Every so often I don the role of Embarrasem Keillor and tell the congregation a story such as the one below about the saints of a church named Sycamore located near Lake Woes-Be-Gone. When asked about how he sculpted his works, Michelangelo used to say that the sculpture was already hidden in the rock. He just removed the rest of the stone to release it. In a similar vein I do not write these stories. They write themselves. I simply remove the irrelevant details and unveil what is already here.
If you have never been to Sycamore church on one of its Men’s Work Days, it is a bit hard to explain to you what you are missing. The best way I can describe it is to ask you to imagine a series of outtakes of a now-defunct PBS program called “This Old Church” that somehow got mixed up with scenes from a Laurel and Hardy movie. Often the ladies of the church come to the building after one of these work days expecting to see great improvements rendered to the building, only to have their hopes dashed upon entering. They wander around the church building bewildered, asking one another such things as “Besides the tools scattered in the kitchen and the mess in the Fellowship Hall, can you see what they did?” or “I can see that they painted that wall, but why is there now a foot-wide hole in the middle of it?” or “Did your husband come home yesterday and greet you by saying , “I don’t want to talk about it?'”
Adding to the irony of these attempts at architectural splendor by the Sycamore men, whose own “Honey-Do” lists at home were miles long and growing by the day, was the appointed Director of Men’s Work Days, Jason Camery. Jason himself can be best described as a ten year-old boy with an active imagination trapped perpetually in the body of an offensive lineman. He had many titles at the church – Deacon, Assistant to the Pastor, Teacher, Congregational Chairman, Ex-Police Officer, Ex-Casket Salesman. These positions indicate the fondness the congregation had for him as well as explained why a flock of young boys always followed him around. Had he been asked by the church to do something that his background had prepared him for, such as be the Official Overseer of Tearing Apart and Reassembling Matchbox Cars, Jason would have shined. But being appointed Director of Men’s Work Days was almost more than his wife, who was willing to testify under oath regarding his ineptness at household repairs, could handle. When Jenny received the news about this new position she had shrieked, “You are kidding! What is that church thinking!! You cannot even change a light bulb without reading the directions!!!”
So with that in mind, you can better understand what happened on this particular work day. As we play our scene of “Laurel & Hardy at This Old Church,” Jason is on the phone with Tom Dinkledine, who is at Menards. For the fifth time that day. Tom is asking Jason a rather simple question. Could Jason check his (Tom’s) toolbox and see if he had any plumbing tape in it, or did he need to buy some? Here now is a description of the rest of the scenes of this episode.
Tom was patient and understanding when he had to explain to Jason what plumbing tape was used for and what it looked like. But there was a noticeable silence on the phone when Jason asked Tom what a toolbox was. After recovering, Tom described it, and Jason went on a search, phone to his ear, through the church to see if he could locate the toolbox.
The first man he came upon was a certain pastoral intern from Texas named Robert Lee Jones. Robert was on a stepladder fixing a light in the Fellowship Hall. Jason asked Robert if he had seen Tom’s toolbox, and Robert responded, “The last time I seen that thang it was by the pull-peeyit.”
Now Jason was accustomed to Robert’s twang. He had spent many hours in Greek class with Robert and heard him tell of all the different wild animals he had hunted down and eaten in Texas, everything from armadillos to woodchucks. So he usually did not need an interpreter to understand Robert. But after he decided that this three-syllable word he had heard could not be the “bullpen” or the “pool stick,” he asked again.
“By the what?”
“By the pull-peeyit.”
After several exchanges like this, with a description by Robert, “you know, that thang the pastor preaches behind up yonder,” Jason finally understood that this word that took Robert five seconds to say was “pulpit.” Smiling, Jason told Tom to hold on, and went up the stairs. As he went by the door, Jason pretended to shoot some bad guys out the window. Entering the sanctuary, he did not find the toolbox by the “pull-peeyit.” Only Rob Brookshire was in the sanctuary, up on a ladder patching plaster walls.
