The Preacher

Paul Marion Fleetwood

© Copyright 2013 by  Paul Marion Fleetwood


Photo of a Hersey's Cocoa metal container.

Februaly 27, 2008

It was sunny but cold and windy. About 4PM I went to the mail box and brought back the mail. It was mostly junk. Advertisements and catalogs. I also picked up the local newspaper and threw it on the dining room table.

I asked my wife Shirley if she was hungry and she said "gettin there". I sat down to glance through the paper. Nothing much there except local politics. A picture of the local sheriff and Senator Kit Bond stared out at me. Something about getting money to shut down the meth labs around the area.

Then I turned to the obit page. I wasn't expecting to see any one I knew but there it was. Melvin McKinney dead at the age of 76. Born in 1931 the year after I was born.

I hadn't seen or heard of him since I was about 10 or 11 years old. I can't remember exactly but I was only 12 when I moved away from Northeast Arkansas. Thats where I lived when I knew Melvin. We all called Melvin "Preacher" but I don't remember why.

We lived about nine miles from Corning Arkansas in a small community that some people called "Needmore". Boy did the name fit the situation. Mostly poor white folks eeking out a living anyway they could. About the only thing to do there was sawmill or cotton farm or WPA.

We lived in a small two room shack with a covered front porch. It was on the gravel road that went to the little store in Needmore. Right across the road was the one room schoolhouse where I went to grade school.

One Summer day Melvin came by our house on his white pony. Boy could that horse run. No saddle. Just a bridle and Melvin with the biggest crop of red hair you ever saw sitting up on top. Melvin wanted me to take a ride with him so I hopped up behind him and we hightailed it up past the school house to the Crafton farm.

My little brother Billy was there playing with Bobby Crafton. Melvin asked them if they would like to take a ride around the Wildwood loop. He wanted to go up the gravel road away from Needmore toward Wildwood and make a big circle of about 5 miles and come back pretty much to where we started.

They decided to go so Bobby saddled up one of their big old draft mares and with Billy up behind him we headed out.

We had just barely gotten started when Melvin challenged Bobby to a race. Well the race was on and we were going full speed. I looked over at Bobby and Billy and all of a sudden it looked like they were going into orbit. The saddle and both boys were bouncing up in the air a good two feet. The saddle girth had broken and with that big old lumbering mare going full out I couldn't help but laugh.

Then like a rocket Billy went flying through the air and came down on his head over by the farmer's fence right next to a fence post. Knocked out cold. I was scared to death. Little brother dead or hurt bad!

Finally his eyes fluttered and he moved his head some. I thought I should test him in case he had been knocked silly or something. So I said "Billy how much is two plus two. He groaned and finally weakly breathed out "I reckon that would be about three". I thought he was mentally mortally wounded.

Then he laughed and I realized that he was just funning me. Darn little squirt, I wanted to kick his butt. But I was so relieved that he was OK that I just laughed and said "lets ride boys". And we did all the way around the Wildwood loop.

My Uncle Donny married Ethyl McKinney. I don't remember just how she was related to Melvin and his little sister Minnie. I see in the obit that Minnie is now a Bechtel living in Benton Arkansas. I vaguely remember her from grade school. But I remember one other amusing incident involving Melvin.

Mom sent me to the store to get some cocoa. I walked down the gravel road to the store which was about one half mile away. The road ran along side Ring Slough in places and I actually had to cross it on a wooden bridge about half way there. Most of the way was in the deep woods. There was only one house between our house and the vicinity of the store. It was just before dark and for a boy it was terribly scary to go that way in the dark. I know because I did more than once. But that is not part of this story.

I got the cocoa and started home. The McMillian family lived just a stones throw from the store and I had to pass right by their house. They lived in what was known as a dogtrot house. Two rooms with a wide space between the rooms. When I went by the house, Roland Mcmillian came out to visit. Roland was a couple of years older than I and he was an accomplished snuff dipper. But he didn't have any snuff with him. He just started walking along with me talking about this and that.

He got to wanting a dip. Finally as we walked along he suggested that we take a dip of cocoa. That way if we met someone we could spit cocoa juice and it would look just like tobacco juice. So we took a dip.

I had a problem however. I had never dipped snuff and I didn't know what to do with it in my mouth. So I just kept my mouth shut because I knew if I ever opened it I would lose all of the cocoa with one spit. But old Roland knew how to put it under his lower lip and he could spit and talk at the same time just fine. I didn't want him to know that I didn't know how to dip so I kept my mouth shut and just grunted my responses.

Then I looked up the road and here came "Preacher" McKinney walking toward the store. He hailed us and Roland hailed him and we stopped in the road for a chat. Then Roland being older and bigger started picking on Melvin. I couldn't say anything without losing my cocoa dip. Roland kept agravating him until I couldn't stand it anymore. So finally I spit out a giant spit and told him to leave the "Preacher" alone because I had to get home with the cocoa so mom could make us some chocolate pudding. He did and I did and mom did. She didn't even miss the two dips from the cocoa can.

According to the obit Melvin served in the Navy and was a self employed well driller. He died at John J Pershing V.A. Center in Poplar Bluff. Godspeed "Preacher".

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