Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Dynamic Duo and Clarence

Randy Allstun

Ronda, one of my two sisters, is just thirteen months younger than I. Growing up, we were about as close as a brother and sister could be. Obviously, this means we fought like cats and dogs. We did spend a bunch of time together, and in our younger years we sat together in church, planted right between Mom and Dad. By not incurring the wrath of our father by entertaining ourselves too noticeably, we survived hundreds of sermons without detriment. What we did notice over the long years of endless droning about Hell and Damnation were the idiosyncrasies of the people around us. Ronda and I spent countless evenings mocking our fellow Christians (when Mom and Dad weren’t listening) and giving them nicknames. At eight and seven years of age, we did not know too many adult names, only what we picked up at family dinners, so our private nicknames stuck.

There was, of course, Stinky. Every congregation has one. Stinky was a congenial greeter who made sure no one escaped his crushing handshakes. His effervescent personality and uncanny ability to retain enormous amounts of data on every single member of our church made him an ideal fixture at the main doors. It didn’t hurt that he had the appearance of a lovable, huggable grizzly. (Stinky had lots of hair—everywhere—and substantial bulk.) Stinky was an endearing presence.

“There’s that scrawny Allstun boy. Flora, you need to feed that boy. Put it there, son,” he would growl while sticking forth a mammoth paw. “Great job at the game yesterday.”

Stinky had the genuine talent of crushing a hand right to the point of permanent injury before releasing. His iron grip would always be accompanied by some personal compliment or anecdote about things that I could never figure out how he knew. He had the annoying tendency to draw a person close when engaging in his greeting mantras, and that is when it hit. A repulsive, nauseating, fermented odor would discharge through the gray-speckled, tangled beard that covered his face. (I could always tell what Stinky had for breakfast.) I learned quickly to hold my breath when under the odoriferous onslaught. Mom would often reel for several moments after a Stinky encounter.

Tabby was a tiny lady, probably around thirty or so, that always dressed in orange. With a pensive countenance, purplish tint to squinted eyes, and quick, graceful, feline movements, she was the spitting image of one of our cats. Ronda firmly believed that she was a cat-woman and studied Tabby intently during service, hoping she would betray her identity with an audible purr or regurgitated hairball. We pondered how she would land if pushed off the church roof. Alas, that scientific opportunity never came to fruition.

Yes, we christened a Bertha, Queeny, Boobs, and Scarecrow. We secretly raked Snake, Willy, and Gassy (guess why) over the proverbial coals. Even Pimple Boy and Crying Cora could not escape our avid interest.

Brother William we did know. At an age that had to rival Methuselah, Brother William was a distinct and powerful presence among the congregation. Being a former preacher, he was supremely knowledgeable about the Bible and was constantly bombarded with questions of a spiritual nature. With a gleaming bald pate, piercing blue eyes, and shriveled, prune-like body, Brother William had a predatory demeanor. When I was a little younger, I thought he was the actual Holy Ghost. Frankly, he scared the crap out of us.

“Sonny,” he would begin with a nasal resonance, “have you been good and saying your prayers?”

“Yes, Brother William,” I would dutifully reply.

“Only good boys that love the Heavenly Father and Blessed Jesus can go to Heaven,” he would continue in the typical lesson he administered to anyone under thirty.

“Yes, Brother William.”

“Bad boys burn forever in Hell’s fire, you know?”

“Yes, Brother William.”

Patting me hard on the head with his skeletal hands, he would always finish, “I will pray for your soul, son.”

“Thanks, Brother William.” Thanks indeed.

Sister Frances was another character known to all in our church. At least ninety, Sister Frances always perched herself on the front pew, right in front of the pulpit, straining to see and hear the pastor not six feet away. I kind of felt sorry for her. Usually sitting alone, hidden by enormous glasses and an ill-fitting gray wig, she was a debilitated shell of a woman. Unlike Brother William’s popularity, I do not remember Sister Frances talking to very many people. Even my sister and I in our ignorant youth felt pangs of pity for her.

