I was in the fifth grade. Chuckles said to me, "Boy, I woodn't wanna be in yo' shoes, when yuh gits to heaven. You steal from da' church. You is takin' from da Lord. Da Lord gonna send yuh straight to da devil." Then he chuckled. That's the way he ended everything he said. Hence, his nickname. Chuckles would say something and then go, "Huh, huh, huh." Kind of a sarcastic chuckle. Like he knew about something nobody else did.
Chuckles was a little wrinkled, bald-headed, black man, with light pigment splotches all over his arms, hands and one side of his face. Contrary to his nickname, he was not a happy man. He looked after the grounds of the downtown, red-bricked Presbyterian church in Franklin, Tennessee.
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Rain brings back memories of rainy days
- Southern Folks: Looking for a feeling right as rain
- Southern Folks: My father, the SOB (sweet ole Bill)
- Southern Folks: Doing hard time with Miss Swann
- Southern Folks: Life, God and the world according to Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Remembering all our heroes on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Miss Juanita was a legend in her own mind
- Southern Folks: Gene Autry, the singing cowboy
- Southern Folks: OK, God, this is your last chance
- Southern Folks: Mr. Elvin was a quiet man
- Southern Folks: Saturdays made better with Green Stamps
- Southern Folks: Old Battle Axe, her dog and the Golden Rule
- Southern Folks: Praying and flying and Mrs. Silva's birds
- Southern Folks: Beans, Ole Tom and well-dressed scarecrows
- Southern Folks: Telephone party lines always rang up a good time
- Southern Folks: Good manners make good neighbors, even the scary ones
- Southern Folks: The orphans in my life taught me plenty
- Southern Folks: Family tragedy from 1968 still haunts
- Southern Folks: Everyone called him Doc Dean
- Southern Folks: Blue ribbons from the county fair for me and Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena's younger brother, Watt
- Southern Folks: Scrapbooks, pictures and memories
- Southern Folks: Old-timers and the twins
- Southern Folks: I knew an old woman who lived in her shoes
- Southern Folks: Mama Sue ruled the roost, without ever raising her voice
- Southern Folks: The formula for a full life
- Southern Folks: Facts, fiction and fibs about the holidays
- Southern Folks: Two days before Christmas
- Southern Folks: Mrs. Freeland, my favorite customer
- Southern Folks: In loving memory of Magic Man
- Southern Folks: Memorable mornings with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Be happy for what you have
- Southern Folks: Thanksgiving with Stumpy and the boys
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Jesus, for cold water
- Southern Folks: Autumn, miracles, magic and crawdads
- Southern Folks: Remembering Sundays with Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Mr. Glassman was a grump
- Southern Folks: I'm a Mormon, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic
- Southern Folks: Lessons at the table with Miz Lena
- Southern Folks: Sleeping in Elizabeth's bed
- Southern Folks: Chewing the rag with Mr. Remus
- Southern Folks: Remembering sweet, soft Southern summer nights
- Southern Folks: Sometimes the Lord understands why you lie
- Southern Folks: Thunder, lightning, bad words and politics
- Southern Folks: Growing faith through God's hidden treasures
- Southern Folks: Military academy and the power of prayer
- Southern Folks: I was raised to appreciate 'country simple'
- Southern Folks: Learning patience with a blackberry pie
- Southern Folks: Good people live in small Southern towns
- Southern Folks: Time to start carrying a big stick
- Southern Folks: 'You gotta do what the Bible says'
- Southern Folks: Celebrating the Fourth of July in the country
- Southern Folks: Never try to pull one over on a Southern woman
- Southern Folks: Blind Remus
- Southern Folks: Up on the hill under a tree
- Southern Folks: My friend Calvin was a precious child and a nice young man
- Southern Folks: Thinking about Duffy on Memorial Day
- Southern Folks: Watching TV with my grandparents
- Southern Folks: The Lord works in mysterious ways
- Southern Folks: Hard country love good prep for Marine Corps
- Southern Folks: Thank you, Lord, for roadkill
- Southern Folks: God is colorblind
- Southern Folks: The Lord doesn't look the other way
- Southern Folks: Grandparents' farm sits just below heaven
- Southern Folks: Lessons in life from Elizabeth
- Southern Folks: Memories of spring on Miz Lena's farm
- Southern Folks: A salute to Mr. Jenkins, the first war hero I ever knew
- Southern Folks: Baptism, Miss Mama and thunderstorms
- Southern Folks: Wedding receptions, pigeons and chuckles
- Southern Folks: Always a chance of rain
- Southern Folks: Skeeter the coon hound's great escape
- Southern Folks: Ghost at the grocery store
- Southern Folks: Willie and his wife vs. a mess of crazy people
- Southern Folks: Karma - country style
- Southern Folks: No time for crybabies
- Southern Folks: In search of the silver lining
- Southern Folks: Into the weeds with Ole Tom
- Southern Folks: Miss Bobbie and David and Goliath
- Southern Folks: My favorite Christmas memory reminds me to be grateful
- Southern Folks: Christmas fruitcakes and TV dinners
- Southern Folks: Dining out with Miz Lena over the holidays
- Southern Folks: Dressing up for the Lord and lessons in love
- Southern Folks: Memories of a southern Thanksgiving
- Southern Folks: God's secret
- Southern Folks: A belated happy birthday to the Marines and happy Veterans Day to us all
- Southern Folks: They called him Angel
- Southern Folks: Sunday lunch and Monday leftovers...perfection
- Southern Folks: 'Genies don't work as good as God'
- Southern Folks: Miz Lena had a remedy and an answer for everything
- Southern Folks: Tap dancing straight to a refund
Chuckles kept his head down, slump-walked and chain-smoked. Talking to himself. It always sounded like he was arguing with somebody.
