Rev. Elswood And The Pink Petticoat


Roger L. Smalling


"Y’all might could set its tail afire", exclaimed Cliff Jackson.

"Naw, that’ud be cruel," said the Rev. Hank Elswood. "It might set the petticoat afire too," he added. "After all, it’s nigh on 125 years old."

A mischievous twinkle lit the eyes of Sam Jenkins as he chuckled, "I know somebody else’s tail that’s agoin’ to be set afire when your little woman comes back and sees that calico kitten tangled up in her antique petticoat."

Guffaws and chuckles swept across the small group of five dungareed farmers. All were amused by memories of the Rev. Elsewood’s former affirmations of the virtues of celibacy. Since the balding country preacher had fallen victim to the charms of little Susie, Elswood’s friend rarely missed an opportunity to remind him of his late commitment to matrimony.

The Rev. Elswood made a sincere attempt to avoid showing annoyance, but his balding scalp betrayed him again.

"Y’all are the onliest preacher I’ve ever seen that could blush straight out of the top of his head," said Sam Jenkins. This produced another round of guffaws and chuckles, but everyone knew that they were putting off the moment of truth in which each must admit that he had no idea how to extract a frightened calico kitten from an antique petticoat without damage to either.

"Shorely a bunch of fine farmers like us has got enough smarts to figure this out," exclaimed Bill Smith.

"That’s what’s got me worried," replied the Rev. Elswood, knowing that nobody would catch the innuendo.

Feet shuffled, hands were thrust authoritatively in pockets, as if to say, "It weren’t really a problem atall." But each attempt to pull the kitten out of the folds of the delicate petticoat only caused it to cry distressfully and dig its claws in even further.

Offerings of food had not prevailed, since frightened kittens have notoriously poor appetites. A small wad of chewing tobacco, (which Cliff Jackson confidently affirmed was strong enough to make the devil let go of sin), had been placed directly in front of the nose of the animal, but had also failed to produce the predicted relinguishment of its claws.

Turpentine on the tail, cod-liver oil on the nose, hot and cold water and other liquid expedients had been suggested and rejected on the grounds of potential damage to the valuable antique.

A smoke-gets-in-your-eyes trick had been tried by Bill Smith, because he was sure he had heard it in a song somewhere, but he hadn’t been able to recollect what the remedy was good for... which, (he concluded), was probably why it didn’t work.

Non-chemical expedients had also been attempted such as loud noises, pleadings and threatenings, and (in deference to the presence of the country preacher) a number of polite substitutes for swear words. Time was running out.

"Well," said Bill Smith, "I hate to say it, but it looks like we are just plain goin’ to have to kill it."

The Rev. Elswood looked up disgustedly and said, "And how do y’all figure I’m agoin’ to explain that to my wife?"

"Y’all could say it died of itself, or fell off of this here balcony," said Smith.

"No," said Sam Jenkins, "he couldn’t say that ‘cause he’s a preacher and preachers ain’t supposed to tell a lie. I ain’t nothin’ but a regular deacon so let me tell it."

At this suggestion the Rev. Elswood had taken to pinching the top of his nose again and shaking his head back and forth.

Jenkins was about to ask him why, when he looked up and saw a blue pickup bouncing over the potholes in the dirt road leading to the parsonage, with a pert female nose poking over the steering wheel.

"Preacher, I hate to tell you this, but the holy fire is about to fall upon thine anointed head," he said, proud of himself for this clever announcement of Susie’s arrival.

As Susie parked the blue pickup in front of the door she noticed the group of men on the balcony. Remembering the carefully washed petticoat, which had been placed there for drying, she scampered up the steps to confront the now silent group of country bumpkins.

As she stepped out on the balcony, she was met with the view of her husband’s mouth wide open, momentarily incapable of articulation. His finger pointed at the petticoat.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a plaintive and distressful cry emerging from the folds of the petticoat. "Oh, you poor little darling," exclaimed Susie, in a long soft drawn-out southern drawl. "Come here to Momma," she said gently. Her feminine hands stroked the kitten as she bent over and kissed it squarely between its pointed ears. Inmediately the kitten released its grip on the petticoat and clung to her hand.

As she walked off the balcony, caressing the kitten with her cheek, five farmers shuffled their feet and one country preacher pinched his nose and shook his head.

Later on, with guests gone and dusk settling in, the Rev. Elswood was still on the balcony, pacing back and forth muttering, "Lord, I know thar’s a sermon in this somewhere. I know thar is. But I just can’t quite git aholt of it."