DE GOOD LORD can still turn a miracle, Brothers and Sisters, with His powerful Almighty Hand. But He ain't going to do hit, if it ain't de thing to do. Why, for all I know now he might be setting up There dis minute conjuring up a great big whopper of a miracle to turn loose on you and me tomorrow.
I know what you thinking. You thinking it ain't so. You think de Lord ain't laid no heavy hand on dis here Brazos Bottom, and you think he ain't about to.
Well, you all wrong. My old Grandpappy was wrong, too. He thought de same thing himself and he was a preacher same as me. I mean he thought de same thing till he saw one happen—or almost happen—right here. And I heard tell of it from his own mouth before he died, God rest his soul, and dis is how he say it happen. It was when Big Sam Willis died, it all started, just before de preacher Hotwind Brown died too and my Grandpappy took his place.
Big Sam got kicked in de head by a mule, chillun, and dat's how come him to die. Dat mule always was a cussed one—had de devil's own spirit in him, dat mule did—not a nigger in dis whole Brazos Bottom would never touch dat mule but Big Sam. Some say Bib Sam got dat mule off a witch and some say de mule was natural born but had de devil's cuss put on him when he was a little feller and run under a clothes line between Christmas and New Years. I don't know about dat, but I do know dey done de best thing to do with dat mule when dey shot him. He was raving crazy mad, dat mule was, and couldn't nobody handle him since he sent Big Sam up de Glory Road.
It was de right thing to do, I reckon—shoot de mule—but it sure was de wrong time. Dey should of waited a spell for Big Sam to settle accounts with de Lord. He had a passel of sins piled up dat I reckon he had forgot about. A good repentent nigger would of done been in de Pearly Streets by de time dey cotched dat mule and shot him. So partly I reckon it was Big Sam's own natural fault, and partly I reckon hadn't nobody ever write it in de Good Book for Big Sam to enjoy dem eternal fishfries.
Big Sam done died and managed to flipflap as far as dem Pearly Gates, and dere he stood in de very reach of dem, trying to square accounts with de good Saint Peter and wasn't quite over de line yet. De good Saint Peter was holding out over two chickens and four watermelons what was took off de Widderwoman, Mrs. Archy Green, las’ Juneteenth. He cleared he holy throat, and he say to Big Sam, he say,
“Big Sam,” and took out his specs like a two-bit lawyer, “it say here dat de Widderwoman, Mrs. Archy Green, am short two chickens, frying size, and four watermelons, cool off de vine, as of Juneteenth, last year, Our Lord. Now, Big Sam, dat ain't good. You is just two chickens and four watermelons out of dese closely guarded Pearly Gates. Yessuh, two chickens and four watermelons am what it takes to squeeze your black soul through here, and, nossuh, I can't let you in till dem sins is amended. Hallellullah!”
“Hallellullah!” say Big Sam powerful sorryful. Man, he was bothered.
“Wouldn't shoot no craps for dem chickens and watermelons, good Saint Peter?”
“Lord, nossuh!” De good Saint Peter fling up his big old hands in holy horrer. “No Suh.” He scowl at de sinner, “Big Sam, dat was a bad sin right dere—tempting de Lord's Faithful Sheep—worth de equal of two more chickens, frying size.” He writ it down dat way. “Four chickens and four watermelons.”
Old Big Sam done decide right den and dere to keep his tater trap shut until he think up something purely good. He done got himself in a bad fix. Ain't no way to pay back dem earthly belongings after a man started up de Glory Road. Can't take ’em with you. He sniff de good old fishfry smell comin’ over dem Pearly Gates and two big salty tears come in his sorrowful black eyes.
Bang! Right den day shot Big Sam's mule. And in just less time dan it takes to say Jack Robinson here come dat old mule's soul, clip-clop, clip-clop, striving for dem Pearly Gates like every soul am bound to do. Big Sam and de old good Saint Peter dey both turn round and see de mule coming lightning quick across de clouds.
“Whoa, mule!” hollered Big Sam. “If I ain't going to Heaven, what makes you think you can?”
“Ha!” say de good Saint Peter, “Dat jackass ain't no less chance getting in dan you is, Big Sam, and you can put dat in your pipe and smoke it.”
