The Preacher and the Panties
Meet the Fenwicks
My Aunt Clover and Uncle Julian Fenwick were hard working, salt of the earth kind of people. They lived in the tiny town of Munson. It had a post office, general store, two churches and one, one-pump gas station. In its heyday it had been a busy little place thanks to the trains that passed through which sometimes stopped to pick up and deliver people and goods.
Uncle Julian was the county’s tax commissioner and was well known and well respected in his hometown and surrounding communities. Aunt Clover managed the family’s five and ten cents store in the county seat town just three miles up the road in the neighboring county seat town of Rickford which was also the location of Uncle Julian‘s office.
The Fenwicks were active members of their little Methodist church in Munson. The church membership consisted of many of their relatives and long-time neighbors and friends. Everyone knew everyone and there was not much chance to get away with anything without someone noticing. This usually was not a problem as the great majority of these good folks were respectable citizens who lived their lives by the Good Book as best they could.
All in all it was a pretty peaceable existence for the small population with most of the social, holiday and religious events celebrated through the church. One of the social privileges of being a member of the Munson church was having the preacher over for Sunday dinner. This was done in an informal rotation, but worked out so that the preacher and his family were invited to dine with a member family every Sunday after morning worship. Uncle Julian and Aunt Clover had their turn at hosting, too, of course.
Now before I go any further, I must clear something up. Some of you may be confused about having “dinner” after morning worship as you believe that dinner is the evening meal. Well, dinner in the south, especially in this particular mid-twentieth century time referred to the noon meal with the evening meal being known as supper. While we are now accustomed to a meal schedule of breakfast, lunch and dinner, the rural folks of this era observed meal titles of breakfast, dinner and supper. So the preacher was coming for Sunday dinner.
Preparing for a Special Dinner
Hosting the pastor and his family, if he had one, was a major preparation event. The house had to be dusted, swept, scrubbed and generally cleaned to perfection. The yards and porches were given equal attention befitting their individual attributes.
Food, of course, was the star of the show. Much thought and careful preparation went into the menu to be offered to the community’s spiritual leader. The hostess of the day would prepare as much of the meal as possible before leaving for church and then leave the morning worship service at the last amen post haste in order to finish the meal and have it ready to serve hot and fresh as soon as everyone else arrived after visiting briefly with the church folks following the service.
On this particular summer day the menu might have included fried chicken, baked ham, turnip greens, potato salad, rice, stewed tomatoes, fried okra, butterbeans, baked sweet potatoes, creamed corn, green beans, deviled eggs, pear salad, sliced homegrown tomatoes, cornbread, biscuits, homemade fig preserves, home canned pear relish, and lime pickles put by from the summer before. This was not a time to skimp so there was also an array of desserts such as banana pudding, chocolate layer cake, fried apple tarts and peach cobbler served with homemade ice cream.
All of the to do of cleaning and cooking had to leave even the most energetic of southern homemakers plumb tuckered out and that may have explained a little lapse in memory that would turn this ordinary Sunday into one to go down in the chronicles of oft told stories for years to come.
A Perfect Save
Aunt Clover was putting the finishing touches on her perfectly set table as she heard the car doors slam. The preacher and family had arrived. With a quick glance in the sideboard mirror, she tucked a stray hair and hurriedly removed her apron, stashing it on the hook behind the kitchen door.
Uncle Julian, feeling the heat of the midday, had removed his Sunday suit jacket and hung it conveniently on the hall tree as he made his way to the front porch to welcome his special guests.
Aunt Clover had exited through the kitchen door to the side porch and with a few quick steps had rounded the corner to the front porch and there, hanging on the line strung for drying her unmentionables, was a single pair of her panties! Without really thinking, she jerked them down and hid them behind her back, hoping and praying that no one had noticed.
Everyone seemed busy enough listening to Uncle Julian as he exclaimed over his guests and invited them in while holding the screen door wide.
Aunt Clover was glad he was taking care of the hosting duties and then Uncle Julian noticed her standing rather like a pale statue at the edge of the porch.
“Ah, here’s our lovely hostess,” he said.
It was too late for Aunt Clover to shush him and she smiled, though a bit wanly, at the guests as they retreated into the front hall.
“Julian, get in the house, and have everyone wash up,” she whispered to Uncle Julian.
“I’ll be there in a jiffy,” explained Aunt Clover.
Uncle Julian gave her a quizzical look but did as he was told. Aunt Clover stepped into the front hall and frantically looked for a good place to stash the panties before someone realized what she was holding. The hallway was rather narrow and the hall tree was the only furnishing and offered no hiding places.
Wait, she thought, I can stuff them into Julian’s coat pocket and get them out after everyone has gone. And that is what she did.
Uncle Julian was inviting everyone to their places at the table as Aunt Clover glided into the room looking every bit the gracious hostess.
The dinner went off without a hitch. Everyone was generously complimentary of Aunt Clover’s cooking and the Fenwick home. Desserts were polished off, all retired to the parlor for a bit of small talk, and soon the Fenwicks were waving good-bye to their pastoral family.
With the kitchen and dining room cleanup completed, Aunt Clover sat down for a much needed rest. Soon she closed her eyes and dozed for what seemed just a few minutes in her favored rocking chair.
A Memorable Service
The chiming of the mantle clock woke her and she realized with a start that there were just minutes to get back to the church for evening worship. She roused Uncle Julian from his nap and they both freshened up speedily and headed out the front door. Uncle Julian plucked his suit jacket from the hall tree, of course, and pulled it on as they walked down the porch steps.
Just in time the pair entered the church. The pianist began the prelude and Uncle Julian and Aunt Clover took their usual pew, third row, left side.
Several hymns were sung, some with the congregation standing, some sitting. It was warm in the sanctuary, after all it was midsummer and there was no such thing as air conditioning.
Uncle Julian began to perspire rather heavily as he sat down from the final hymn before the sermon. The pastor cleared his throat and announced his passage for the evening’s message. Uncle Julian began fishing around in his suit pockets for a handkerchief.
Ah, there, he had found what he thought was his handkerchief and he began to mop his face, neck and brow.
Aunt Clover caught a glimpse of lace out of the corner of her eye.
What is Julian doing with one of my hankies , she thought.
And then it hit her. She began trying to grab her panties out of Uncle Julian’s hand. He thought she had lost her mind and held what he thought was his handkerchief out of her reach as he stared her down.
Aunt Clover was turning ten shades of red and batting at Uncle Julian’s outstretched hand.
Giggles began to filter to the front of the church. The church youth who were sitting near the back had taken notice of the game of keep away taking place third row, left side. Now even the adults who were trying to stay focused on the progressing sermon were turning and craning their necks to see what was causing such an unholy commotion.
Aunt Clover had finally scored the panties. Redness began creeping up the back of Uncle Julian’s neck, not from embarassment but from suppressed laughter as he now realized what he had been using for a handkerchief.
With her trophy now secreted in her purse, Aunt Clover’s demeanor was of all innocence to the curiosity of those around her. Most of the adults had missed the display and settled back to listening to the sermon thinking that they would have to have a word with the back row youth about giggling during church services. The youth, having now figured out why there had been such a contest over a “handkerchief” were suffering painfully in order to keep from totally breaking up the meeting with the loud guffaws they wished they could loose.
It was the most memorable Sunday evening service those youth would ever recall and the story of Aunt Clover’s panties still circulates among family and friends to this day.
Author’s note: Yes, the names have been changed to protect the mortified.