Male Bonding in Oysterback

January 11, 1995|By HELEN CHAPPELL

OYSTERBACK, MARYLAND — Oysterback, Maryland. -- Parsons Dreedle has been having a religious revival lately; he had a bad scare with his last prostate examination with Dr. Wheedleton, and it has given him reason to think about things he has not previously considered, like God. Although you might think that owning a funeral home and being around death all the time would make him think about God before this, which maybe he has and no one noticed it before.

Even Reverend Briscoe, who is a nice man, was nonplussed when Parsons stood up during the offering last Sunday and announced that he could see the ghost of Bunky Redmond floating in the back of the church, smiling at him because he, Parsons, had made a personal commitment to Jesus.

''I can see him just as clear as day,'' Parsons said dramatically, pointing to a space somewhere around the stained-glass window of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes that was donated by Busbee Clinton, who owns the sea-food plant. ''He's so happy that I have accepted Jesus as my personal savior.''

In spite of its name, Oysterback Hardshell Methodist Church is pretty soft-shell. We don't go in for purple-haired preachers screaming about the fires of hell and smirking about how they're going to heaven and you're not. So you can imagine what people were thinking when Parsons interrupted the service to make his announcement.

Everyone was certainly looking, even little Miss Buck, the organist, whose fingers kept playing ''Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me,'' as she peered over her glasses, mouth agape, at Parsons, standing up in the second pew, his hair standing up all over this head, pointing toward the back of the church like the statue of our Glorious War Dead over to the courthouse at the county seat.

''I wish I could get those kind of theatrics out of him when he's trying out for 'Mame,' '' Hagar Jump murmured to her husband, (( Wimsey, who was as startled as little Miss Buck.

Desiree Grinch snorted, and had to put her hymnal up over her face, but Earl Don, who was passing the collection plate on the other side of the church, almost dropped it. Hudson Swann turned and looked, just to be sure that old Bunk wasn't back there. Which was what most people did; people in Oysterback don't see things like that, or if they do, they keep them to themselves.

Miss Nettie Leery didn't say anything, but she didn't have to; her disapproval was so manifest you could have reached out and touched it with your hand. St. Paul tells us not to cut the fool, especially in church, and she takes those words to heart. If you want to make a scene, wait for the revival to come through, is her motto. Miss Nettie still wears a hat to services.

''He's smiling because he's so happy that I've come home to the Lord,'' Parsons cried, his face all alight, his finger pointing to a place near where the stained-glass fish pour out of the stained-glass basket, with the winter sunlight pouring through. And then he sat down. There was a moment of silence, and the ushers began passing the collection plates again and everything went on about as usual.

Paisley and Junior Redmond, the late Bunky's sons, were not in church that Sunday; they and their wives, Doreen and Beth, had decided to go down to Captain and Mrs. Lennie Skinner's rental cottage in Ocean City that weekend, since Reba McEntire was at the Civic Center. Besides, Doreen's mother had offered to keep the kids, all of them, and you don't get an offer like that every day.

You can bet that the story got back to them by Sunday night, one way or another. It doesn't matter who, or how many who's, told them; in a small town like Oysterback, news, especially news that makes someone else look more foolish than the rest of us, travels as fast as a crab on a hot stove.

Monday night at halftime, the Redmond brothers were over at Junie's, in the den, and it was Paisley who brought up the subject, him being the younger. Doreen was upstairs supervising the two younger ones' teeth brushing. Chelsea was on the phone in the kitchen, microwaving popcorn, and Jason was lost in some 17-year-old interior space involving his Game Boy. The entire conversation between the Redmond brothers went like this:

''Personally, I can't see Daddy doin' anything like that. He only went to church Christmas and Easter,'' Paisley said, reaching for a handful of potato chips from the bag on the coffee table.

''You can say that again,'' Junie said, popping another can of beer. ''Daddy wasn't one to make a big show, ever.''

''I can't even remember him even thinking about Parsons.'' Paisley put his feet on the ottoman and slowly worked off his shoes. Being in the auto-body repair business, he's on his feet all day, and sometimes they hurt him at night.

''Daddy would think that anything that was going on between Parsons and Jesus wasn't any of his business,'' Junie pointed out. He belched a little behind his hand, since Doreen wasn't there to reprimand him.

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