My hometown church is having its 200th anniversary this month. While I was only there the first 16 years of my life, it’s the place that brings everything back to a much simpler time when my biggest concern was whether or not I’d have to “shell peas” when I got home or if I could just ride my bike somewhere to do absolutely nothing in particular.

The church was where I was playing Cops & Robbers at a nighttime kids’ function in the cafeteria. I was hiding in the kitchen area and still looking for a place to hide when one of the Cops looking for me – please remember, this was a game – opened the shutters to the kitchen. I quickly ducked, but when I did I hit my mouth on a counter and off popped the majority of a front tooth. From that day forward, I have sported an artificial tooth.

The church was where the Cub Scouts held their meeting, and later the Boy Scouts. I was up to be a leader of a pack or something once I reached Boy Scouts, and at a meeting in the same cafeteria, I pledged to never miss a meeting if I was elected. I was elected, but never returned. Other things that didn’t require me being prompt and orderly were more interesting at the time.

The church was where, again as an elementary kid, I was taken by my mother to a fun-and-games night for us young ‘uns. I got all disappointed when my mother, as my guest, did not win the cracker-eating contest. All she had to do was eat about 10 saltines with no water. You would have thought she had let me down the way I acted. Half a century later, I’m sorry, Mama. There’s no statute of limitations on saying I’m sorry.

The church would be where I got to watch and hear my mother play the piano and sing with her angelic voice. That, folks, is the epitome of pride, even for a young kid.

The church was where my Daddy jumped in what he thought was my grandmother’s Cadillac she had driven from a couple of states away for a visit. Back then, everyone left their keys in their cars, as well as kept their doors unlocked. It was right after Sunday church when my father was almost home and realized he had the wrong vehicle, he turned around and drove back to the church, where the owners of the car and police had gathered. He knew everyone, and after a few laughs, he hopped in my grandmother’s car.

The church was where I showed up, exhausted, after I discovered my father had passed on Christmas Eve of 1987. I was living in Oklahoma at the time. I sat on the runway for hours as they de-iced the plane. We landed in Dallas, where they had to do the same. By the time I arrived in Birmingham, a brother and my sister had spent hours awaiting my plane. It was late at night. We drove to Tuscaloosa, got to bed well after midnight, got up early and drove to Marion. I realized that during my rush I had forgotten to pack dress shoes. I wore sharkskin boots with slacks to the funeral, but I was too tired to care. Besides, I had just lost my father, so my footwear was the farthest thing from my mind.

Last year, it was the church where I was a pallbearer for Mickey. The woman who had been my “second mother” passed at 93. It was the first time I had been inside the church since my father’s passing 31 years earlier and only the second time since I was a teenager.

With the nomadic media life I’ve had spanning seven states, Marion United Methodist will probably be my second-to-last stop, you know, before the shoveling of dirt commences. Maybe Mama can eat a cracker, or 10, with me, or better yet, maybe she can just sing me a song, maybe Daddy will take the right vehicle to pick me up at my final resting place, maybe he’ll just have me shell more peas, maybe I can play Go Fish again with Mickey, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get my real tooth back.

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