Dat taken old Big Sam down right smart. He set down kerplunk on de top step of dem Golden Stairs and took to reckoning. Here come de old mule what kicked him, and nuzzle up to Big Sam just de same as he didn't kill him de day before.
“Old mule,” say Big Sam, “I might as well's to forgive you now. I reckon we is got to spend dis everafter together just paying for dem little sins.”
De good Saint Peter shook his head.
“It be writ in de Books, Big Sam. It be writ in de Books. I can't do nothing for you till your sins is forgiven. Den is de only time dese Pearly Gates can swing wide for your cleansened soul.”
Big Sam was leading de mule and dey was about four steps down, going mighty slow. Headin’ down to dem fearful pits of darkness and eternal suffering.
Dat was when old Abraham stuck his fuzzy white head out de Pearly Gates and holler to old good Saint Peter.
“Brother Pete!” he say, “Oh, Brother Pete! De mostest fearful thing done happen. Dem stable angels done give de Golden Chariot hosses too much holy hay, and dey is foundered. But dat ain't de wust. Old Brother Hotwind Brown, de faithful messenger of de Lord, done died a preaching in his Burleson County pulpit, an’ we got no Golden Chariot to fetch dat nigger to his rich rewards in de best of style. De Lord is mighty peeved. Mighty peeved.” He shooken he fuzzy white head and wait for good Saint Peter to have a idee. Good Saint Peter he don't say nothing. He stumped.
But Big Sam ain't. He looking out for Big Sam. Quick as greased lightning he back on de top step, leading dat mule.
“Well…” say old good Saint Peter an’ scratch he head.
“Well…” say old Abraham an’ scratch he head. Dey looks at each to de other, an’ hit sound like a good idea.
“Can we trust dis nigger with de Golden Chariot, Brother Pete?” ask Abraham.
Good Saint Peter he look question-like at old Big Sam an’ de mule. Dey de most repentenest looking souls he ever seen before dem Pearly Gates, an’ he been der a long time. Tears is running down dey faces, an’ old Big Sam done folded his hands an’ took to he knees.
“Lawdy, good Saint Peter,” he bawl, “please let dis poor child make up he little sins. Me an’ dis old mule can run dat Golden Chariot like de Sunshine Special.”
Abraham, he nod yes, an’ de good Saint Peter snatch out a page of de Books of Good an’ Evil an’ he write out some henscratching an’ parole old Big Sam an’ de mule.
“Fetch out de Golden Chariot, Brother Abe,” holler good Saint Peter, “an’ let it be on de way to fetch Brother Hotwind Brown to his gloryful rewards. Hallellullah!”
An’ whuzzt! Dere sot de Golden Chariot, brung out of de firmament by de never ceasing miracle of de Good Lord's power.
Big Sam don't waste no time hitching de mule onto de Golden Chariot. He afraid good Saint Peter and Brother Abraham might change dey wise minds. Dat mule powerful ragged and don't look exactly to be built to pull no Golden Chariot of de Lord. But he do in a pinch, and if dis ain't a pinch, dey never was one.
Big Sam clumb on he driver seat an’ crack de Golden Whip.
“Giddap, mule!” he holler. “Brazos Bottom bound to fetch old Hotwind Brown. Hotwind Brown, here we come!”
Off dey goes, bouncing one wheel on de Glory Steps, and one on de clouds around dem.
“I don't know ’bout dis, Brother Pete—I don't know about dis. I sure hope he a careful driver,” say Brother Abraham.
“Amen,” say old Brother Abraham and good Saint Peter, he adds a “yes” and a couple of “verilies.”
Scooting along in de clouds, Big Sam got dat plow mule in a running fit. Man, it was the smoothest riding dey ever done. Didn't take no more dan forty minutes to get to de top of de sky.
Big Sam look way down from dere—steps just as far as de eye can see. Steps and more steps—and about four steps from de very bottom am a big crowd. Dere stand de spirit of Hotwind Brown, still a preaching.
Who he preaching to. De devil, dat's who. Old Satan hisself, and six of de Devil's bestest imps.
