The Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman

Chapter 24


            Yes, I do know how to spell church! You will have to read further to understand how this became not only Stinnett's first church but also its first official typographical error.

            When Old Man Stinnett platted his new town, he set aside land for a school, the court house and a city hall, but being an atheist he never considered the though of dedicating land for a church. It wasn't until after he died and Lawyer Tate got hold of all the vacant property was land donated for a church.

            Signal Hill, which had by this time become a ghost town, had a number of buildings whose owners had simply walked away with no intention of ever retiring. Several men from Stinnett went over there, jacked up one of the old dance halls, hitched about twenty mules to it and dragged it five miles to its new location in Stinnett. It was to become Stinnett's first church. While they were at it, they also moved a smaller house in and set it next to the church to become the parsonage.

            Fred Yont, who ran the Foxworth Gilbreath lumber yard and was the local jack-of-all-trades, offered to repaint the old sign which read "Jake's Place" with the name of the new church. I don't know if there was ever a meeting, a vote or even a discussion among the elders of the city to determine what denomination the new church would be, but since most of the people's ideas of religious doctrine were based on biblical stories about lambs, burning bushes and grape juice instead of wine in the communion glasses, it just naturally became a Baptist church.

            Fred arrived one Friday morning with his ladder, brushes and cans of paint. After painting the front of the building white, he carefully laid out the letters for the new name and went to work. I suppose that when one stands too close to anything, it's difficult to get the full picture, but when he was finished, the building had become the FIRST BAPTIST CHRUCH. It was Sunday morning before anyone noticed the error and by that time the paint was dry and nothing short of a new paint job would correct it. Fred concluded that since he had done the job for free and all the correct letter were there, although perhaps not in the right order, he saw no reason to do it over.

            Stinnett didn't have a regular preacher and had to depend on the services of various men of the cloth who happened to stop by there on their way to somewhere else. With a free place to live and a standing invitation to dinner at the table of one of the members, many of them tended to stick around for while. I don't remember this particular minister's name but he will forever be known as Preacher House Top.

            The house that they had moved from Signal Hill to use as the parsonage wasn't all that great a place to live but it hadn't cost them anything either. Since the members were far more interested in buying a piano and building seats and a baptismal for the church, little thought was directed toward improving the condition of the parsonage. One Saturday it came a good rain which lasted well into the night. On Sunday morning, the preacher didn't deliver his usual sermon on Hellfire and Brimstone, but he did come down very hard on rain and having to sleep in a soaking bed. He ranted on for a full hour about the deplorable condition of the roof on the parsonage and demanded that the congregation do something about it.

            On Monday morning, he found four bundles of shingles, a sack of nails and a ladder on his front porch. I suppose that Preacher House Top figured that fixing his own roof was beneath his dignity because when some of the people stopped by to help, the shingles and ladder were still there but he wasn't.

            During its days as a dance hall, the building would easily hold sixty or seventy people standing up and dancing belt buckle to bellybutton, but as a church, its maximum capacity was no more than a couple dozen if they wanted to sit down during services. Even as small as Stinnett was, the church tended to be standing room only for Sunday services. The preacher at that time was well aware that people sitting down have a much harder time evading the collection plate than those standing up because they are free to move out of the way when it comes their direction.

            He dedicated himself to convincing the people of Stinnett that they needed to build a new and bigger church. He preached a long and monotonous sermon on building a new church, using various metaphors and passages from the bible about building things to make his point. After about an hour, he figured that everyone was adequately soaked in both religion and enthusiasm so he was ready to hit them with the big gun. He pounded the pulpit and shouted, "All that it will take to build a new house where God can dwell is for just one man to have the courage to pick up his hammer and nail up that first board."

            In the back of the room, someone who obviously knew more about carpentry than symbolic rhetoric spoke up in a loud voice, "Hey Preacher, what's he going to nail that board to?"

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