An “I Am the Clay” Vignette*
…the righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1 NIV
“Can I try this one in a size 10?”
“Yes, sir—let me get that for you.”
The Thom McAnn Shoes clerk disappeared through the curtain to the stock room to retrieve a pair of black wingtips for my daddy, while we—my daddy, my mother, and I—sat at the back of the store and waited.
It was 1972, the heyday of the Gateway Shopping Center in Decatur, Alabama, just before the shopping mall explosion. Besides the shoe store, there was a Woolworths, complete with a snack counter that served huge banana splits; a Quick Chek grocery store where they let my granny buy cigarettes with food stamps; a Sears and Roebuck, also in its heyday; and a movie theater with two screens. (A few years later, I saw the original Star Wars there 11 times.)
Decatur was a small town back then and people were, for the most part, respectful.
For the most part…
The bell tinkled as the glass door at the front of the store opened. In strode a rather large man. He was wearing a tie, probably a salesman. He was at least 6’4”, 270 lbs., had one of those over-compensatingly loud voices.
“D___, it’s hotter’n H___ out there,” he boomed to the manager who was stationed behind the cash register about midway back.
In 2017, that sort of language can be heard on any TV channel, any time of the day, and we’ve all become inured to it; but in small-town Alabama, circa 1972, that wasn’t the case. And unfortunately, Mr. Loud Mouth didn’t see the little Southern Baptist family sitting at the back of the store.
And he didn’t know my daddy.
Daddy stood up, all 5’10” of him, and turned toward the man. “Sir, I have my wife and son here and I would appreciate it if you’d watch your language.”
He wasn’t indignant or unkind—but he wasn’t apologetic, either. I was an awkward teenager then, overly self-conscious and easily embarrassed. I mentally crawled under a chair, mortified at what had just happened. Big guy just stopped dead in his tracks: Goliath in the front of the store, David in the back.
My daddy and I don’t share many physical attributes, which I was always glad for—he wasn’t very tall and was doing the comb-over by the time he was 30. I do wish we had shared more important attributes, though, especially the uncompromising way he lived out his faith in the Lord…
Big Guy suddenly reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.
“I’m so sorry, sir—I… I didn’t mean…” he stammered. “Here.” He started flipping through his wallet. “I got a wife and kids, too. Here’s a picture. This is my youngest…”
“No, that’s OK,” Daddy said. “I don’t need to see your pictures. I just want you to watch your language in front of my family.”
“Yes, sir—I’m sorry.” He nodded to my mother. “I’m sorry, ma’am—I apologize.”
About that time the clerk returned with a pair of black wingtips. They fit perfectly and we paid and left.
It was weird: on the way out of the store, Goliath didn’t look so big anymore. David’s slingshot had found its target and felled the overcompensatingly loud giant.
• • •
Fifteen years or so ago, I wrote my daddy a letter for Father’s Day and told him what that moment meant to me, how I had never forgotten it. He told me then that he vaguely remembered it; he doesn’t remember it at all now.
There’s a lot he doesn’t remember now: that day in 1972, my letter that made him cry. But that’s OK—I remember enough for both of us.
One day, though, he’ll remember it—all of it. And on that day, he’ll remember that I told him how much I loved him, how I wished I had told him that more often, how I wished I had been more like him. Not short with thinning, blond hair, but bold: bold as a lion…
…just like my daddy.
Happy Father’s Day.
*A brief written piece about a person or event.
• • •
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