“Oh, my,” say Big Sam, part to heself and part to de mule. “Dat Hotwind Brown. He sure done went and took it on hisself. He must think he good to try and save old Lucifer from he own self. Giddap, mule! Better men dan Hotwind has done went de broad and easy path for just de same reason. We got to fetch dat nigger back to de fold before dat Devil gets him by de coattail!” Big Sam chuck up de mule full speed and dey makes ninety to nothing, wide open, sliding de last three miles.
Wham and squeech! Big Sam throw on de brakes to de Golden Chariot. He stand up proud in de Golden Chariot, make a big show for de Devil, he tell heself. He toot de Golden Horn, he ring de Golden Bells, and he sing out in a powerful thundering voice,
“Hotwind Brown! I is de messenger of de Lord come to fetch you to your Rewards. Come a running and let dem sinners remain in de darkness of dey sin. You has earned a rest, and dis here Golden Chariot am come to fetch you to it.”
Hotwind Brown he keep on a preaching. Big Sam he keep a yelling. Big Sam he fast losing he spiritual attitude.
Finally Hotwind he see dat he congregation ain't a listening to him no more. Dey looking up de steps behind him staring at de miracle of Big Sam and de Golden Chariot. Miracles am scarce in hell, and hot-winded mens is plentiful. Hotwind Brown turn around.
“Lordamercy!” he whoop. “Sinner Big Sam and he crazy mule. Am dis de Jedgment Day and is I went to hell?”
Big Sam he tell Hotwind all over what he done already said while Hotwind ain't listening. Sure nuff Hotwind don't believe him. Big Sam he ain't figured on dis a happening. He been so regrossed in remembering how dat fishfry smell smell, he think driving de Golden Chariot am a soft job.
Hotwind Brown always was a better talker dan a listener, and it look like ain't much chance he going to mend he ways at de last minute. He fly plum off de handle, and he cuss Big Sam like a preacher ain't even supposed to think about.
“What I done?” say Hotwind. “What have I done? I is a consecrated man, and I has been living right, and what do I get? Dis nigger…” he wave he hands at Big Sam…“dis coon! Dis am what de Lord have done sent after me! Nossuh, nossuh. I might get in dat Golden Chariot with just you, Big Sam, but I'll sizzle in de firey furnace de quick way before I get dat close to dat blast-blasted mule of yours. Nossuh, nossuh.” Powerful anguish come on de face of Hotwind Brown, and he gnash he tooths, and he wrang he hands, and he say, “I is now a son of de Devil. Lord forgive me, but I won't ride with dat mule.” He bow he head, and he give heself up to de Devil.
“Now ain't dat a shame,” grin de Devil, and flick he forked tail. “Ain't dat a shame. And me almost reconsecrated back to de side of de Lord by all dis Hotwind Brown's powerful preachin dis last hour. My, my,” he shooken he head and clank he horns, “come on, Hotwind, let's get on to hell.”
Big Sam don't know nothing to do, so he set down in de Golden Chariot, only he don't set dere very long. Right soon he hear a big flappity-flapping. He look up and see two of de Lord's biggest angels is circling to land. Big Sam he decide right quick dat dem angels ain't come on no friendly visit to pass de time. It's a fact dey didn't pass no time at all. Dey heft Big Sam out of de Golden Chariot and dey unhitch de mule right quick and dey whoosk up de Golden Chariot and off dey go.
Big Sam he left setting dere on de bottom-most step with he crazy mule, and he watch de angels and de Golden Chariot till he don't even see a little speck no more. Big tears dey roll off his black cheeks. De Golden Chariot been whoosked back to de Golden City by de wrath of de Lord. Hotwind Brown been whoosked off to hell by de Devil and five imps, and de sixth imp am standing by Big Sam, just busting he guts a laughing.
“Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho,” de imp he beller, “let's you and me get on dis crazy mule and go to hell. Dey is a nice warm bed a waiting for you, Big Sam, a nice warm bed of coals. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho.” De imp he hop on de mule and Big Sam he clumb on slow. De imp he tickle de mule in de flanks so he kick and pitch all de way down de banks of de River Stix.
Dat what happened to Hotwind Brown. Dat what happened to de old crazy mule, and dat what happened to Big Sam and de Golden Chariot, chillun, and de Widderwoman, Mrs. Archy Green am still out two chickens and four watermelons and de Lord am still out de wear and tear on de Golden Chariot when it didn't fetch nothing back.