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Ringgold County's Oral Legend & Memories Project


Cultural advantages in rural America usually were imported in the form of traveling Chautauquas, carnivals, political speakers, or circuit-riding evangelists of different faiths. Each brought a glimpse of the outside world in ways that left an imprint on the community with much to talk about afterward.

During his visit, it was the custom of the traveling evangelist to accept the hospitality from congregation members who appeared more prosperous and able to 'set a good table'. Such a one we'll call 'Brother Bob' who was of no small reputation throughout his circuit for his forceful, evangelical message from the Scriptures, drawing crowds wherever he went. He enjoyed great liberty with his messages on the subject of 'Salvation by Faith, not of Works, lest any man should boast', and could keep a congregation's attention on the subject for two hours with his forceful oratory.

On one particular Sunday after having kept his audience well past the noon hour, after an appropriate closing hymn, Brother Bob continued his oratory in the vestibule and in the greeting line of departing guests. Having previously accepted an invitation for Sunday dinner at the home of one of the prosperous farmer's, he continued with his sermon all the way by horse and buggy ride to the farmer's home and festivities. Even in the parlor as women folk prepared 'dinner' (as it is called in rural Iowa), he continued quoting chapter and verse of Scripture with commanding eloquence that challenged the minions of Satan. As they had been taught to be polite, kids were expected to 'be seen, but not heard' and listen courteously while menfolks strained hard to grasp the preacher's deep theological rendered from Greek, Hebrew and Latin sources.

Relief came when the Mother of the house came to the parlor to announce dinner was ready, and proceeded to seat her family about the table groaning with steaming bowls of fresh vittles, fresh bread, home-churned butter, and several handsome desserts. Brother Bob, of course, was granted the courtesy of returning thanks from his seat at the head of the table, for the bounty they were about to enjoy. Once again eloquence prevailed in a lengthy 'blessing' while the kids' stomachs growled in expectation. When at last Bob said, "Amen" that echoed around the table among the adults, food was passed and everyone began to enjoy the sumptuous feast. Mother whispered admonitions to children, "Mind your manners; don't chew with your mouth open and say 'Please' and 'Thank you'; keep your elbows off the table."

After being served with a heaping plate, Brother Bob continued his discourse amid the tinkle and clatter of silverware and china of the diners, while waving his buttered knife for emphasis, and pointing with his loaded fork to emphasize his point as his listeners chewed in respectful silence, but for an occasional "uhuh", "Amen" from a mouth full of food.

We must depart from this scene for a moment to explain a country dining room usually had at one end, a heating stove with a wood bin and coal hod. It was the favorite warm spot in the room where house pets could lounge and snooze, particularly at meal time when they might expect a morsel of food dropped from the table or slipped to them by one of the kids. In this particular case the house pet was a husky, agile fox terrier who could move in a flash.

Mealtime moved on to second helpings all around, and Brother Bob continued driving home the subject of Faith versus Works in the Plan of Salvation. To further emphasize his point, with one grand gesture he speared a succulent morsel of roast beef on his fork, and raising it for all to see as his gimlet eyes swept around the table from face to face waiting in awe as if for a Divine Revelation, he said, "As sure as this morsel of meat is going in my mouth, I know I am saved by Faith, not of Works, lest any man boast!"

But alas, salvation was never intended to be quite so simple. Fate had other plans, for in a split second the meat rolled off the fork and bounced to the floor as Bob fought with desperately flailing arms to recover it. Somehow in his mind, whatever lay in store for him in the next life depended now upon the Works of recovering that one greasy morsel of meat laying on the floor just beyond his grasp.

Dogs are not theologians and cannot comprehend the admonition "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs", so whenever a scrap of food comes within his reach beneath the dining table, in his mind it is fair game without weighing the theological implications. So as quickly as the dog made his move, Brother Bob momentarily forgot Paul's 'Faith' and set about James’ 'Works' to recover the bit of meat upon which hung his eternal destiny. And as preacher and the pup contested the controversy of Faith versus Works on the floorboards under the table, the family looked on in embarrassed amazement as Mama frowned, elbowed and shushed her kids with a stern eye and wagging finger.

Nobody ever saw under the table cloth which one finally got the meat. Brother Bob emerged from the growling scuffle under the table with a face purple with chagrin. Thus ended all talk for the rest of the day about Faith versus Works.

Toward evening he thanked his hosts for their hospitality before leaving to cancel his evening speaking engagement at church and taking an unscheduled exit from town. The Fox Terrier again curled up beside the wood box near the stove, seemingly satisfied with the outcome of his encounter in the controversy between Faith and Works.

Having never learned theology, the Fox Terrier was never conscious of having been part of anything more profound than barking at the moon. He never was trained to realize it was by his master's grace that he as 'house dog' enjoyed a warm spot for snoozing by the wood box he could never provide for himself. He knew by trial, training and common sense instinct if he was Faith-ful in his calling, he had assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things yet unseen. There was never any doubt about who his master was, and knew what "Git!" and "Sick-em" meant. His dog's mind recognized his obligation to fulfill the Works of an obedient pet by keeping chickens off the porch, stray cats and snakes out of the yard, and do his 'doggy chores' outside away from the house. He seemed to accept his role with grace and obedience without ever hearing a sermon.

Do you reckon this had anything to do with the reason we named him 'Luther'?

In respectful memory of my dear friend
Nina Miller Allyn

Robert wrote, saying, "Nina told me this story as it happened in her family when she was a child. I used the event as the subject for an essay while enrolled in a class of Life Writing, so it contains some literary embellishments, but the event actually happened."

Contribution by Robert Maley, May of 2011

To submit your Ringgold County Tales From The Front Porch,
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Please include the word "Ringgold" in the subject line. Thank you.

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