At first, Lonnie Johnson thought Hooter and the boys were laughing at him, bunched up on the other side of his feed store window, pointing and beating their knees.
Lonnie blustered out the door demanding an explanation.
All anybody could do was point at the sign hanging in the window, which served as one of two unofficial bulletin board marquees for Apache Flats.
The bright yellow poster board was painted with spring colors and music notes: “This Wednesday…The Inimitable Nelda Isselfrick…Will sin for charity—one night only!”
Lonnie glanced at the sign. “So? She does every year.”
A new cascade of laughter.
“Not this, she doesn't,” sputtered Hooter, pointing to the innocent looking word, perfect except for a single missing letter.
“Oh, grow up,” started Lonnie. But even he had to chuckle. If there was one person in Apache Flats who wouldn't even say the word sin in public, it was Nelda Isselfrick.
“I haven't been to one of her annual cantatas for a while,” chuckled Peetie. “I reckon we'd better mark it on the calendar this year.”
Honking horn, flashing headlights, Aunt Pinkie jerked her Lincoln to a sliding stop beside the crowd and stuck her head out the window. Pointing at the same sign she'd just seen at the post office—the town's other unofficial point of information—she roared, “I'm not saying anything, but you will notice it's the Baptist Church sponsoring her.” And she was off in a cloud of dust.
Anyone who has known the blessing and curse that goes with being part of the extended families that are small communities and towns can appreciate Nelda's newfound plight.
Best Intention and Other Slips
The boys had barely poured cups of coffee to speculate on how Nelda was taking the situation when Leonard Tonstull, the most recent circuit riding preacher for Apache Flats First Baptist Church gingerly opened the door, giving sideways glances to the offending sign.
“Mr. Johnson, I um…I uhhh…”
“You can go ahead and say it, preacher,” said Lonnie kindly. “We've already seen it. It's no big deal.”
“Well, as you can imagine, Sister Isselfrick is beyond mortified. I am, too. I don't know how we could have made such a blatant mistake. If you don't mind, I'll just take the sign down.”
“We can change the sign for you, just add the “g”, no problem,” said Hooter.
“You'd get a better turnout if you left it the way it is,” said Izzie, not trying to make a joke. Then, “Oowwwwch!” Peetie had kicked him.
“I'm afraid Sister Isselfrick is in an awful state, says she just wants to cancel the show. I'd been looking forward to it, too, as I'm sure all of you have.”
Lots of grunts and shuffling.
“Can we at least keep it for our collection?” said Hooter.
“I beg your pardon.”
“We'll show you,” said Hooter, motioning the young preacher toward Lonnie's back room. “Somewhere along the way, I think it started with Lonnie's daddy, we all started bringing in church bloopers and such when we ran across them.”
“Reminds us of where to keep our focus, without taking ourselves too serious,” said Lonnie.
Preacher Tonstull eyed the walls, which were papered with old church bulletins, newspaper ads and handwritten notes.
“This is one of my favorites,” said Hooter, pointing to a newspaper ad: Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.
“The women all like this one,” said Peetie, pointing to a yellowed bulletin: Ladies, don't forget the rummage sale. It's a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don't forget your husbands.
“Yeah, they're not so crazy about this one,” said Hooter: The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind. They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
Or this one: The men's group will meet at 6 pm. Steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread and dessert will be served for a nominal feel.
Or even this one: Let us join Bill and Eunice in the celebration of their wedding and bring their happiness to a conclusion.
“But most everybody likes these,” said Lonnie, pointing to an assortment on the north wall:
The Women's League reported that Mrs. Springston, a grandmother of five, made a hole in one last week. Good Shooting!
This Friday is our annual church hayride. Bring a pack of hot dogs and guns. We'll have a good time.
The class on prophecy has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
“So you see, that little sign of yours is nothing for you or Nelda to worry about,” said Hooter.
“I don't know that Sister Isselfrick will see it that way, exactly, but I do appreciate your understanding,” said the young preacher.
Best as anyone could tell, no one said another word about the signs…until Wednesday night.
Norvis LeRoy Underwood, a schoolmate of Nelda's who had tried unsuccessfully to court her for more than a half century, showed up at her door, hair greased back and wearing his best pair of overalls: “Been saving my pennies, Miss Nelda, I come for the show.”