Kim Wells

July 2000

Smiley's Messiah

The miracle happened at about 10:30 one morning, back when I was a kid.

We lived in Delcambre, Louisiana, a city whose main drag boasted five bars (two of which gave literal meaning to the word "drag" if you catch my meaning), two greasy-spoon restaurants, three churches (of various denominations) the school and a small clothing five-and-dime type store.

Anyhow there wasn't much for a seven year old to do for fun and excitement back then in Delcambre; it was mostly a pit stop for shrimpers and long-haul truckers, and their notion of fun was strictly limited (hence the five juke joints).

The miracle, which was the most fun I can remember having up till then, started at about 10:30 am, like I was saying, about two weeks before Easter. The Catholics (including me) were all observing Lent, and those who were succeeding in giving up their favorite vice were pretty grumpy. I had decided to give up my Flintstone vitamin pill, but mama wasn't havin' none of that, so I had failed miserably in my resolve to sacrifice for Jesus. I was feelin' a bit put-upon by my choice bein' rejected too. One of those Catholic ladies (my mama's some-time friend Mrs. D'Iberville) was goin' over to Miss Stumpfield's run down little shack of a place offa Jefferson street, next to Smiley's Baptist Temple. Paulette (which mama and her friends called Mrs. D'Iberville, which would'a' gotten me a smack) was goin' to donate some of "her Warren's" high-quality hand-me-downs to Miss Stumpfield's little illegitimate rugrats. Paulette was havin' a tough time with the stairs leadin' up to the garage apartment.

As she was panting her way with some difficulty up to her destination (fourteen steps oughta be against some kinda law) the parcel of barely used Sears clothes slipped out of her chubby hands, plummeted straight down and landed smack dab in the middle of a huge mud puddle (Louisiana being a rainy place in spring, a mud puddle wasn't that easy to miss). A coupl'a Miss Stumpfield's mutt puppies came racing out from under the car where they'd been resting and, happily yipping and yapping, drug Warren's jacket and trousers away in a fabulous tug-of-war.

Paulette D'Iberville, from the top of the thirteenth step, considered that her son's clothes had never seen the likes of such rough treatment. Warren preferred to sit on their fine, practically antique sofa and draw his genius pictures. Paulette knew some day he'd be a famous artist like that Itallian fellow Leonardo Da Vinci (although truth to tell, she thought his pictures looked mostly like squashed turnips).

Paulette waddled her way down the stairs to gather up Warren's Toughskin jeans, casting a resentful eye on the window where she just knew Miss Stumpfield must be looking and not helping. In the process, she had to go clear away across the yard, to the base of the steps of Smiley's Temple. All the time that puppy was growlin' and shakin' his head back and forth, teeth firmly planted in the leg of the pants. Paulette finally jerked the trousers out of the dog's mouth and sat down hard on the Reverend Smiley's porch. The puppy, happy that this lady wanted him to play, panted and wriggled in ecstacy, trying to grab the jeans again. Paulette had to swat him away (and she might have been excused for swattin' a little hard, considerin' the circumstances and all, which were NOT helping her chocolate craving one bit).

Paulette caught her breath and started to stand, bracing on the porch and teetering a bit. As she was coming to her full height, she looked up and stared straight into the face of Jesus Christ, who was gazing serenely out at her from the Temple's screen door.

Paulette let out a shriek that startled the puppy back under his car; then she passed out cold, falling down the steps with one leg still on the porch and the other curled gently underneath her pleasingly plump body, looking all the world like a rag doll tossed aside by a careless child.

When Miss Stumpfield (who had been ignoring what she knew was Paulette's progress up the stairs because she hadn't really wanted any of Stinky Warren's clothes anyway) heard the gawdawful shriek, she peered out her window and saw the nosy Paulette D'Iberville sprawled all up and down the steps of Smiley's Temple. After a good giggle at the sight of Paulette with her skirt tossed over her head (a short one, she contritely told herself later) she dutifully dialed the ambulance and went to see what was wrong.

Next day it was all over town how Jesus had appeared before Paulette and touched her on the hand and told her to spread the word that he was coming again. Paulette herself visited my mama, wearing a neck brace and a shiny white cast on her left leg. Mama said she looked "right peaked" and made her a cup of coffee "with two sugars and extra cream." I wanted to draw my name and a pretty flower on Mrs. D'Iberville's cast (and she would'a let me) but instead mama jerked me into my jacket and drug me down to see for ourselves Smiley's Messiah (as everyone was already beginning to call it).

