Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson

Episode 7: Powdered Blessings

April 27, 2021 Kelly Swanson Season 1 Episode 7
Prides Hollow Story Series by Award-Winning Storyteller Kelly Swanson
Episode 7: Powdered Blessings
Show Notes Transcript

Oh Lordy, you are not going to believe what happened to Aurora P Johnson in church. Everybody is talking about it. Get your daily laugh here.  Today's episode takes us back to Prides Hollow where the pastor has decided that for his bravery challenge, he will unite the churches in one colossal service. Come see what happens. We promise you won't be bored.

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 Powdered Blessings by Kelly Swanson
 

Sometimes bravery is knowing that every story has a flip side. And being smart enough to look for it. 

 

Prides Hollow is one of those towns that straddles the fence between the past and the future. New ideas to us are like window shopping. That dress looks shiny and cool when you’re walking by - but once you go in and look at the price tag - well, suddenly it’s not so appealing. 

 

So new ideas often stay behind glass - because traditions are hard to break.  But when they do - well, there’s always a story attached. Which is exactly what happened to Pastor Dave. 

 

When it comes to the hardest held traditions in Prides Hollow there are three that most always rise to the top. The organizational order of a woman’s kitchen. How a man packs his car for a road trip. And how we do church.  The only thing that can come between a soul and his religion, is another soul trying to tell him it’s wrong.

 

Which is EXACTLY why Pastor Dave decided that he would take the challenge from Old Man Withers to do what should have been done long ago - to UNIFY the churches. That’s right. Just once. To bring all the denominations together in one colossal worship service. And show them that they can come together in peace.  And in case you think that’s no big deal - it’s like gathering a hundred stray cats under one roof and putting out one bowl of food. 

 

But Pastor Dave was determined. This town had for years let religion become something to divide them. Why he’d never seen so much fighting over such trivial things like what color the new carpet in the parlor should be. Or whether there could be TWO First Baptist Churches. I mean there can really only be one First Baptist. Get in line. Can you imagine saying I’m a member of the 147th Baptist Church? Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. 

 

When the Pastor’s idea was spread around to the different churches in town, it had that shiny window shopping reaction. Unity always sounds good when you’re bringing people over to YOUR way. But on the other side of the glass window - well it was a different story. 

 

Pastor Dave did what every person in church history has done upon embarking on a new project - he formed a committee and planned a meeting inviting all the other churches.  A meeting that took about three hours. Ten minutes to open and close in prayer. And about 170 minutes of arguing over who would do what. 

 

Who’s going to preach? Surely it will be the one who’s been doing it the longest? You can’t get someone fresh out of the seminary. No telling what he was taught with all those newfangled professors they have these days. Probably got his sermon off of the Twitter. 

 

Just one service? At what time? Well how are you going to decide whether it should be early or later? You should take a vote.  And you should count the senior citizen vote twice - we are the ones who started this church. You just add up our tithes and see who has given more. My great grandaddy built the table in the parlor, in case you’ve forgotten. 

 

And what kind of music will there be? Surely you don’t plan on having drums. And none of those rambling songs they call praise and worship. I am not singing from a pull down screen for heavens’ sakes. Doesn’t make it more sacred just because you repeat it a hundred times. If it doesn’t have at least one rugged cross in it - I am out. 

 

And don’t even think you’re gonna get anybody to play the piano except Miss Eulaly. That woman has been sitting at that piano for 45 years. Never missed a Sunday.  She may be blind as a bat, and sometimes known to doze somewhere around the third verse - but she is annointed. 

 

Pastor Dave somehow managed to rally them all into some sort of a plan. And, yes, Eulaly would play the piano. Rest asssured. 

 

Because of the larger crowd, they needed a bigger space - which actually solved the debate over what church should get to host this.  And because they were all in full agreement that there should be a covered dish following - I mean name me a church that doesn’t follow special occasions with food - the logical place to hold the service was the school cafeteria. 

 

Doesn’t sound like a big deal. But what it meant was that there weren’t going to be any pews. 

 

To those of you who don’t know what a pew is - it’s a long wooden polished bench you find in a lot of churches - slick enough to slide down easy to make room  - hard enough to keep you from getting too comfortable and dozing off. 

 

To those of you who aren’t of the church going persuasion taking away pews is like sending someone to a football game and telling them they’re gonna sit outside the stadium.  

