The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Frog Who Went To Church

By Frances T. Craig © 1985

Issue: July, 1985

Like most children reared in the "Bible Belt" of the South, our social life centered around the church.

There were special programs for children, baptizings, revivals, summer picnics and dearly loved Christmas programs that my brother Charles and I were always in. "Born show off Irish," my mother called us.

We loved to walk the half mile to church with a large group of children. Our mother seldom allowed it, for she wanted to take us in, dressed in our Sunday best and neat. If we walked, we would arrive with sashes on our dresses pulled loose, hair ribbons dangling or lost, shirt buttons pulled off and dirt kicked all over white socks and patent leather shoes. So we rode, very much against our will. We loved the friendly and sometimes unfriendly fights.

The towering mountains looming blue over us, the running little chipmunks, bird songs and the flowers all along the winding little road must have made more of an impression than we realized. Now the vivid memory of it all calms my restless nights.

I particularly remember one beautiful, hazy September morning when Charles and I were allowed to walk with the other children. Mother wasn't feeling well enough to go, and Father sneaked off to go fishing.

As we were walking along with Albert, our constant and favorite playmate, he suddenly paused several feet behind the group and said, "Wait A Minute." We paused and looked expectantly at him.

"Do you know what Old Lady Johnson is saying about Yawl?"

"No, and we don't care," I retorted, with my chin in the air.

"She said You and Charles were regular 'Limmer Satans'."

Charles' cheeks were turning a bright red. "Whats that mean?" he angrily asked.

"I dunno."

Now Mrs. Johnson was the kind of fat overbearing woman that most communities are afflicted with. She always had to be President of the Missionary Society, wanted a seat on the Board and to generally run everything. She bossed her little weasel of a husband around and punished her children cruelly. She was constantly saying, "Spare the Rod And You Will Spoil The Child! My children always behave properly, unlike some I know." She would always look at Charles and Me when she said this. We hated her.

Once we were so troubled about our feelings toward her that we confessed to our adored, young Preacher how we felt about her. He had smiled kindly at us and said, "Don't worry. Just don't pay any attention to her, I'll confess to you that she's a thorn in my flesh. Like St. Paul, I'll just have to pray about it, and enjoy the people I enjoy being with, like you two."

"I'd like to poke a real thorn in her old flesh," I calmly stated.

"Good idea!" exclaimed Charles "Right in her fat behind!"

"Oh no, no, please don't ever do anything like that! It would make me very unhappy," the Preacher protested.

"Oh, all right," Charles reluctantly agreed.

I thought of how we had listened to the Preacher, and red, hot anger poured over my frail body. I snatched the front of Albert's shirt and demanded. "What else did she say?"

"Aw Frankie," he pleaded trying to pull away, "Don't be mad at me! I ain't done nothing."

I held on.. "You'd better tell me!" I yanked and one button flew off his shirt. I still held on.

"Aw, all right!" he consented. I was still holding on to his shirt. From past experience he knew that if he didn't do as I ordered he would be lucky to arrive at church with a single button remaining.

"She said your mama and daddy thought all of you were better than anybody else around here but she sure didn't think so." Charles' eyes were bright with fury.

"Frankie, turn me loose," he entreated, "I hate her too! She's the meanest ole heifer I ever saw."

I held on. He added on, "She said Charlene wore her dresses far too short and painted her face like a 'Who-er'." (Charlene was our older sister.)

"What's that mean?" I gave another jerk, and a second button flew in the air.

"I dunno, maybe a wild Indian. If you'll turn me loose, I'll tell you something else," he bargained. I relented.

He smoothed out his shirt and answered, "Sammy, (her son) told me last week after she had switched the blood outta his legs that the only thing on earth she was afraid of was snakes, and bait worms. He was gonna hunt for one and put it in her bed. He hoped it would scare her to death.”

Charles and I exchanged a long thoughtful look.

We were so still and quiet throughout the service, everyone thought that we were ill.

When we sat down to dinner, Charles decided to seek some information before we plotted our revenge.

"What's a Limmer Satan?" he asked.

"What on earth is that child talking about?" Father asked Mother.

"That's what Old Lady Johnson said me and Charles were," I answered. "Is that bad?" I was close to tears. I saw my mother's lips tighten and she banged the dishes on the table.

"I think she meant Limbs of Satan, or Mean as the Devil," she looked hard at my father.

"We ain't!" shrieked Charles.

"What's a Who-er?" I asked.

"Yeah," Charles answered, "She said Charlene painted her face like one. Is that bad too?"

My parents were speechless.

"I hate her. I'm not going back to church anymore," I calmly announced.

"Never mind. I'll settle her hash for her. Eat your dinner and change your clothes before you go out to play," my father answered.

