ILLARD WADE “DOUBLE DUB” FENDER sought a hard-working, undereducated, overdeveloped wife with standards. He’d begun to think she did not exist until he heard about the older divorcees who hung around Shoney’s breakfast bar and, in fact, that was where he met Loretta.
Older by a scant fourteen years her crinkled lips wrapped inward around short teeth and her hair, unevenly held back with a length of muslin or string, curled in a perennially tight perm. She required reading glasses for her blinky, strabismic eyes, but rarely wore them in public as the wearing of glasses was a sin against her church. Dub had thought himself religious but Loretta was the genuine article – an irrefutable, wholehearted devotee of the Church of God With Signs Following – she was a snake handler.
As Dub squeezed his stomach under the steering wheel he wished for something to nibble on while he drove. He rolled down his window, took off his shoes for the drive and tried to remember the location of the nearest Mickey D’s.
Not that he minded, mind you. Snake handling aside, Dub saw in Loretta exactly what he needed in his life – a big-breasted, tolerant woman willing to do the cleaning, cooking, canning and baking; laundering, pressing and sewing of clothes; feeding of animals and mucking of pens and stalls, and keen to plant, harvest and cultivate the garden; wash the pickup, the doublewide and the tractor, entertain his family at holidays and so forth. All she asked in return was that Dub attend Bible Study three nights a week over in Bald Hill and church, which lasted most of Sunday with a midday break for dinner.
The thing of it was, was that they married in summer – snake handling time at church. Admittedly only the anointed handled snakes—those who had enough faith in God Almighty to trust that they wouldn’t get bitten—but the whole idea went down tough with Dub. He could hardly stand to look at snakes, much less plunge his hand in a basket, grab up one or two and say, “Lookee here, I got the faith.”He’d sooner stick his finger in a live electrical socket – uninitiated parishioners sometimes did that instead. He figured that had to be at least good for you since he’d heard of people in the state hospital who got shock treatments to bring them to their senses. It seemed to Dub that if you got a little jolt every once in a while to blow out the carbon you could think clearer.
As Clearwater Settlement Cemetery’s row boss Dub groomed the grounds and dug graves. The digging couldn’t be done with anything other than a hand shovel, owing to the proximity of the graves – only fourteen inches apart – and he clipped the grass between the mounds by hand, with electric hedge clippers. The entire cemetery. By hand. Yes, it took time but owing to the generally low mortality rate in Clearwater, Dub’s time was as expansive as his sprawling waistline.
When Dub wasn’t digging a grave or hand-trimming the cemetery lawn and Loretta was not engaged in the multiple parts of her domestic life they watched religious programming on TV. They were most fond of the Saturday evening lineup: Gaither Homecoming Hour followed by Gospel Music Southern Style, and early Sunday they turned on the ultra-liberal Trinity Baptist Hour to remind themselves how easily one could go over the edge.
Dub watched more television than Loretta, owing to her manifold chores around the place and he liked to watch inspirational movies such as “Old Yeller” and “The Painted Desert” – except for those parts that dealt with snakes. Today Discovery Channel had several shows about snakes and Dub could almost feel those cold scales writhing across his palms. When he switched to the Shopping Channel they were selling snakeskin purses so he changed to an Animal Planet broadcast about iguanas and lizards in Mexico. Then he shut the television off and went to find Loretta, trying to get the whole idea of reptiles out of his head.
Loretta sat at the kitchen table reading mail. He slumped into the chair opposite and looked across the table at her. “Mmm, mmm,” she said, “the church wants us over in Flat Creek for two weeks, to help with the healing.”
“Why, on earth?”
“Well, it seems like they got more folks over there need healing than people who can lay on of hands.”
“Well, I ain’t anointed, I can’t help ’em.”
“You can do other things then. ’Sides, you need to drive me.”
“Your mother get called?Maybe you could ride with her.”
“I don’t know if Mama got called or not, but you need to see about getting yourself anointed, anyway. This would go a goodly distance toward your show of belief and devotion to the Almighty.”
Dying for a Faith continues...