These two pillars of our church had something in common. They were the shouters in our otherwise tranquil house of worship. Many a sermon was interrupted, energized, and sometimes halted by the emotional bursts of these two stalwart Christians. “Glory!” would escape the parched lips of Brother William, and “Amen!” would explode from the sagging mouth of Sister Frances. Sister Frances would never initiate the outbursts; she would instantly follow the exclamations of Brother William. So the “Glory!” and “Amen!” would come in rapid, and very thunderous, succession. Because of this connection between the shouters, Ronda and I promptly started referring to them as the Dynamic Duo, a gift from our respectable collection of comic books.

Eventually, that wily sister of mine discovered the triggering mechanism that sent Brother William into verbal spasms. Any mention of the “Blood of the Lamb” or just “Blood” launched the sonic assault. At first, as always, I didn’t believe her, but sure enough, after a couple of lengthy sermons, the mention of “Blood” was followed by the familiar “Glory! Amen!.” What’s more, Brother Bogle, our pastor at the time, apparently aware of this information, would size up bored audiences and throw out a “Blood” or “Blood of the Lamb” every now and then to liven up the party. Since Brother William did not adhere to the THOU SHALL NOT SIT IN ANOTHER’S SEAT commandment, the initial blast came from myriad directions. My family would locate Brother William immediately upon entering the sanctuary so as not to be blindsided.

Enter Clarence. Well, I still do not know what his name was, but to Ronda and me, he was a Clarence. Clarence was an older gent, probably around sixty or so, that sat at the far left of the pew directly behind us. A pudgy fellow with thick glasses, Clarence always appeared unkempt and tired. I say tired because much of the time that the preaching was going on, Clarence was fast asleep, giving his unconsciousness to God, glasses dangling from his nose. Ronda and I would sneak furtive glances over our shoulders to glimpse this slumbering enigma only to receive sharp, disapproving stares from Grandpa and Grandma and a painful pinch on the upper thigh from Dad.

In those days my sister and I were not exposed to profanity very often. The television and the music of the 70s were kept under the illusion of control, and my parents just did not use that much improper language around us. The few times I tempted fate with a “hell” or “damn” or even “darn” introduced me to the culinary horrors of Ivory soap. I was lucky if I could sneak by a subdued “butt” or muffled “idiot.” Needless to say, I was astounded one Sunday morning when a booming piece of profanity reverberated around our sacred sanctuary.

It was an ordinary Sunday. Pastor Bogle was telling us what bad sinners we all were, Ronda and I were engaged in a covert game of I-Touched-You-Last, Dad was clipping his fingernails, Mom was scouring the church looking for fashion blunders, and Clarence was sawing logs. The sheep were in the meadow and the cows were in the corn.

Pastor Bogle, annoyed at the lack of attention he was receiving, decided once again to tap into his faithful arsenal. “We are all washed in His Blood!” he bellowed to his inattentive flock.

As expected, the Dynamic Duo unleashed the “Glory! Amen!” to stir the Lord’s Spirit, but instead a resounding “SHIT!” followed the echoes of the Dynamic Duo, as well as a muted thump. Clarence was stirred from his sleep right to the sanctuary floor. After the rude awakening, the involuntary utterance of horrific scope could not be contained, nor what followed. With his arms and legs tangled in comedic pose, silence fell for all of two seconds before chaos reigned. My sister and I laughed until we cried, at least half the congregation guffawed uncontrollably, Brother Bogle just stood there with a dumbfounded look on his face, Dad struggled mightily not to laugh, Mom giggled through tight lips, Grandma looked as if she would commit murder, Clarence regained his seat with beet-red cheeks, but the Dynamic Duo resumed their attentive postures, waiting for the next opportunity to serve the Lord.


Randy Allstun is a farmer and teacher in extreme Southeast Missouri. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a major in mathematics and minors in science and English. He has been writing essays and poems for years, but only for his students.

© Randy Allstun

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012