Pa's Little Queen

Memaw and Pa lived in an old house at the end of Honey Lane. Pa’s old Cadillac was always parked in the grass near the shed. Their dog King was the first to greet visitors. He'd run up to the car so fast, you'd worry he'd be dead when you opened your car door.

Every old country house in Coffee County, Tennessee had that kind of dog - the kind of dog that lived outside, killed animals, and bayed for 15 minutes before anyone else could hear the tires coming down the gravel road. This also gave Pa time to put down his Bible, get out of his recliner, put on his hat, and walk out to meet you.

Holidays meant that we all gathered at their house. After hours of being trapped in the car, I would tear up the path to hug him. He would say nothing. He would put his hand in the pocket of his Wranglers and pull out a bunch of change. He’d look at me in the eyes to see what I’d do. After considering which coin was the shiniest and prettiest, I’d reach into his over-sized hand with both of my little hands and scoop up all the money.

He would hoot with laughter and say, “That’s Pa’s Little Queen!”

He loved this role play as much as he enjoyed the fact that I had won the title of Beauty Queen at age 4, 6 years before that when we lived in Tyler, Texas. I sang "Jesus Loves Me" for my talent. Apparently, it was the clincher.



Their large covered porch looked out over their crops, the watermelon patch, more hills, and large sweeping trees. Since my dad and many of his siblings drove in from other states, we would all sleep there and wake up to biscuits, gravy, sausage and eggs. You could eat in the steamy, cozy kitchen with Memaw in her dressing gown, her stove, and her boisterous laugh. This meant you would get first pick of the food. 

Or you could eat on the back porch and watch the mist disappear over the hills. I think I hovered over the threshold between the warm kitchen and the back porch because they were both so inviting. After breakfast the kids would find mud to stomp in, dig around in the basement for dusty board games, or try and convince Pa to take them fishing.

When I’d normally be doing homework in my room back in the Chicago suburbs, riding my bike to the 7-11, or be on my way to and from gymnastics practice, in Tennessee I touched worms, went barefoot, ate constantly, and laughed until my guts hurt.

There was always so much pie. I’m sure there were other kinds of wonderful food, but I loved all the pie. Unrestrained, giggling, and breathing heavily I would sneak under the bar where all the desserts lived just asking to be eaten. I’d slowly work up an innocent smile and ask for a piece of this or that. My Aunt Sherry who was always nearby would look at me like I was the hungriest saddest child on Earth and declare that I must have some pie. This was the same aunt who saw my little brother eat one bite out of every donut in a fresh box and loved every second of it.

After a day of talking and cleaning up from one meal and starting another, we would all gravitate to the back porch. With full bellies, the adults would sit and tell stories. The older kids, who weren’t on their mommas’ laps would scramble for seats near the door. After a while of hearing the regular stories, there would come a rare silence. I would hold my breath and wait.

The pregnant pause was followed by Pa’s thunderous voice. It boomed and crackled. It was rich and powerful. When Pa launched into a sermon you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He had been an evangelist for most of his life.  He had traveled far and wide with his children singing behind him. Like any good Southern preacher he would sweat and wipe his brow with a handkerchief. That’s when you knew it was about to get really good.

His Bible was a part of him. He stood on it. (He loved to talk about standing on the Word of God and the congregation nearly exploded with Hallelujahs when he did this.) He pumped it up over his head toward God and waved it around in the air. His presence filled any space no matter the size. So one can imagine that the old house at the end of Honey Lane would brim over with the Holy Ghost pretty quickly.  He shouted and cried. He was magnificent.

One of my favorite sermons is mostly lost in my memory. On this particular evening, my cousins and I had stolen away down the gravel road while the adults started their prayer meeting. When we wandered back to the house, we could hear the speaking in tongues and feel the vibration of all the voices shouting “Amen!” to Brother Glen’s sermon before we could even see the glow from all the lights on the back porch.

As we crept into the house, it was strangely quiet. I slipped in behind a recliner and listened. Something Pa said stuck with me. He talked about having a dream of an eagle soaring over a mountaintop. He called it Monteagle. At this point in my life, I was already pretty sure that Pa talked to Jesus. When he started telling the story, it sounded like a beautiful poetry reading more than a pro-wrestler shouting down his opponent.

Pa’s voice was hushed and his eyes filled with tears. His face was turned up to the ceiling as if he was seeing the eagle above him as he told the story. I wish I could remember the words, but perhaps they were not as important as the truth I felt. Pa lived in his own beautiful world ruled and protected by a terrifying and redeeming God. The only thing he could have possibly done with his life was share that vision with anyone who would listen.

When monotony or lack of passion threaten to put out my light now as an adult, I think of the eagle flying overhead. I am immediately drawn up into it – able to see the entire landscape of my life as a beautiful story unfolding. I feel infinite peace and remember that I am Pa’s Little Queen.

Glensel Edmon Siler, a.k.a "Pa"

2 comments:

  1. Rich prose. I want to read about every minute of your life when you write like this. Brilliant.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Kim. There were some pretty magical times in my childhood. This was fun to write. I actually recorded the story while speaking it aloud and then transcribed it.

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