“Boomer” Winfrey
Varmint County Correspondent

It Rains Turkeys on Fourth Baptist Church Thanksgiving Pageant

Following the shenanigans of the Halloween festivities, Varmint County’s social season really gets into full swing. 

The Veterans’ Day parade comes first, complete with competing performances by Hockmeyers dressed out in Civil War uniforms of Union blue while Haigs join the parade decked out in Confederate gray.

That occasion is followed by the Varmint County Vipers basketball season, which draws pretty much everyone in the county down to Lower Primroy for games, whether it’s the boys’ turn to play under coach B. O. Snodgrass or a Lady Vipers game under coach Gabby Aslinger.

Although star player Penny Haig graduated a couple of seasons back, the Haig clan has continued to fill about half the gym to watch Penny’s kid sister, Chloe, a pint-sized guard who hits around 80 percent of her shots. The only reason Chloe doesn’t outscore the opposition all by herself is her temper – she averages playing around 20 minutes or so before getting tossed out of most games.

Chloe gets tossed because the only way the other team can stop her from making shots is to foul her. Instead of taking the pounding and simply making dozens of free throws in a game, Chloe usually ends up punching the big girls on the other teams and getting herself ejected.

The next stop on the social calendar is Thanksgiving. Normally a time for intimate family gatherings, Varmint County Thanksgiving celebrations tend to be more of a community affair. Everyone, of course, gathers at home for a big Thanksgiving feast, but much of the population of the county still gathers on Thanksgiving mornings outside the ancestral home of Colonel Hugh Ray Jass, our retired county judge.

For many years, Hugh Ray’s grandfather, Cornelius Jass, refused to recognize Thanksgiving, calling it “Mister Lincoln’s holiday” since it was officially proclaimed as a national holiday following the conquest of Atlanta by General Sherman and ole Abe’s subsequent re-election to the White House.

Cornelius, whose pappy was a Confederate captain serving in Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry division, celebrated his anti-Thanksgiving by running out the Stars and Bars on a flagpole, playing “Dixie” on an old phonograph player and firing off an ancient Civil War cannon he had purchased at a foreclosure sale.

Nearly everyone in Varmint County turned out on Thanksgiving morning to watch old Cornelius fire his cannon, so in a sense, he helped Varmint County celebrate Thanksgiving in his own way. When the old man passed on a few years back, Colonel Hugh tried to end the tradition, but so many people were disappointed that he relented.

Colonel Hugh still fires off the cannon to begin Varmint County’s Thanksgiving Day, but instead of flying a Confederate flag and playing Dixie, he puts out a big breakfast spread on several picnic tables in his front lawn and invites everyone, especially those residents down on their luck and unable to afford a Thanksgiving dinner, to help themselves.

In the evening, the annuaul festivities always conclude with a Thanksgiving pageant put on by the children of Fourth Primitive Baptist Church of Lower Primroy. This church is neither primitive nor is it “fourth,” having the largest congregation in the county, but the name bears some explanation.

All Baptist churches in Varmint County consider themselves “Primitive,” meaning they do not conform to any national affiliations but keep to their own traditions, rules and doctrine. The original Lower Primroy Baptist Church was founded in the early 1800s by descendants of the county’s founder, Louis Lowe.

As you may recall, Louis kept two wives at opposite ends of the county and hid his transgressions by pronouncing his name two different ways. Those descendants finally found out about each other and argued over whether the proper name was Looey Lowe as in “cow” or Lewis Lowe as in “go.” The “Go Lowes” finally broke off from the “Cow Lowes” and formed the Second Primitive Baptist Church.

Other families moved into the area, including the Haigs and Hockmeyers who all joined the First Baptist Church congregation until the so-called War of Northern Aggression. The Haigs, unapologetic Rebels, could no longer share pews with the Union-leaning Hockmeyers and broke away to form the Third Primitive Baptist Church, moving it to Haig Hollow.

More recently, in the 1930s, the pastor of the Second Baptist Church, the Right Reverend Hiram Pennywell, ran off with the wife of one of the church deacons. The deacon’s family and friends broke away and founded the Fourth Primitive Baptist Church. This church, lacking both feuding Haigs and Hockmeyers and disgraced pastors, quickly attracted most of the prominent families in Varmint County.

Through the years, the different churches have buried the hatchet, so to speak, and many members from all the various congregations show up to watch the Fourth Baptist Thanksgiving pageant in early evening after digestion of family dinners is complete.

The pageant was the brainstorm of the only Varmint County resident to claim ancestry that pre-dates the founding father. Chief Harry Thunderfoot claims that Louis Lowe actually stole most of Varmint County from his ancestors, the Thunderfoot Clan of the Choctaw Nation.

“Old Harry is as full of stuffing as a Thanksgiving turkey,” Doc Filstrup once observed. “He’s actually half Lowe, about a quarter Haig, one-eighth Aslinger, a sixteenth Jass on his mother’s side and at most maybe one-sixteenth Injun.”

“Doc, the proper term is Native American, nowadays,” Judge Hard Time Harwell cut in.

“The only thing native about Harry Thunderfoot is that hoss he likes to ride in parades,” Doc snorted. “His Choctaw blood is as watered down as the whiskey Lawyer McSwine’s bootlegger grandpa used to sell.”