 

Maybe you’re already used to no pews - but in Prides Hollow - pews are still very much the norm - and, well, you might as well have told them that they were gonna start serving macaroni and cheese out of a box. And surely the Bible had a verse that addresses such blasphemy. 

 

Why should it matter? Because in most churches here, where you sit is where you rank. And the first two rows - well that is PRIME REAL ESTATE. It’s all about location location location. And a woman’s pew - some even adorned with a pewter tag of the family’s name - housed her entire family, any guests who’d come to visit, and any significant others currently in good standing.  If you slipped into the last pew of church on Sunday morning, your reputation was immediately questioned. 

 

So you can imagine on the day of this unique church service, what happened when all the founding families arrived in that school cafeteria to the chaos of choosing their own plastic seat. There were a handful of families who left right then and there and took their macaroni casseroles with them.   Nobody puts Mee Maw in a corner.

 

As natural selection would dictate, the front row filled up with the women who in their eyes most definitely belonged there. They were the matriarchs holding court - the women of every denomination who had come to “represent” their church’s affiliation. 

 

You had Ms. Winnifred who represented the school of you come to church in pantyhose or you don’t come at all. 

 

You had Ms. Freeda who was a checklist believer - and who always had the final say in what should be on that list.

 

You had Ms. Willow who believed church was better held in nature and whose idea it was to hold Sunday morning yoga classes before service.

 

And last on the end you had Aurora P. Johnson who, if churches had a Queen Elizabeth, she would be it.   Everybody loved and respected Aurora P. Johnson - no matter what church you went to. And there was a whole lot of Aurora to love. 

 

 Aurora P. Johnson was always the first to arrive to church, last to leave, and loudest to praise. And let’s just say that nothing was going to keep her from doing church HER way. 

 

She sat there proud in the front row that Sunday, in her favorite purple suit and matching hat with the plastic yellow and white daisies. Her white purse always matched her white pumps that were kind of hard to see, as she had more foot outside her shoe than in it. A large crystal butterfly broach the size of a tennis ball sat there regally on her bosom surveying her kingdom. 

 

 

After the initial whispers of who would ever put a service in a cafeteria that smelled of Friday’s tater tots - and the sight of those speckled lunch trays casting flashbacks to middle school - the service began.

 

Pastor Dave officiated with some words about how at the end of the day, we are all united in love and peace. And this one service is to remind us not of what divides us, but what holds us together.  And that nobody or no church is better than the other in the eyes of our creator.  Which a couple of people shouted an “amen” to. But only a couple. Most because they weren’t sure they exactly agreed with that - and the rest because shouting in church was just not acceptable. Were we raised in a barn?

 

They did a good job of choosing a variety of hymns. There was some good peaceful songs for the frozen chosen but then they started confusing everybody by mixing them up and adding drums.   And then - just when it was expected that you’d had enough worship - I mean there is a game starting soon - the music kept going. And started to….well….get a faster. And faster. And more upbeat. And the songs - wait - we haven’t heard these. They’re too, well, happy.  And why are you clapping? We don’t clap in church. And then a couple of people started stomping and then a couple more started cheering. And then some started raising their hands. And it was like nothing I had ever seen.  Why you’d think we were at a wedding when they played Leonard Skynard or something.  This was definitely getting out of control.  

 

You should have seen the front row of matriachs - each adjusting to this style of worship with a polite grimace.  But not Ms Aurora. She was in her element. Singing loudest of all. Shouting in between the lines - adding her own verses. At first it was clapping. Then she’s raising her hands. And then her chair starts to shift - and is she getting up? In the middle of the service? She sure is. 

 

I thought maybe she was going to leave - but, no, Ms Aurora P Johnson had no intentions of leaving. In fact, I’m pretty sure she was just getting started. 

 

And right there Ms Aurora jumps out into the aisle - apparently giving herself some more space to break free. 

 

The music kept getting faster and faster and poor Miss Eulaly at the piano working hard to keep up. I’m surprised she didn’t have a heart attack right there on the spot. But she was actually smiling. More than we’d ever seen her smile before. She was like a statue had come to life!

 

Safe to say that Aurora put Tina Turner to shame that morning as she let the music fill her. And fill her it did. I would even say it was overflowing. 

 

If you didn’t believe in miracles before, you would now, if you could have seen Ms Aurora flat out defying gravity. Every body part seemed to have its own choreography. Her rear end was riffing in its own solo performance. The daisies were bouncing around that hat like back up singers.  The woman showed no signs of stopping either. It was hard to stay focused on your own worship.  It was far more exciting to watch the spirit move in Aurora P Johnson instead. 

