My biggest regret as a Common Tater is that, no matter how hard I try to persuade Sweet Tater, she won’t let me quote her in my column. She feels that our conversations are confidential and should remain that way. Although I’ve even offered to attribute all her sayings to “my first wife,” for some reason she doesn’t like that idea either. But I guess I really can’t blame her. She’s right; I do need to keep our private communications private. But then technically, I guess I’ve actually just now quoted her. You can’t win sometimes.
Even so, and though she be unquoted, Sweet Tater remains my constant inspiration. I don’t mean to say that like some sanctimonious blow george in the pulpit on Sunday morning, either. Every time I hear a preacher start showering his wife with sugary, lovey-dovey compliments during a sermon I want to ask him—and her, too—if her familiarity with his private conduct ever prompted her to shout and rejoice and shake hands with the sisters while he was up sermonizing. In twenty-odd years of churchgoing and pastoring I never saw such a phenomenon from Sweet Tater, nor did I expect to. She knew, and knows, me too well for such as that. But I guess the main reason she’s inspirational to me is the fact that, though we lock horns and butt heads from time to time like people with strong opinions must, more often than not she and I find ourselves in a conspiracy against the rest of the world—and once in a while, that very conspiracy itself takes a wry, humorous turn on its own. She’s a wonderful co-conspirator, whether we’re conspiring or being conspired against, or both.
To illustrate, I’ll tell the story of a sermon that she and I once heard together. For the record, it wasn’t from either Brother Drye or Brother Beare, but rather an out-of-state guest one Palm Sunday years ago at a church I pastored. He began his discourse by telling the Palm Sunday story from the twenty-first chapter of Matthew in the King James Version of the Bible, a portion of which reads (verse 5): “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee meek, and sitting upon… a colt the foal of an ass.” Meaning, of course, in the Shakespearean English of the good old King James, that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey, but that morning my visitor tried to quote that particular verse from memory—and he got the words “foal” and “ass” exactly backwards. I was sitting behind him in the pulpit and so he couldn’t see my facial expression when I heard that Our Lord had entered Jerusalem perched on the southern end of a northbound foal, but I looked over to the sisters’ section of the congregation at Sweet Tater, she looked back at me, and both of us lifted songbooks almost simultaneously to hide our faces. We couldn’t hold our hymnals there forever, though, and so I think we passed the rest of the service wearing broad grins which I suppose we both hoped appeared indicative to everybody else of how happy we were in our salvation that blessed morning. After the service was over I couldn’t even bear to point out Brother Foale’s misquote to him in private; he was always very serious and earnest in his conduct and thus it would have been too embarrassing for both him and me, and in any case I couldn’t have repeated what he said with a straight face if my life had depended on it. Even now I can’t. I still laugh out loud almost every time I think about the incident, this many years later. But that evening Sweet Tater and I became reflective, and sad as well, when we realized that of all the people in attendance at church that morning, we were the only adults even to notice that we’d been “blackguarded,” as the old folks’ saying went, by an ordained minister. Nobody else was paying close enough attention to the preacher’s words to pick up on the gaffe. So maybe the biggest, dirtiest joke was on the pastor and his wife, after all.
Oh, well. At least Brother Foale didn’t infuriate my flock by mentioning any Bible verses about makeup or divorce. That’s something, anyway. I won’t quote any of mine and Sweet Tater’s discussions on those two subjects, but one day I may tell you how another minister burbled verbally over Ephesians 6:16’s “fiery darts of the wicked”—if I can just figure out how to word it in a family newspaper.