As any 4-year-old with two brothers (10 and 12) can attest, life can be a minefield. It was the 1940s, and we lived in North Alabama’s Appalachian foothill country. There were few kids around to play with, so my big brothers sharpened their creativity by finding ways to tease or antagonize little brother.
I would be playing innocently, and here they’d come, walking slowly, grinning ear to ear, eager to test their latest taunts and tricks on me. I knew I couldn’t win, but I always fought back anyway. I’d pelt them with small stones, then run as fast as my little legs would carry me, knowing they would quickly overtake me and repay evil for evil.
My best friend moves in
Then Mama and Papa McWaters moved into our basement. And everything changed. This underdog now had a champion. Papa Mc was going to change my life. He quickly became my first “best friend” and my protector.
Soon, I had discovered how to handle my devilish brothers. When they approached, I would grab a handful of stones and get them airborne, begin screaming for help, and speed around the corner of the house toward Papa Mc’s door. I was safe! Needless to say, I seldom wandered far from that door.
Mom and Dad were both teachers, so while the rest of the family went to school, Papa Mc and I spent long hours each day, talking as we walked through the woods, or in silence as he simply watched me at play. The leathery features of his aging face still claim a place of honor in my mind. Unpretentious, quiet, and humble, he was my hero.
Now, 70 years later, my most vivid memory of an adventure with Papa Mc is sealed in my heart. He was a godly man whose daily practice of faith was solid and certain. But when summer revival came, I discovered a different side of my grandpa. When Clear Springs Church had revival that summer, he invited me along. We walked about a mile up the narrow, dusty road across Highway 231. The journey took us through patches of thick forest, cultivated fields, and cattle grazing in open pastures.
My best friend moves on
The revival service seemed like pretty normal church, until Papa Mc changed. My quiet grandpa spontaneously joined other worshipers in an explosion of shouting, dancing up and down the aisles, and parading from front to back of the little church using the pew backs like stepping stones.
It was the strangest, scariest display of human behavior this boy had every witnessed. It was both mesmerizing and terrifying. When this floor show of extravagant praise and worship concluded – almost as suddenly as it had begun – the service proceeded as if nothing unusual had happened.
Walking home that day, curious as I was, I asked no questions, and he volunteered no explanation of the spectacle.
Papa Mc died the next summer, and I never had the courage to question him about that day. But somehow, I just accepted that it was an act of worship reflecting his deep faith in the Savior with whom he had now gone to live.
These days, when I read the Psalms’ exhortations to praise God, I often remember that day and thank God for my Papa Mc:
The wilderness pastures overflow,
and the hills are robed with joy.
The pastures are clothed with flocks
and the valleys covered with grain.
They shout in triumph; indeed, they sing.
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!
Sing about the glory of His name;
make His praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awe-inspiring are Your works!”
(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared in Our Southen Memories.)