 

It’s hard to say exactly what started it all. Looking back, like most things, it undoubtedly started with one person. One person - who happened to be Herschel -  who saw something that looked like smoke. And one little word that set everything into motion. 

 

FIRE!

 

Ms Aurora’s on FIRE!  

 

It took a minute for people to catch on, as some just figured he meant on fire for the Lord. But no, he meant real actual ON FIRE. 

 

And sure enough, those closest to the front saw the plume of smoke and jumped into action. 

 

It’s true what they say about when danger happens we either flee or fight - ‘cause half the church fled. Rushed out the back door without so much as a look back - some stopping only to grab their casserole. Yep that’s unity for you.

 

The rest stayed to fight the fire. Which was kind of hard because they couldn’t exactly see the fire. But that sure didn’t stop them from trying anyway.

 

Everybody seemed to be spinning around at first trying to figure what to do next. 

 

We need to put her out! 

 

Somebody call 911. Wait. Don’t call. Norma’s working the phone and you know how she likes to talk. Just yell out the front door. They’re right down the street.

 

Well obviously when there’s fire, you think water. So people are pulling out bottles and dousing Ms Aurora with different variations of spring water, a couple of sodas, and one Mad Dog 2020 that we all turned a blind eye to. 

 

Somebody threw a sweater over her and yelled “Stop! Drop! And Roll!”

 

At this point Ms Aurora has gotten wind of her own demise, and she begins to wail and cry. Save me now Lord. Save me now! I’m too young to die. Not today. Not in the purple suit. I look much better in the yellow. 

 

And then someone doused her head with a whole pitcher of water, and Ms Aurora stops cold - frozen - her nostrils flaring. Like a bull about to strike. Water dripping off those flowers onto her face. Oh, did she have a new enemy now! Hell hath no fury like a woman who’s had her hair messed up. Lord’s day or not. I’ve never seen somebody go from worship to panic to rage in such a short amount of time. She came out swinging. She’s going for the purse. Everybody duck! 

 

That’s about the time the fire department comes running in, breathing heavy, and dragging that big old hose. Now by this point we’re all kind of just standing there. Except for Ms Eulaly who is still smiling and playing away on that piano - not missing a beat.

 

The fire department couldn’t really find a fire to put out, but shouted at us all to move to the back while they investigated. They insisted on putting Ms Aurora on a stretcher and taking her over to the hospital, as she looked fairly beat up. That butterfly was still clinging to its queen’s bosom like a trooper. 

 

They wheeled her out on the stretcher.  And Ms Aurora begins to, as my mamma used to say, milk the situation. Apparently she wasn’t ready to let go of her near brush with death. She’s wiping her brow and her chest. “Save me Lord. Save me from the grave.”  Waving to us as they carted her out - as any good Queen would do. Barking out orders on how she wants her funeral and we’d better all be there. And hire some wailers to cry over her coffin. They have those you know. Professional wailers. And don’t nobody wear yellow. It’s gonna be her color. Kind of like the bride’s the only one who can wear white. And make sure we get her cousin Janice to make the collards. Oh how she was gonna hate missing those collards. Why even heaven can’t get as much bacon in a pan as Ms. Janice.  

 

You’re not dying Ms Aurora, the fire chief whispered in her ear. We’re not even sure you were ever on fire. But she was beyond listening.

 

Most of the town followed the ambulance as it carried Ms Aurora over to the hospital, including Pastor Dave. No point in trying to resume the service after an episode like this. No sermon could rival this kind of excitement. And, besides, the waiting room of a hospital probably gets more prayer than a church pew. I’m just a saying. 

 

We were all sitting in the waiting room, filled it up really. Each of us telling our own Ms Aurora story. Family was there. Church folks. Neighbors. Fire department. Any other folks who had a special place in their heart for Ms Aurora. And a few extra who came just because they heard the sirens. 

 

It was one of those moments where the things you fought about just this morning - well - suddenly don’t matter as much. Most of us can walk into a hospital and be reminded of that personally.

 

We all grabbed hands when the doctor came out - bracing ourselves for the grave news -  already planning who was gonna make what casserole. But the doctor didn’t come in and make an announcement like they always do on Greys Anatomy. He took Ms Aurora’s daughter off to the side and whispered in her ear. Then he smiled and walked off. Smiled! How rude. 

