Leon Was Not The Fourth Man!

Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 02:46 PM.

            I was just finishing up a talk over at that big church in Panama City Beach about that fourth man in the fire when an older gentleman sitting towards the back raised his hand. Now, I figured he wanted some clarification as to exactly how many “dissidents” King Nebuchadnezzar had ordered tossed into the fiery furnace. Perhaps he was going to ask me how those three bound men got untied amongst all the heat. Lord, I was hoping he wasn’t wanting me to spell Shadrach, Meshach or Abednego! It crossed my mind as I recognized him that he might want to know if this was a literal story or some form of Christian hyperbole, or parable, aimed at teaching the brethren the importance of standing firm. At the very least he would expect some sure ’nuff Ecclesiastical explanation as to the presence and pertinence of the fourth man. You know how those Baptist can be at times…..

            He cleared his throat and fairly shouted, “Is Leon a real person and are those stories you write about him absolutely true?”

            My notes fell off the podium. I heard a murmur go through the choir behind me. The pastor turned as red as a fresh pulled rhubarb. The pianist, who had retaken her seat in anticipation of my concluding statements, accidentally hit a b flat. The whole congregation leaned forward so as not to miss my answer.

            I have been asked that question a thousand times over the years. It has come up at Lions Club meetings, talks before the Historical Society, at VFW breakfasts, once at a Florida Property Appraiser’s Convention and numerous times coming out of restaurants, running onto the football field or standing in the paint department at the hardware store. I reckon this was the first time I had been confronted from the pulpit.

            I looked that big fellow right in the eye and said, “Sir, Leon is as real as that fourth man in the fire!”

            Folks have from time to time read my little stories and commented on my vivid imagination; or my flair for spinning a yarn. I appreciate their thoughts but they miss the point entirely. I don’t make this stuff up! Imagination has nothing to do with it! I’m not smart enough nor do I have the ability to make something out of nothing!

            Leon is as real as rain. I grew up, as I have often stated, out at the end of North Stonewall Street in McKenzie, Tennessee. LaRenda Bradfield is real. Miss Carolyn Blades was my first grade teacher. Miss Polly Rucker taught me high school English. David Paschall ran over me so many times in football I have his helmet marks to this day permanently indented in my chest.   

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