Welcome, Randy Reynolds
By Jeff Salter
Usually my guests here are Foxes, but Randy Reynolds is my second Guest Hound, and I’m delighted to book him. Randy and I go way back, all the way to the same high school, where he was either one year smarter or one year older than me. After several decades with no contact, we bumped into each other at a Facebook page set up to remember our hometown (Covington LA) back in the “good old days.” One thing led to another and I was introduced to Randy’s superb blog, http://reynoldswriter.blogspot.com/ — and realized what a talented (and funny) writer he is.
His blog is mostly non-fiction, I take it — though some of those tales are so humorous, I’d bet a nickel they have some embellishment. But later Randy decided to try his hand at fiction and his premier effort is a novel called Preaching To The Trees, which is, I believe, making the rounds of a few select potential publishing houses.
If his novel has the same sense of character, place, and warm humor as his blog columns, I’m certain I will enjoy it immensely.
Without further ado (whatever that is), here’s my friend Randy to give you a taste of his new novel.
Life Is Funny And So Is My Serious Novel
by Randy Reynolds
Life is funny. It just can’t help it.
I’m sitting in an ante-room at the funeral home where it’s my turn to watch the kids. A restless three-year-old granddaughter climbs onto my lap, won’t sit still, stands on my knees and somehow manages to fall over backward, leading with her head, landing with a thud. My other three-year-old granddaughter sees the whole thing and rushes toward me with her hands upraised yelling, “Do me! Do me!”
No matter what’s going on, life is funny. It just can’t help it.
That’s what makes my (as yet unpublished) novel Preaching To The Trees a genre-bender. It can’t be classified as Humor, but it’s full of life and life-is-funny.
- After a tornado, our young protagonist Wyatt has a head injury and is going in and out of comas, convulsing and talking out of his head. It’s 1936 and the best the doctor can do is to leave a bottle of chloroform for Wyatt’s mother to administer when his symptoms become unbearable. Wyatt’s little sister overhears the instructions and when it’s her turn to sit at his bedside and wipe his brow, she keeps the chloroform and a rag handy. The symptoms finally subside and Wyatt tries to sit up but she thinks he’s having another seizure and knocks him out with the chloroform, extending his coma for several more hours.
(The circumstances were sad, but life is funny.)
- The tornado comes while a carnival is playing at the fairgrounds. “All that remained of the midway were some Ferris Wheel seats, the Tilt-a-Whirl platform and a debris field of wires, engine parts and, from the Knock-em-Over-and-Win booth, one stack of metal milk jugs that not even a tornado could knock over.”
(Some people see only a debris field. Some people see proof that the milk jug game was rigged. Life is funny.)
- Cumpsy, the old shoeshine man at the barbershop, is sitting at the sheriff’s feet, popping the rag on the fancy cowboy boots while regaling the regulars with a story. It’s about breaking the law and Cumpsy is not just playing for laughs, he’s gauging reactions. Although it was illegal for a black man to be inside the city limits after sundown, Cumpsy says he snuck in anyway to meet a maid who worked at the Dixie-Hunt Hotel. He ended up trapped in the furnace room of the hotel, a place of total darkness except for the fire leaping through the open door of the coal-burning furnace. He likened it to Hell. Half-expecting a lecture about breaking the Sundown Law it’s a relief when Sheriff Urlacher asks only, “Whatever happened to the woman?”
“Oh, I married her,” said Cumpsy, “and she taught me what Hell was really like!”
Dr. Wisdom, in one of the barber chairs, leaned back as he laughed, causing Vince the barber to nick him in the ear with the clippers.
(Thus, an important point about an unjust thing is slipped into the stream of the novel between laughs.)
- When Wyatt and his friend Max decide to steal some cigarette money from Max’s Great-grandmother, Wyatt goes to the front door and engages her in a conversation while Max enters through the kitchen door and climbs onto the cabinet where she keeps her change purse. The cabinet sways out from the wall and Max pulls it back by grabbing the nail where the water bucket hangs. Wyatt watches this balancing act over the shoulder of the old woman whom he calls simply by her first name — not purposefully being disrespectful; it’s just how non-white adults are referred to in small-town Georgia in 1940.
It was touch and go for Max on the cabinet. Again he let go of the water bucket on the wall and the cabinet, with him on it, tilted backward. Max frantically grabbed the bucket, spilling water as he pulled the cabinet back to perpendicular.
On the front porch, stalling, Wyatt closed his eyes and said aloud, “God, if it be possible spare me this cup. Don’t make me tell her, Lord.”
The old woman said, “Tell me what?”
Wyatt opened his eyes and held out his hands like he thought Jesus might do. “I don’t know if I can bear to tell you this message….”
“God told you to tell me somp’n and I want ter know what it is!” she said.
As Max, the cabinet and the water bucket began their final descent, Wyatt blurted out, “He said He’s coming for you, Mellie!”
She heard his words and then an awful racket in the kitchen and squalled, “Oh, Lawd! You mean RIGHT NOW?”
As Wyatt fled the front porch and Max, coated head to toe with flour and carrying his great-grandmother’s change purse, scooted out the back door, Great-grandmother Gauze patted herself on the chest saying “Be still my heart be still my heart” while glancing fearfully at the kitchen where she could see the cabinet and water bucket on the floor surrounded by broken dishes with flour dust floating in air and smoke billowing forth from the grease fire consuming the liver.
She swallowed hard and said, “Take me, Lawd. I’m ready.”
And so He did.
Many a poignant story is told with humor… in the South, anyway.
Randy’s bio blurb:
Summer, 1967. Martin Luther King, Jr., had his people call my people and I soon found myself an arm’s length away from the great man in the basement of Ebenezer Baptist Church. TV crews groused that I was standing too close to Dr. King, and they weren’t about to be upstaged by an 18-year-old radio guy (one month out of high school) in checked sports coat and narrow tie with a plastic mic and cheap recorder. Hands reached out, elbows jabbed, a well-known network correspondent kicked me in the shins, and I got the rest of the press conference from the outer edge of the pack. Every sound in the room was louder than Dr. King’s voice. My boss was not pleased. I’ve been a few places since then — have lived in 59 places, all in the south; worked in radio in GA, FL, LA & TX; TV in FL & LA. I’ve covered big stories, been on some networks, sold some stories, stayed married, raised three children, made some money, lost some money, was homeless for a while in Louisiana. It would be a shame to have lived such a life and not share the lessons learned and laughs inspired, hence my blog.
Does “Southern” humor vary from other regional humor?
Why do people find humor in otherwise somber situations?
[JLS # 247]