After the coldest, wettest, most bitter late winter most any of us can remember, we should be kicked in our nether regions if we complain when it gets Africa hot here soon in north Louisiana.
Sweat beats shivering any ol’ day. Come on, sweet springtime!
Spring. It always takes the little-boy part of my brain back to Mr. PeaBug, who lived in a big white two-story wood farmhouse with the same dirt circle driveway of most of the other farmers in our Carolina county. He was short and tan and always carried a look of youthful surprise and wonder and happiness on his fleshy face.
The story of the nickname he earned in childhood should be better, but the simple fact is he liked to find a bug and eat it with a raw pea, right there in the field. Who doesn’t?
PeaBug. It fit. You loved him for his name and his easy-going disposition, but I had an extra reason: he gave me the best grass-mowing lesson I ever received.
Besides paying an 8-year-old-me to drive one of his tractors and occasionally pick his cucumbers when everything ripened at once, he paid me to mow his grass. The first day I did he stopped me in mid-mow because I was swatting gnats with one hand and pushing the mower with the other, one hand short of what was needed. Miserable.
“Cut a hole in your britches,” he said. “Sir?”
“If you cut a little hole in the back of your britches, the gnats will swarm down there and leave your face alone.”
Brilliant. That was Mr. PeaBug.
Wisely, he didn’t use that as an illustration the next weekend, the Sunday morning he had to fill in for the preacher at our little church. If he did, I didn’t hear it. This is because no one heard a single word of what we suspected was his sermon that morning.
It wasn’t his fault. Out of his heart’s goodness, he’d volunteered to pinch-hit when the preacher phoned him, somewhat shyly, to share the disconcerting news that a testy demon-possessed hemorrhoid he’d encountered would have to be exorcised. At once.
Exorcism or death, said the pastor, his distress obvious.
The timing was not ideal; this was Saturday evening. Sunday service was a few short hours away. Even under this kind of pressure, Mr. PeaBug was moved to compassion, maybe be- cause he’d experienced a bothersome hemorrhoid, or maybe because of the pastor’s sobs.
Either way, it was A Moment.
Unfortunately, sincerity does not a public speaker make. Mr. PeaBug was like all the other farmers I grew up around in that he never raised his voice. Calm on the outside through flood or drought, or at least that’s the way it appeared behind the clouds of cigarette smoke.
But on this Sunday morning, Mr. PeaBug, clearly out of his element, needed to raise his voice a little. The man who stood behind the pulpit was a man I’d never seen before. Or heard. We could tell he was talking, or trying to, because his mouth was moving…wasn’t it? Yes, it was definitely moving, because in the early going the gum he’d been chewing dropped out onto his Bible.
It is possible I heard him say something about God. He might have mentioned prayer, and possibly the devil. Something about a fishing net. And suddenly, his head was bowed, his eyes closed. He must have been leading us in prayer, because as soon as his head lifted, he walked quickly to the preacher’s chair and sat down.
He looked so wilted you couldn’t tell if he’d been preaching or plowing.
The whole thing lasted five minutes.
After it was all over I found him get- ting into his LTD. I thanked him.
“It’s not easy doing the work of the Lord, Mr. PeaBug,” I said. “That’s what my momma tells me. Says it’s a hard, hard thing to do sometimes.”
He smiled, or tried to.
And I told him I always cut a hole in the back of my britches whenever I mowed. And thought of him whenever I killed a gnat.
Teddy Allen is an award- winning columnist and graduate of Louisiana Tech, where he works
as a writer and broadcaster.