 

Ms Aurora’s daughter took a minute to get herself together and came in to give us an update. You could tell she wasn’t exactly sure how to say it.  So she motions for Pastor Dave to come up and whispers in his ear. Then she sits down and leaves him standing up there looking like he was trying to gather his thoughts and be real careful about what he was going to say. We figured it must be really bad if the Pastor was being called up. 

 

Is she dead? Somebody whispered. Pastor shook his head. Nope. She’s just fine.  

 

Is she burned up?

 

No. No burns. Turns out, it wasn’t a fire after all.

 

But I saw smoke, said Herschel. The rest of us nodded - even though technically only a couple of people actually saw the smoke. 

 

 Well, said Pastor Dave - wasn’t exactly smoke either.  It was ….. well………Pastor Dave looked up into the ceiling for a minute like maybe hoping to get some help….it was, he said…talcum powder.

 

The words just kind of hung in the air as people tried to make sense of it.  Talcum powder. Like baby powder? Pastor nodded. 

 

The women got it first. Especially those who were bountifully endowed if you know what I mean. I understood right away. 

 

As long as I live I will never forget Pastor Dave trying to explain to the men and the skinny women what had happened to Ms Aurora P Johnson.  You could see him running through his pastor vocabulary list to find a more biblical word than bosom. For the record, there isn’t one.

 

So he finally just sighed loudly and spit it out. Ms Aurora P Johnson had put talcum powder in her bosom - apparently there was an issue with chafing. Chub rub is what I call it. 

 

And apparently, it was a particularly bad case which called for more baby powder than usual.

 

And if any of you is ever around when baby powder spills - you know how it can poof out just like smoke.  So you can imagine the powder keg that was brewing in that woman’s brassiere.   

 

And so when Ms Aurora P Johnson became filled with the spirit and started to dance and clap - well it caused a poofing reaction that looked just like smoke. At least to Herschel.

 

It took a minute for that to sink in and then laughter errupted from that room like an explosion.  People couldn’t breathe they were laughing so hard. Reliving each moment. And it got funnier each time we relived it and remembered something else.  Dousing her with water in a baptism she didn’t sign up for. Her rolling out on the stretcher yelling, “Don’t bury me in this bra! It itches!” And Ms Eulaly never missing a beat, kept banging on that piano like it’s the Titanic and she’s going down with the ship.  

 

Good thing Ms Aurora wasn’t in there. She would have been terribly embarrassed.

 

Normally with a story like this, we would all be busting out of there to find as many people as we could who hadn’t heard it yet. Jealous of those who had big families - more people to tell. 

 

But it was Ms Aurora. Everybody loved her. This would shame her.  She’d be mortified if she knew the whole town was talking about it.

 

So we decided that day, with permission from the Pastor since he was standing right there - that we would all partake in a lie.  A tiny white lie that we were pretty sure would be okay with the good man upstairs. That the truth wouldn’t leave this room. It would be our secret.  We were doing it for Ms Aurora. She never needed to know what really happened. 

 

When they released her, half the town sat there waiting for her to be rolled out in the wheelchair. They roll her out, and she’s sitting up there tall in her suit, hat back into position, butterfly standing at attention as she waved to her royal subjects. We cheered as if she were the queen herself.  She’s alive. Thank the Lord she’s alive!

 

 We explained to her that the fire was actually coming from Noreen’s oxygen machine. Something about a spark. Or a frayed wire or something. And we were all pleased that she wasn’t hurt worse in all the chaos. And surely she must need a rest after having such a brush with death.  And we were going to be bringing some casseroles over to her this week because she shouldn’t have to be cooking after such a traumatic ordeal.  And we were already researching where to find daisies to replace the ones on her hat. We were sure Hobby Lobby would have just the right thing. And we had all taken up a collection to help her get back on her feet again.

 

And not one word more was said about it. Ever again. At least not in public anyway.  Because some secrets are worth keeping. 

 

Pastor Dave doesn’t think his plan worked out - to unite the churches in one service.  I’m pretty sure he would assess that one as a failure. But I’m hoping that maybe he realized that we are more united than he thinks.  Sure. Maybe we don’t worship the same way. And maybe we argue over dumb stuff. And maybe when someone yells fire, we react without thinking it through. But when it matters - when it really matters - we pull together for the people we love. And sometimes we just need a little smoke to remind us. 

 

Sometimes being brave, is knowing that what you think is not always what is. And just because someone yells fire - doesn’t always mean it’s true.