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I did not attend church this past Sunday morning for a couple of reasons but a “Story of Spirituality” must be told.
I had been diagnosed with pneumonia on Thursday. I had, I guess, what people refer to as “walking pneumonia.” The doctor said she would allow me to take my medicine and have complete rest at home. I said, “Doctor, this is going to be the time when I had promised a man that I would speak at his funeral.” The doctor said, “Well, tell you what, I’m going to release you from house rest just long enough to attend the funeral. We’ll say, God will take care of you and as soon as it is over, you get back to the house.”
The man who had died was named 82-year old Johnny E. Fults, the Constable. He was born in 1931 into a family of twelve children and in a community where the Great Depression was devastating. His father had no special work skills and I think Bill Anderson’s song, “Po Folks” has an applicable line that would fit well here – “If the wolf had ever come to our front door, he’d had to bring a picnic lunch.”
Now one of the problems that contributed to this situation was, their neighbors were in the same exact condition. The same era country song legend Hank Williams grew up in. Hank said, “The souls of his shoes were so thin that if he stepped on a dime, he could tell you if it was on head or tails.”
Johnny Fults entered the U.S. Army at the age of 16 and made an allotment to his family. I think Johnny was so affected by all the needs around him that he was determined to do what he could to make it better. Story goes that a man walking along a beach was throwing starfish back into the water that the high tide had left. He met another man who said, “Sir, I admire what you are doing but just look down the beach. There was a black row of starfish as far as the eye could see. The man continued, “You just can’t possibly make a difference.” The man bent over, picked up another, threw it in the water and said, “I know, but I did for that one.”
In the fifties some timberwork was bringing some money and employment into Altamont and surrounding areas. Johnny observed the profit to be gained from sponsoring or holding a Shooting Match. They would get a hog for a small price and then the shots could win you certain parts of the hog; a ham for instance.
Johnny would go to Winchester to Ray Judges Gun Shop to get 2-2-12 ammo. To be fair, everyone had to use the same ammo. Now when it was over about everyone took home some meat, drank a little booze, and Johnny had all the profits, which he would deliver to whoever the Shooting Match had been held for.
Listen, in that era, when Johnny Fults walked up to the home of a sick breadwinner with four or five hungry children and handed them $30 or $40 dollars – friends, there was great joy and relief. That would relieve the food problem until he could get well and back on his feet.
If not a Shooting Match, maybe a Box Supper was held. Young ladies would get an empty candy box at the store, decorate the box with crepe paper, make it look attractive, fill it with a couple of sandwiches, a couple of pieces of fried chicken, a dessert, and a piece of fruit.
The auctioneer would hold the box up for sale and sniff it and say, “This one’s heavy and I smell chicken.” Young men really watched which girl brought which box because if her name was inside the box, you could eat with her and follow the old tradition of walking her home.
Well, young men with a fancy for a certain girl would bid on the box she brought until he would actually have to borrow some money to help pay the price. Sometimes the price would be as high as $6 or $8 dollars per box. All proceeds went to the family in need and were as much as $70 or $80 dollars.
A fun evening was had with your neighbors at the Old School House and of course, there was the Prettiest Girl Contest, and the Ugliest Man Contest at one cent per vote.
Everyone reaped from these efforts but it took someone like Johnny Fults to organize them. There was no welfare office and no food stamps. If the need was absolutely urgent, Johnny might just take a list through the community and give people an opportunity to help.
Where are the Johnny’s now?
This is Spirituality – The Book of James says: Chapter 2:15-16 – “If a brother or sister be naked and destitute of daily food and one of you say unto them, depart in peace be ye warmed and filled; not withstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?”