look like.
Papa was a man of determination. That is what I
admired about him the most. He never was a
quitter or a slacker. I would watch him from the
window or the front door, as he walked down that
winding dirt road; long strides as he went. He
was always wearing that same old black suit. It
was threadbare for sure and the pants were to
short, cause the bottom of them came just to his
ankles. Mama had patched it in several places but
even those patches were beginning to wear thin.
There were patches on top of patches, so it
seemed . That suit made papa look tired. I had to
do some intervening on his behalf. That poor man
needed some help!
I remember that night praying and asking God to
bring papa a new suit. A week later, God
answered my prayers! Old man Taylor passed away,
and Mrs. Taylor gave papa one of his suits. I
remember telling God, that he sure did answer
prayers in a strange kind of way.After all the
trouble I went through to get papa that new suit,
he refused to wear it. “I'm not wearing a dead
man’s suit!” He hollered, then he slammed the
front door so hard it made my teeth rattle.
We were living in some hard times back then, I
remember when mama made potato salad out of soda
crackers.Why!those folks at Sunday meeting didn't
know the difference, cause they were so hungry.
There wasn’t a bite left.
A preacher's wages wasn't enough to support a
family in those days, so me and mama tried to
help "make ends meet" by doing chores for others.
We would walk to Dr. Jamison's house about five
miles down the dirt road and do a few chores
for him so we could make a little money. As I
walked, I would look for papa's footprints on
that red dirt. I would place my feet in them and
walk along pretending to be my papa going to
visit sick folks or going to Church to preach
I remember thinking, I wanted me a Bible just
like his, but we could not afford another Bible.
Papa had the only Bible in the house,and "believe
you me," no letting that one out of his sight.
It’s sort of funny, cause that same Bible sits on
a table in my parlor today. Brings back a lot of
Once, my papa was going to see some sick folks, I
watched him head off down the road, and soon as
he was out of sight, I ran into the house and
picked up mama's Sears Roebuck Catalog. Off I
went down that road stepping into every foot
print I could see, toting my Sears Roebuck
catalog, pretending it was a Bible just like my
papa's. I must have looked plum silly back then.
One morning I heard my papa and mama fussing with
each other; I got my ear against the door so I
could hear what they were saying. Mama called it
ease dropping. Anyway, I heard my papa say he was
concerned about the family tradition. He
said he had no son to take his place when he was
gone. I was hurt deep by this, cause it made me
feel papa did not want me, cause I was a girl. I
cried so hard that my eyes felt like they were
going to jump out of their sockets.
That night, I laid there in bed and was saying my
prayers. I told the Lord, Please Lord make me be
a boy so my papa would be happy. Then the Lord
told me, "No! I will not make you into a little
boy, you are perfect the way you are. I will
Cause you to take your papa's place one day. You
will be a preacher just like him." That little
talk with God made my feelings a whole lot
Come morning I rose early, cause I wanted to
practice before my papa got Up. I picked up my
Sears Roebuck Catalog and off I went, step by
step, down that winding dirt road. Stepping
in every footprint with long strides trying to
Keep up. I would sing, here I go to see sick
folks with my Bible in my arm. The future seemed
Five years later, The Lord spoke to me again,
that time he told me that he was going to send me
to Bible College.I quickly replied; Lord,you
know I can't afford Bible College. Then the Lord
said "I Will make a way for you just wait and
see." I was surprised. I never planned
That very same day our neighbor Mrs. Jenkins came
down to visit; she was the town gossip? "I
remember her saying, "Did you hear about that
college professor who's coming to Sunday meeting
to tell about college?I heard that this man
had a reputation for taking in poor kids and
paying for their school." Then she let out a
laugh that sounded just like one of our geese. It
made me Jump like a frog! I knew then that God
had just opened the windows of heaven for me!
When Sunday came, I couldn't get there fast
enough. Why! I believe I missed one or two of
papa's footprints along the way.
I was sitting there in Sunday meeting, the
College Professor said he was taken on a couple
of students that year and pay for their
education.I was so excited! He said "after Sunday
meeting, I will have a paper for you to sign and
then you will be informed by letter as what to
After Sunday meeting was over, I went up front
and told the man, I want to sign up. He told
me "Why little girl, you can't go to college,
this is a "man's world." Go now and sit down with
your Mama." No! Mister, I shouted. I have too!The
Lord say's so. Then the College Professor stopped
and turned his face to me his cheeks "pooched"
out with every word," I tell you what, I have
an opening for kitchen help there at the college,
if you finish your work and have the time, you
can take some of the college courses, but only if
you prove yourself to be a worthy student."
I will! I proclaimed.
The next morning, I had to break the news to mama
and papa, I was scared. I knew that they were
going to jump out of their skin. I remember it so
well,I eased up to the table like a puppy
begging for crumbs. Mama and Papa, I have
something to tell you, I announced." What is it
dear child?" Mama was looking at me with this
wild look in her eyes. “Go ahead and just spit it
out girl," papa wiped his mouth. I want to go to
that college and work in the kitchen. "Well
that's great news,"papa talked with his mouth
full while he slurped his coffee.There's more to
it Papa, I want to take Bible classes too." What
girl?Did I hear you say Bible classes?" He slams
his cup on the table, “ What on earth for?" So I
can be like you Papa." Like me? What made you
want to do that? “ I want to be a "backwoods
Bible thumper" like you Papa. I left running into
my room, crying again, cause my Papa wasn’t to
happy about that whole idea.
That night I heard the door squeak open, then I
felt a tall presence leaning over me. I turned
over and looked, it was papa! I was surprised to
see him standing there.Iwill never forget what he
said to me that night.
Papa sat down on the bed with tears in his eyes,
he took my hands and placed a few coins in
them. "Your going to need them for your trip,
sorry I wished it could be more, but it's all I
got.I love you dear, get a good night sleep,
cause tomorrow you will be leaving for college."
The next morning, I got up and joined my mama and
papa for breakfast.Things were quiet at first,
papa slurped his coffee once more, "girl you go
and do your best to fill your papa's shoes and
the Lord be with you." Mama kissed my cheek, and
sent me on my way.
Out the door I went, walking down that dirt road
stepping into every foot print singing out loud,
yes I am going to visit sick folks and preach at
Sunday meeting, just like you papa, just like
I spent fifty years in the ministry. I never
regretted it for one minute. Folks say, I turned
out to be a pretty good "Bible thumper" and I was
even better than my papa in his day. How’s that
for an old girl like me? Not to shabby, if I say
so myself. God bless y’all
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