Chuckles would start ranting with that cigarette hanging off his lip. The cigarette would start bobbing up and down, and he'd start walking in circles. He'd throw his hands up and holler out the names of women in his life and verbally read them the riot act. "
Once, Chuckles complained to me, "Boy, deez church peoples is workin' da hell outta me. Huh, huh, huh." That made me think. I threw it back to him with, "Church is supposed to get the hell out of you, Chuckles." That made him think. And he thought some more. I could see him ticking.
Then he jumped up and said, "Boy, git yo' little white butt up outta here! Git yo'self home! Right now! Huh, huh, huh." He chuckled, but I knew he was serious. His brood had set in, and it was time for me to go. On my way out, he said, "And yuh better hope some lightnin' don't hit yuh on yo' way home. I done told yuh to leave dem pigeons alone." I was already on the sidewalk when he came to the church's side door and yelled out, "Dey is da church's pigeons!"
Things between Chuckles and me were a little dicey. We were sorta competitors.
Every once in a while, the church would have Chuckles go outside and fire off a 12-gauge to scare the pigeons away. According to Chuckles, the preacher said that bird droppings on the sidewalk and steps that led to the entrance of the church were not only downright nasty but might leave an adverse and unfavorable impression with the congregation. When it came time for them to drop their monetary thanks into the offertory basket, the preacher didn't want the church members to be thinking about "pigeon poop."
You gotta hand it to those Presbyterians. They think of everything.
Chuckles didn't just shoot the shotgun up in the air. He shot to kill the pigeons. Then he'd eat them. I, on the other hand, shimmied up to the top of the church and caught baby pigeons. I took them home and fed and watered them for awhile. Then I sold them to kids in the neighborhood for $3 apiece.
I wasn't on the best terms with the preacher. He had caught me, red-handed, sneaking into wedding receptions. In good weather, they'd leave the church's front and side doors wide open. There was always great food, fancy appetizers and desserts. The aroma of fried chicken and potatoes oozed all the way out to Main Street.
I'd run home, put on my Sunday School clothes, return to the church and do my best to blend into the crowd. That summer, I pretty much attended every wedding reception held at the church. Sometimes two or three a week. I couldn't get enough of their fabulous foods. Shredded chicken, thin-sliced tomatoes and baby shrimp on a cracker. Filet mignon! Ice cream! Not to mention engaging conversation.
With his hand around the back of my neck, Rusty, an assistant to the preacher, escorted me all the way out of the church. He told me to go home and never let him see me at another reception and that the preacher wanted to see me the following morning.
I showed up.
The preacher started in on me. By the time he was finished, I felt like the worst mortal sinner of all time. He convinced me that my life as I knew it would never be good until I redeemed myself with the Lord.
Of all people, Chuckles came up with the solution. He told me that most everyone of the preacher's flock gave the church 10 percent of their earnings. I should do the same for each pigeon I had taken from the church. I gave Chuckles $1.50. Five birds at 30 cents each. He assured me that he'd pass it on to the preacher. I was relieved. There was a part of me that wondered if Chuckles passed on my monetary offering to the church. Maybe. Maybe not.
I figured God observed the transaction. Surely, he had to know that I saw the light and was trying to do the right thing by giving him 10 percent of my gross. I had repented. I was squared up. Chuckles, not me, would someday have to answer up to the Almighty about the missing $1.50.
I stopped taking pigeons from the church and crashing their wedding receptions. I attended a couple of receptions at another church on the other side of town. I think they were Baptists. Could have been Methodists. They had some pretty good fried chicken. Their coleslaw wasn't bad. I even got a couple of compliments from old ladies on my Sunday School clothes.
I believe that all people of faith are good and decent. All churches and denominations are about doing the right thing. And I believe God opens his heart to us all, regardless of what religion we practice.
But there's something about those Presbyterians. They sure know how to party.
Bill Stamps spent four decades in the entertainment business before moving from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Tenn. Contact him at email@example.com or through Facebook.