Once a year, during his Mother’s Day sermon, Brother Billy Joe Prather recited the same quote, credited to his grandfather, the Rev. Jim Bob Prather Jr.
“I would rather,” Billy Joe would begin, before a dramatic pause, “face ten thousand soldiers, armed to the hilt,” pausing again for good measure, “than to one woman coming in the name of the Lord.”
Each year, the crowd would roar with both laughter and shouts of “amen,” as if they were hearing it for the first time. Little did Billy Joe, or his grandfather for that matter, realize just how prophetic those words would prove to be.
It was mid-November 1998 and in less than 24 hours, the men of Lennox Valley would gather to feast on sausage, bacon, eggs, pancakes, biscuits, hash brown potatoes and that wondrous creation of women’s groups everywhere, congealed salad.
The annual Men’s Breakfast and Turkey Shoot was a Valley highlight each November, gaining more attention than Thanksgiving most years.
Interestingly, all of Raymond Cooper’s regular guests on his daily radio show were unavailable for one reason or another on Friday, Nov. 13.
Perhaps they were home cleaning their rifles, or maybe they had driven to Springfield to help their wives shop for the annual men’s breakfast.
Raymond always had a guest on his show. More often than not it was Marvin Walsh or Farley Puckett, owner of the local hardware store. Brother Jacob, known for his barefoot preaching, sat in the guest’s seat a few times, but lately always seemed to have a prior commitment when Cooper called.
Unable to schedule any of his regulars, Raymond decided to ask the town’s newest business owner, Frank Bell, to join him on the show. Frank was hesitant at first, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend an hour with The Valley’s most visible celebrity.
After exchanging pleasantries, Cooper turned to his guest and asked, “So how is the barbering business?”
Frank was thankful to have an easy question to begin the conversation.
“It’s going pretty well,” Frank answered. “It was a little slow at first, but now I have several regulars, as well as new customers just about every day.”
Raymond continued, “Have you been building up an appetite for the men’s breakfast tomorrow? Being a newcomer, you are in for a real treat. Just about every wife at the Baptist church will be in the kitchen, cooking up more food than you’ve ever seen.”
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to make the men’s breakfast,” Frank answered awkwardly. “I’ve got other plans tomorrow.”
Cooper was confused. “Well, I’ve seen the sign on the door of your barber shop. You don’t open until 10 on Saturday mornings. The breakfast is at 7:30. Even if you can’t make the turkey shoot, you’ve still got time for breakfast.”
“Yes, I know,” Frank replied, “but I’ve got something else I need to do.”
“And even if you open at 10,” Raymond continued, “no one will be getting a haircut this Saturday morning. All the men will be at the turkey shoot.”
What Frank didn’t want to tell Raymond was he would be busy cooking for the women at the Methodist Church while the men were having their annual feast at the Baptist church.
The phone lines were eerily quiet, especially for a Friday. Raymond surmised everyone was busy preparing for the huge event just hours away.
With no one calling in and no other guests on the Friday show, Raymond told the audience he was going to play a song for all those hunters listening to his show.
“In honor of all the mighty men who will be turkey shooting and all the sausage they will be eating,” Cooper explained, “here’s ‘Big Bad John’ by Jimmy Dean.”
While the record played, Raymond frantically pressed buttons on his studio phone, attempting to reach Marvin, Elbert Lee or Earl Goodman, all to no avail. No one was answering their phones.
Raymond filled the remaining minutes of the show’s final hour with a couple of his favorite songs, “Roses for Mama” and “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
He closed by reminding his audience he would be appearing live, on air, at First Baptist Church in just 17 hours as the town’s men gathered to feast on the bounty provided by the town’s women.
As soon as he signed off, Raymond saw the light on the studio phone blinking. It was Marvin Walsh calling.
“Where are you?” Raymond barked. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
Marvin answered breathlessly, “Never mind that. We’ve got trouble!”
“Lennox Valley: The Book” is now available at Amazon.com and other booksellers.