Watered down or not, Chief Thunderfoot proclaimed himself to be the spokesperson for all the Native Americans in Varmint County and made a decent living peddling Indian crafts from a gift shop up at the interstate exit, where he would even pose for photos in full regalia including a tomahawk and war bonnet. The fact that Choctaws never wore war bonnets was a minor detail that Harry overlooked.

As a member of the Fourth Primitive Baptist Church, Harry pushed Reverend Phineas Pinetar and the deacons, including Clyde Filstrup Junior, lawyer Philbert McSwine and Fire Chief Stanley “the Torch” Aslinger, to organize a Thanksgiving pageant so, as he put it, “the contributions of Native Americans in saving the Pilgrims can be observed.”

The pageant, put on by the church’s youth group under the direction of Reverend Pinetar’s sister Fluvia, was held on a stage in the church’s front lawn when weather allowed and quickly became an annual event, but not without a few hitches here and there.

One year little Kirby Perkins, playing the role of one of the Native American guests, tried to scalp his older brother Peavy, portraying one of the Pilgrim fathers, after Peavy helped himself to Kirby’s slice of mince pie.

“We could stop serving real food at the table,” Clyde Junior suggested when the board of deacons met following the fiasco.

“Nah, the congregation likes to finish up the food after the pageant ends. Its traditonal, anyhow. We’ll just stop using real knives and hatchets and give the kids rubber imitations,” Lawyer McSwine countered.

This year, Clyde Filstrup Junior came up with one of his usual brainstorms, designed to serve both the public and Clyde Filstrup at the same time.

“We need something to liven up the ol’ Thanksgiving pageant a little bit. How about some live turkeys?” Clyde suggested.

“What the devil we going to do with live turkeys? The whole idea of the pageant is Pilgrims and Indians sittin’ down together to give thanks and eat together. You can’t eat live turkeys,” Stanley the Torch countered.

“We could ask Fluvia to design a first act where the Pilgrims and Indians are hunting turkeys, and have some live turkeys flying around for effect. Then we can donate the turkeys to families to take home and save for Christmas dinner,” Clyde suggested.

“You wouldn’t be wanting to use this to publicize that new supermarket over in Burrville that I heard you bought half interest in, would you, Clyde?” Lawyer McSwine asked.

“Of course not, but I’ll be glad to donate the turkeys. Curley Hockmeyer raises turkeys and is our supplier. I’ll get him to provide a couple dozen live ones that we can give away after the pageant,” Clyde insisted.

Fluvia Pinetar had serious misgivings about re-writing the script for her pageant, and even more serious misgivings about having kids chasing live turkeys around the stage, but she finally relented when Clyde pointed out that more people would attend the pageant if they thought they had a chance to take home a free Christmas turkey.

The night of the pageant, Curley Hockmeyer arrived early with two dozen full-grown turkeys. “How you gonna do this, Clyde? These birds can get a mite ornery and you don’t want any of the kids getting hurt.”

“No, we don’t want these birds flogging any of the children and we sure don’t want them chasing ‘em around, making a mess on the stage. Why don’t you just take ’em up in the bell tower and release them. They’ll fly around some and the kids can pretend to be shooting them with bow and arrows or muskets,” Clyde proposed. “They won’t go far and it might add a bit of excitement for folks to run their turkey down to take home.”

Now, Curley Hockmeyer is a bit slow on the uptake, you might say, or he probably would have thought to mention that domestic turkeys, unlike their wild brethren, can’t fly. “Oh, well,” Curley thought, “Clyde seems to know what he’s doing, and besides, these birds are destined to end up on somebody’s dinner table, eventually.”

The first act of the pageant began smoothly enough. Little Peewee Aslinger played the part of an Indian, trying to show Dougie Pinetar how to trap a turkey.

“Oh, we don’t have to do that, Chief Sinking Canoe. With this magic thunderstick I can shoot one out of the sky,” Dougie replied, lifting the musket to his shoulder and firing into the air. The musket was filled with a light charge of powder but no bullet, which made it even more of a surprise when a turkey came dropping out of the sky onto the stage with a dull “thud.”

“Hey, look, Mam-maw! I actually bagged me a turkey!” Dougie exclaimed as he lifted the limp bird up by the neck.

Just then another bird hit the stage, gobbling loudly all the way until it hit the ground. Several more followed in quick succession, sending Fluvia Pinetar and two dozen kids dressed in buckskins, Pilgrim hats and bonnets scattering in all directions.

Fortunately, nobody was struck by a falling gobbler, although one hapless bird did land on the keyboard of the church’s portable organ, covering organist Prunella Perkins in feathers and the remnants of the turkey’s last meal.

It took awhile for order to be restored after the last bird had been released to its impending doom, but eventually the mess was cleaned up and the kids, troopers to the end, concluded the last act in their play and bowed for a curtain call.

Reverend Pinetar thanked the audience for their support and their patience, then added, “And we cannot thank Deacon Clyde Filstrup Junior enough for donating these live turkeys from his new Shop-A-Lot store over in Burrville!”

“Uh, Reverend, you didn’t really have to thank me or mention the store.”

“Believe me, Clyde, I did. I really, really did.”