To me it just looked like a slightly dirty spot on Smiley's screen door but what did I know? I was just a kid, as everyone was always reminding me. All kinds of people were there, includin' Reverend Smiley, who was tellin' everyone the history of Smiley's Temple, invitin' em all to join since it was obviously a blessed church and who wouldn't want to belong to an organization touched by the hand and face of God? I thought the Reverend Smiley sounded just like my Uncle Bill, who sold used cars over in New Iberia, but no one was askin' me, so I looked around for something to do.

My mother was up front, chattin' it up with Paulette and all t'other ladies. I spied Missy Parker, who's mom played bridge every Saturday night with mine, and we watched Warren muck around unhappily in the mud. Missy (who was braver than me on account of her havin' naturally curly hair) went up to Warren and tugged on his jacket.

"What's wrong with your mama?"
"Jesus cracked her collarbone" Warren replied sullenly.

All the parents decided that it was their duty to alert the media to this genuine miracle, and up we kids were snatched again, carried back home where the babysitter was already waitin', and where we fell into our "bridge night" habits of playin' dolls and talkin' about life. I asked Missy why she thought Jesus would want to break Warren's mom's collarbone.

"Maybe it's because he don't like all them turnip pictures Stinky Warren's always drawin'"

Missy always did have a way with words.

A coupl'a days later, the whole town buzzed with excitement again cause Claude Ledbetter from the Lafayette Times was in town to do a story on our Miracle. Reverend Smiley met him at Lacey's café (the greasy spoon) and escorted him to the Blessed Sight.

Mama's phone didn't stop ringin' all morning.

"He got to touch the screen door? Well I never!"
"He took pictures and everything?"
"Paulette's whinin' cause she aint gonna be interviewed." (This last was followed by a laugh and some low mumbling I didn't catch).

Missy's mama dropped her off at my house cause she was drivin' over to New Iberia to get the newsmen there to come by. My mama gave her some pies to take to Uncle Bill and sent me and Missy off to play Barbie in my room.

Barbie was excited because Ken was gonna take her out for pizza in New Iberia, so she gave him a big smooch. Missy wanted Barbie to do more but I said it wasn't right, Jesus bein' in town and all.

For a week, there were cars from all over Louisiana up and down Main street. There was even a lot of excitement when a trucker from Baton Rouge, in town to see the miracle, stopped at the Green Bar and was propositioned by one of its patrons. What was funny to us kids is that even we knew it was a gay bar-- we sometimes saw the night bagger from the grocery store over there, dressed up like a woman. The trucker claimed he thought it was a Country-Western dance place (despite the Disco music that spilled out of the doors whenever they were opened, which could be heard from the café next door). The trucker went to jail in New Iberia for three days cause he slugged the man who asked him out. I figure he just got mad when he figured out that he wasn't the she he appeared to be.

Easter Sunday afternoon, the crowd was in a fever pitch, waiting for the Messiah to appear. Everyone was calling out to their friends to see what was goin' on later, should we go to the BBQ or to the Crawfish Boil later? Mama and Missy's mom whispered something like "look at that Paulette, don't she know floral prints aren't appropriate for a woman of her size?" I thought she looked like a couch, myself, but no one asked me, as usual.

Even Father Paulson from St. Mary's (our church) was there, speaking earnestly with Brother Smiley, who was eatin' it all up with a huge grin on his face.

It turned into an impromptu sermon, out there in the mud, with all the preachers tryin' to outdo one another in holiness, talkin' about how blessed we was, with the whole town together and people from places too, and I guess it was inevitable that, since everyone was craning their necks around trying to be the first to see the real Messiah when he finally showed, something would finally happen.

Just after Paulette's amazin' rendition of Amazing Grace (in operetta falsetto) and just before Brother Smiley's final invocation, Warren D'Iberville (Stinky to all us kids) jumped up to the podium from where he had been scowlin' at his mama singing and yelled:

"I painted Jesus' face on the screen door with a big black magic marker three weeks ago when everyone was at the town picnic."

After the initial stunned silence, all through the crowd, a disquieted murmur began.

"I don't know why I didn't see the resemblance to a turnip before."
"Reverend Smiley must have something to do with this"
"A'hm goin' home."

Slowly everyone began to disappear, like the crowd who'd gathered to see the Emperor's New Clothes in my favorite bedtime story. They were embarrassed that they had been fooled for so long (including Reverend Smiley). Still, though, everyone asserted that it could have happened, Delcambre was special enough to deserve a miracle.

My mama suggested we all go over to Lacey's café, to have a cuppacoffee, and to discuss Paulette's scandal.

Missy just looked at me and smiled. We never knew before that Old Warren had it in him.

Next week, though, he was back to being just Stinky Warren, churning out his mashed turnip portraits and getting picked on by everyone.

I hear he's in advertising today.

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