PUBLIC APPEARANCE

Copyright 1996
Sam Elmore


I suppose 'public image' is a matter of concern to some folks. It's only natural that people want to look and act their best in public. Most men think their women-folks spend way too much time 'primping', before they venture out in public.

On the other end of that spectrum, there's that time-worn admonition from mothers to their male offspring of the 'not-so-tidy' persuasion: "Wear clean underwear; you never can tell when you might get run over by a truck."

Concern for how they are perceived in public varies from one person to the next, and it's up to the individual how much (or how little) importance is placed on that perception. However, the concern of even the most casual person would probably be multiplied a hundred-fold, if that person was a minister....and knew that he (or she) was going to be appearing on live television!

We held our annual family reunion, as usual. Several changes had occurred since the last reunion. Little brother Baucum (called the "Baby"), who always played such a major role in our reunion festivities over the years, had passed away. Instead of our usual skits and singin' to entertain the assembled kin, someone had the bright idea that we should 'do something different' this year.

It was decided that there would be a "Question & Answer" session. Everyone who wished to participate could write down questions on slips of paper and put 'em in a Kroger sack. I was surprised (and more than a little concerned) by the large number of kinfolks who wrote down questions. It was obvious there was a heap of things people wanted to know, and this was their chance't to find out, I rek'n.

After everyone was comfortably seated, and the preliminary speechifyin' was over with, members of the younger generation took turns reachin' in that Kroger sack, pullin' out questions, and readin' them out loud. (Perhaps I should explain that, before this outrageous abuse of the 'Right-to-Privacy-Act' got started, it was announced that the person being questioned was required to tell the truth!)

It was perfectly clear to me, right from the git-go, that this Question & Answer stunt was not the brightest idea to ever come out-a somebody's backwoods country mind! Some of the questions had no bid-ness being asked in the first place....s'pecially in public! You take, for instance, the very first question that come out of that Kroger sack. It was addressed to brother Britten (called "Slim"), who has lived in Mississippi since ol' Noah launched his gopher-wood pirougue.

Slim and I usually traveled together when we'd go up to Arkansas for the reunion. The first question out-a the bag was:

"Uncle Slim, how come when you and uncle Buddy (that's me) come up to Arkansas, you always do all the driving?"

You see what I mean? Just because I wrecked Slim's brand-new pick-up truck (more'n thirty year ago, mind ye'), they still gotta dig up them ol' bones an' make a big deal out'n it! Slim used twenny-seb'm minutes giving his lyin' response. (This 'Q & A' thing at reunions was gon' be a once't-is-a-dang-plenny deal, if I had anything to say about it!) But, ever'body seemed to get a kick out of it, and a lot of laughs were shared.

One of the questions posed that day was a little bit surprising, if only by it's innocence. However, by the time that particular question was asked, some of us (who had already been 'bit') was skittyish as a White Leghorn hen at a fox convention. Ever' time one 'em young-uns run they arm down in 'at Kroger sack, you could almost see them grown-ups shudder a little bit.

That innocuous little question I mentioned, read by one of the nieces, was addressed to Barge (called "Todd"), the only minister in our immediate family. The question was:

"Did you ever preach on television?"

Wa'al, that jes' flat ticked me off! Here they go and float one-a them "cotton-candy" questions up there for Todd to handle; but when it was my turn, you can bet a Bull Durham sack full-a marvels, and your best shootin' taw, that they was gon' be flangin' 'em high fast ones at yore'n truly! When there was no immediate response from Todd to that 'marshmeller' question, I glanced around at 'im....he was squirmin' in his seat.

I thought: 'Wait-a-min-nit here! Mebbe there's sump'm I don't know 'bout this rascal after all.' Todd cleared his throat a couple of times, shuffled his feet, and finally answered:

"Yeah, I did."

(The story unfolded like this):

Shortly before Barge and six of his class-mates were ordained, they were invited to appear on live television. They would all be members of a panel, and each be allowed a certain amount of time to speak, each in his own turn. Later, they would each receive a video-tape of the program, so they could evaluate their public speaking performance.

The Director explained the format of the show to the soon-to-be ministers, and patiently answered questions until they could think of nothing else to ask. They were briefed about the signals he would use to indicate when the 'count-down to air time' would start, and what signals they should watch for as they neared the end of their allotted time. They were sternly advised that going over their allowed time was a very large no-no!

The Director explained that one camera would be dedicated to a medium close-up (MCU) shot of the person speaking, while the other camera would pan the rest of the panel members to capture their reactions to the speaker. They were warned not to be distracted by any 'behind the camera' activities; but it was obviously nerve-wracking for these fellows who had never before been 'up close and personal' on television.

(I imagine the following thoughts, or similar ones, went through brother Todd's mind, as he waited for the program to begin): 'Remember to smile. Show some teeth, but not too many; don't want-a look like a mule gnawin' on a bull nettle. No reason to be nervous; there's people who make a crop doin' this stuff. Pull your coat-tail down and sit on it, so it don't ride up around your neck. Look friendly, but don't act like a clown. Look straight into the camera, steady and reserved; but don't be too awful stern-looking. A calm demeanor is the mainest thing....'

The Director held up three fingers, indicating three minutes to air time. Todd combed his hair for the fourteenth time. He ran his finger under his collar to make sure his necktie wouldn't choke him when it was his turn to speak. He looked around the table; his friends on the panel were making the same last-minute adjustments to clothing, inner thoughts, and nervous systems.

That made him feel a whole lot better, knowing the other panel members were feeling just as antsy as he---wait a minute! One of his friends, a black man seated in the center chair, looked about as nervous as ol' Walter Cronkite! That jolted Todd more'n a little bit, wondering what his friend knew that the rest of 'em didn't. The Director waved two fingers in the air.

Todd cleared his throat, re-ran his opening remarks through his mind, and....felt somebody tugging on his sleeve. He jumped, startled by the unexpected distraction, and looked around. The black minister was leaning across the feller between them. Todd's first thought was: 'Not now, for cryin' out loud!' The Director waggled one finger, and spoke into his throat mike: "Stand by cameras."

Todd leaned over to see what his friend wanted. The eyes of the other ministers flitted haphazardly between the agitated fingers of the Director, the sinister eye of the cameras, and the untimely disturbance between Todd and the other guy. Everybody was astounded when they heard the black minister ask:

"Brother Elmore, can you tell me where in the Bible a black man is first mentioned?"

Whaaaat? How in the dickens can anybody think abou....The Director waved a bent-over finger. Thirty seconds! Against Todd's will, chapter and verse started flittin' through his mind, as he tried to recall the first mention of a black man in the Scriptures.

The Director miked: "Roll 'em; Camera Two, MCU on the center panelist; Camera one PAN 'em, aaaaaaand counting...ten...nine...eight...

"Never mind, brother Barge, I remembered; it's in the Book of Daniel."

"D-D-Daniel?", Todd stuttered; by this time he was waaay past being unglued.

"Yeah---you 'member ol' Shadrack, Mee-shack, and A BAD NEGRO?"

The Director miked: "Action!" The "On The Air" signs over the studio door lit up, and the program was going out live. What the viewing audience saw was:

A panel of seven alleged ministers of the gospel; six of them half-falling out of their chairs, as they wiped their eyes and roared with laughter....actions more suited for a football tail-gate party than for a panel of supposedly sober men-of-the-cloth.

In the middle of that pandemonium, quite prominent because of his calm demeanor, sat a well-mannered black minister; his hands folded sedately on the table, gazing complacently into Camera Two....with an absolutely evil smile on his face!