As we started out Charles delivered a parting shot, "She said you was proud and stuck up Mama."

"I don't care what the poor old silly woman says." For the very first time in my life, I didn't believe her.

I pulled off my shoes and was running through the cool grass, when a frog touched my foot. I screamed and Charles came running.

"Aw, Frankie," he grinned. "It's just a little bitty little old toad frog. It ain't gonna hurt you!" He stooped and picked it up.

"Don't come near me, I hate old crawly things," I shuttered.

Suddenly, we looked hard at each other. The same thought struck us!

"How we gonna get it in church?" I asked.

"In your pocket-book."

"Oh No, I won't." I was very proud of my little white mesh bag.

"Besides, it would smother before we got there," I protested.

"Well then, I'll just put a dead one in her seat," he answered.

"Maybe Albert would walk and carry it. He could slip it to you when we get to church," I suggested.

"Yeah," Charles grinned. "He'll do anything you ask. He's sweet on you." I pushed him flat.

"Shut up, or I won't ask him."

Albert arrived a few minutes later. Charles proudly showed him the frog and asked for his help. He reluctantly refused. Charles looked at me.

With that intuition of how to manage a man that every female South of the Mason-Dixon Line is born with, and begins to practice by the age of three, I started in.

"Aw, let him alone, Charlie," I said. I sank down on the porch step and managed to look very sad. Poor Albert squirmed. "Maybe he don't want to play with us anymore," I added.

"I do too Frankie! I didn't even tell who pulled my buttons off!"

"I'm sorry I done that," I looked full at him. My chin quivered and I allowed my eyes to fill with tears. "I guess nobody will play with us anymore." I sadly added.

 "I don't care about the rest of them, but I love to play with you, Albert."

"Aw, all right Frankie. I'll do anything you say."

Charles grinned in appreciation at my acting, and we sat down and planned our campaign.

Albert stayed for the sandwich and lemonade supper that was our usual Sunday night supper.

"Want to ride with us?" Papa invited him.

"No Sir, I want to walk. Can Charlie and Frankie go with me?" He looked hopefully at me.

"Frances will have to ride. She's already walked once today. You know she's still rather puny. (I had had Rheumatic fever several months before.) Charles may walk with you. You all better behave!" my mother answered.

We three exchanged grins as we separated.

We waited at the church door for them. I noticed that my parents exchanged only cool nods to the Johnsons. As we entered the church door, I saw Albert sneak the frog to Charles.

There was something so cool, quiet and comforting about that beautiful old church that we all always fell silent when we entered it's doors.

We entered our pew. The Johnson's pew was directly in front of us. Father sat next to the aisle. My youngest sister next, my mother, then me, and as a special mark of favor, I allowed Albert to sit between Charles and me.

After an opening prayer the Preacher asked, "Does anyone have a favorite Hymn they would like to sing tonight?" He often did this on Sunday night.

"Oh yes, Preacher," Mrs. Johnson chirped out before anyone else could speak. "Dwelling In Beulah Land. I feel as though I am tonight."

Albert and Charles snickered. My mother didn't shake her head as she usually did. She just stared straight ahead. Father cleared his throat.

"Let us all stand now and everyone join in, as we sing this beautiful old hymn."

You could hear Old Lady Johnson fairly screaming over everyone else. I longed to throw my hymn book at her, and pull the ugly red cherries off her silly old hat. I leaned against my mother. When we reached the last chorus, the old woman was waving her fan above her head. I bent across my mother to speak to my sister so that my body would shield Charles from sight as he put the frog in her seat. "Praise The Lord!" she exalted and sat down.

The poor frog gave a frightened leap and fell to the floor.

Suddenly, the quiet church was paralyzed in shock, as Mrs. Johnson's wild screams split the peacefulness. The Preacher came down towards her. "They did it, I know they did it," she yelled pointing at Charles and me. They put that awful thing in my seat. They are two of the meanest brats I ever saw!"

"What thing? I don't see a thing," my father quietly put in.

In all the confusion, Albert had quietly put the little frog back in his pocket. I gave him my sweetest smile.

Charles yelled out indignantly, "She's always saying mean things about Frankie and me ever since we sang Uncle Steven's song!"

I promptly leaned against my mother and burst into tears, as they led her still screaming from church. My mother put her arms around me, and I could feel her shaking. She wasn't fooled one bit, and she didn't care!

The Preacher patted my head and peeping around, I saw the strange look he and my mother exchanged.

He walked back to the front of the church and said, "You are all dismissed with God's Blessing. Shake hands with everyone and come back Sunday morning. My text will be from Matthew's Gospel... "Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven. It would be better a mill stone to be hung around your neck than to offend one of them!"

He walked swiftly out with his shoulders shaking, and a strange twitching around his mouth.