Human Condition: Little Bubby’s last hymn to close Sunday service _lowres

 

Editor’s note: Malcolm Wright, a contributor to ‘The Human Condition’ column for many years, died Oct. 4. Here is his last submission.

“…but the child that’s born on the Sabbath day is blithe and winsome, wholesome and gay.”

Little Bubby was born on a bright Sunday, March 4, 1934. His mother, Mabel, was profoundly deaf, 40 years old, and, before wrinkles, had been stunning. A younger, even prettier sister had once claimed Mabel would never “catch a man” because of her “affliction.”

Little Bubby was so-named by his oldest sister, Ruth, who was 13. His brother, Ernest Jr., called Bub, was 10. His future nemesis, Helen, was 3.

The family home was a patchwork of thrown-together rooms. There was running water for the kitchen, but no indoor bathroom. The tin roof amplified the pounding drama of Louisiana’s rain storms.

Bubby’s early life was what every child’s life should be — uninhibited by preschool, kindergarten, Little League or any organized activity.

In those late Depression years, his family was poor but didn’t know it. The family farm was 160 acres of rice, sweet potatoes and hay fields. Bubby lived among horses, cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, dogs and cats. Family income was supplemented by Ernest Sr.’s RFD mail route and Mabel’s dairy.

With parents chained to the exigencies of earning a living, Little Bubby was free to do most everything he could get away with. He was coddled by Ruth and harassed by Helen. Bub, his hero, made popguns of hollow canes with which to shoot China berries and a cart for their pet sheep, Baa Baa, to pull. And one August week when Bubby was 5, Bub taught him a hymn.

That Sunday was of record heat. The ladies of the congregation supplemented the downward flow of warm air from the ceiling fans with their funeral parlor fans. Bubby, miserable in his good clothes, sat squirming by his mother but separated from Helen.

This originally Methodist church was of severely Protestant architecture — no Catholic-style divided chancel, but a stolid pulpit facing directly down the center aisle. The old minister, intent on saving souls, preached his usual full-length hellfire and finances sermon: “You wealthy old farmers don’t have that long to live. Do you want to leave this earth before we get the new church built?”

It is said that the robust hymns of Charles and John Wesley caused the demise of several Welsh choirs. Methodists have always been known for their singing. But the Old 100th, or “doxolojer” as Huck Finn said it, was perhaps the best relief to end a hot Sunday worship service. So the congregation stood and belted out:

“Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

And Little Bubby, standing up on the pew seat out of reach of his sister, not heard by his mother because of her affliction, sang his own tune in a very loud voice:

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, toot, toot;

“I eat all the spinach I can, toot, toot;

“I never go swimming with bow-legged women,

“I’m Popeye the Sailor Man, toot, toot.”

Advocate readers may submit stories of about 500 words to the Human Condition at features@theadvocate.com or The Advocate, EatPlayLive, 7290 Bluebonnet Blvd., Baton Rouge, LA 70810. There is no payment, and stories will be edited. Authors should include their city of residence.