“Hey, Rob,” Jason called. “Have you seen Tom’s toolbox?”
Rob looked down at Jason in bewilderment. “Are you still looking for that thing?” One can understand Rob’s question. In the time Jason had been looking for the toolbox, Rob had plastered and painted ten spots in the sanctuary, helped install some emergency exit lighting, glued down a dozen loose tiles in the Fellowship Hall, caulked several windows, and done several other odd jobs. Probably if fewer men had showed up Rob could have gotten much more done. “I saw it down with Loren by the bathroom,” he replied.
Undeterred with yet another setback, Jason turned and headed back down the stairs. As he did, he quoted outloud several of his favorite lines from the Nemo movie. This caused Tom to ask over the phone “Excuse me?” several times until Jason awakened again to his surroundings and told Tom to never mind.
Jason walked into the downstairs bathroom, whistling the theme song to the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and called out, “Hey Loren, what’s up?”
Jason was oblivious to the tension in the bathroom, for Loren Artherhults was, shall we say, slightly agitated. Earlier that morning he had been drilling a hole for a gas line through a wall so a new oven could be put in the kitchen, but five minutes into the drilling water squirting out of the hole at him indicated that his plans for the day had changed. When Jason entered upon him, Loren had been spending his day cutting an access hole into the wall to reach the punctured water line, chipping it out of the concrete in which it was buried, capping the old line, and then replumbing the other lines that had run into it. Numerous interruptions and setbacks had made Loren, who spent his weekdays as a construction supervisor bidding on multi-million dollar contracts, conclude that was a much easier line of work than spending a Saturday with the Sycamore crew.
Jason, with his usual cheery, cartoonish disposition, did not value fully the frustration of a true working man. So with a voice that made Loren feel like the drill had gone into his spine rather than the water line, Jason said, “Tom’s at the store trying to,” and at this Jason broke out into the commerical jingle, “save big money at Menards.” Jason went on, “Heh-heh. He’s trying to buy plumbing tape. Do you know where his toolbox is?”
To his credit, Loren kept his cool though he used his “I’m-gonna-get-this-job-done-if-it-kills-me” construction voice with Jason. “I know Tom’s at Menards. He’s been there all day. His toolbox is in the kitchen. Now, could you get out of my light? I thought an eclipse occurred when you walked in here.”
Jason laughed, not at Loren’s lunar humor, but at the irony that he had answered the original phone call in the kitchen where the toolbox had been all along. He went in there and sure enough, after mistaking the microwave for it, he located Tom’s toolbox. After ten minutes of rummaging through it to no avail, and repeatedly telling Tom to hold on, he took the toolbox back to Loren to see if he could find any tape. Loren glanced at the box and said, “Tell him he doesn’t have any and to buy the 69 cent tape roll and get back here pronto. I’ve remodeled an H.H. Gregg store in less time.”
The next day was the Lord’s Day. The men had scattered like whimpering pups when they had seen Sharon McKissick, the matron of Sycamore, enter the kitchen to see the new oven and then not find it there. The look she gave Jason when he told her the men had not gotten the oven put it but had replumbed the toilet would have made an army general wilt. Yet something happened that day that not only erased the men’s frustration but gave them immense satisfaction.
You see, when they had replumbed the toilet, they had mistakenly run the hot water line into it. The saints were all enjoying the lunch in the Fellowship Hall when who else but Sharon made the discovery. The excited conversation and general buzz of noise and activity were brought to a sudden halt and silence when out of the bathroom came a loud “WHOOO-HOOO-HEE-HOOOOO!” For a moment, everyone froze. Then, out of respect and proper decorum, the conversations picked up where they had left off and the buzz of joy returned. But all across the Fellowship Hall the men exchanged knowing glances and nods, and little smirks brought on by a job well-done popped out on their faces.
So ends another tale of the saints of Sycamore located near Lake Woes-Be -Gone, where the men are all good looking, the women are mean cooks, and the children all above average in Scripture memory.
P.S. Don’t forget to check the date.