By Kenny Paul Clarkson
Rapping on the glass with the knuckle of his forefinger, the preacher captured Wilhelm’s attention. With a friendly smile typical of the retired physics professor, he motioned them into the garage.
Besides a rake and a large green plastic trashcan, the garage was mostly empty. The obvious exceptions were R.J. Rittenbaurer, who was strapping on an accordion, Ted Edmond, who was fiddling with buttons on his clarinet, and Archie Harris, plugging his bass guitar into an amp. In addition, there was some guy sitting behind a heretofore-silent set of drums. Neither Eb nor his twelve-year-old companion, Orville, recognized the drummer.
The neighbors are going to love this, Eb thought.
"So, got ya a little polka band going, huh?" he asked, noting the obvious.
"Not just any polka band," Wilhelm beamed with a sparkle in his eye. "A gospel polka band."
"No kidding?" the preacher blandly asked.
"Yep. Far as I know, the first gospel music polka band in the world. Right here in Round Hill."
Aren’t we lucky? Orville thought of saying. He wisely chose to keep his opinion to himself.
"You know the famous polka song, ‘Roll Out the Barrel?" Blake asked. "Well, our version is ‘Read in the Bible.’ Same tune, different words. Ya wanna hear it?"
Before Eb could say a word, Wilhelm answered, "Why, sure he does. Let’s hit it, boys."
Without further ado, the guy at the drums slapped his sticks together four times to set the tempo and off they went. Blake stepped up to a microphone and began singing, "Read in the Bible - all about David and then - read how he killed that - great big old giant of sin. Read in the Bible - you too will have victory… "
They abruptly stopped.
"That’s as far as we got," Wilhelm explained. "After we finish the words to the first verse, we’re gonna write two or three more."
Eb clasped his hands behind his back. "Gospel music polka band. What a unique idea."
"We’re thinkin’ of starting a Christian beer garden," Blake volunteered. "A place where folks can come and enjoy good gospel polka music while dining on sausage links and sauerkraut."
That struck Orville as hilarious, but he managed not to laugh.
"Uhuh," Wilhelm confirmed. "We’ll serve alcohol-free beer. I wanted to call it Baptist Beer, but these other guys thought it would offend Christians who aren’t Baptists. So we decided to call it Brethren Brew. It has an ecumenical flavor."
"I think we oughta call it Christian Lite," Blake said.
Eb smiled. "Very appropriate."
"Well, ya know, Preacher," Wilhelm waxed philosophical. "I think the only way we’re going to reach a lost and dying world with the glorious Gospel of Jesus, is to speak in a language the world understands. And a lot of folks out there love polka music."
"By the way," he added, "We’re looking for gigs. We’d be happy to perform some Sunday at your church."
Eb tried to imagine.
Orville asked what they called the band. They hadn’t decided. Wilhelm had wanted to take each band member’s first initial and spell a word to be used as the band’s name, but all they could come up with was The Straw or The Warts. Someone suggested The Straw Warts because it sounded like "Star Wars." That name was voted down four to one.
Orville suggested they name the band "Joe."
"Then," he explained, "you can call it 'Band Joe.' Get it? Like banjo!"
Wilhelm wasn’t sure if that was a good idea, until Orville explained that an unusual yet catchy name would be remembered. Then, he added, "‘Joe’ could represent the words ‘Jesus Over Everything.’"
The group liked the idea. The name stuck. Band Joe. "The world’s first and finest gospel music polka band" would be printed on their business cards, they agreed.
* * *
The passing of Edna Wright was a sorrowful day in Beaverdam. Her memory would be forever etched in the hearts and minds of the 512 residents of the Kentucky village. Her name would also be etched on the boulder that was perched under the town’s water tower. That was something Amos Green always did when folks passed away. He wanted to be sure no one ever forgot.
Eb’s phone rang just after three in the afternoon.
"Mrs. Wright’s gone to be the Lord, Reverend."
The voice was soft and spoke with calculated clarity; the sound of a southern lady. It was Ellery Jane, Edna’s neighbor. A mere ninety-seven years old herself, Eb thought.
"I just wonder if you could do the funeral come Sunday afternoon?"
"Well of course I could." There was a pause. Eb tapped his finger on his desk, thinking of some words of kindness.
"And I’m so sorry. Is there anything else I can do?" he asked.
"Well," she wondered, "would you mind bringin’ a box?"
"What kinda box?" The preacher raised one eyebrow.
"A big, wooden box," the voice replied.
Eb sat back in his chair, not wanting to hear the answer to his next question, "How big?"
"Big enough for Edna, I reckon," she said. "I’d bring one myself, but Fred’ll be usin’ the only wood box we got for a few days; maybe weeks. I don’t think Edna can wait that long."
The preacher propped his feet on the desk and stretched to gaze at the ceiling.
"And who is Fred?" No sooner had the words left his lips than he wished they hadn’t.
"Oh, Fred’s Bubba’s huntin’ dog. He had puppies a few days back and Bub’s got ‘em all in straw in a box. I reckon we could use it for Edna, but I reckon we’d have to take the puppies out first, don’t you think?"
Eb closed his eyes tight and rubbed his brow. He set the phone’s receiver on his lap.
"Next thing you’ll be asking for a Gospel Music Polka Band to play Amazing Grace." His words were hardly audible.
"Yes, that will be fine." Eb couldn’t believe the words emanating from the phone’s receiver.
She heard that? He thought.
Sunday afternoon came. Eb was glad to see some townsfolk had the good sense to find a decent box for Edna. He suspected Fred was also pleased. The flowers were appropriate, he considered. The accents of golden rod were not.
The sight of Wilhelm and his friends dressed in their German trachten, complete with knickers, caused Eb to wonder if he could deliver a serious sermon.
And when the umpahs started, the preacher decided to stare stoically at the floor.
The band began to sing.
"Roll out the coffin…"
Oh, good grief, Eb thought.
"…with flowers and Edna within. Roll out the coffin. She’s gone to be in heav-en. Roll out the coffin. You, too, can have victory."
The band promptly stopped and sat down. Apparently they hadn’t finished writing that song either, Eb decided.
His sermon was short and pointed. He thanked the mourners, the townsfolk and Band Joe for their concern, then returned to his seat at the front of the chapel as each offered one last, tearful glimpse of the dearly departed.
There is cross atop a hill near Round Hill, Kentucky, in a place called Beaverdam. It speaks of the life of one Edna Wright. It also tells of the lives of a simple folk who care little for the propensities of proper society and choose, instead, to give from the heart, whether it be a wooden box, a Sunday sermon or the solemn serenade of the world’s first and finest Gospel Music Polka Band.
Kenny Paul Clarkson (Kenn Gividen in real life) is the author of The Prayer of Hannah. A father of two grown children, he and his wife, Donna, are the proud grandparents of three children. He owns a direct marketing firm in Columbus, Indiana.
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