by Randy Reynolds

(first published on FOUR FOXES, ONE HOUND)

             Life is funny.  It just can’t help it.

            I’m sitting in an ante-room at the funeral home where it’s my turn to watch the kids.  A restless three-year-old granddaughter climbs onto my lap, won’t sit still, stands up on my knees and somehow manages to fall over backward, leading with her head, landing with a thud.  My other three-year-old granddaughter sees the whole thing and rushes toward me with her hands upraised yelling, “Do me! Do me!”

            No matter what’s going on, life is funny. It just can’t help it.

            That’s what makes my (as yet unpublished) novel Preaching To The Trees a genre-bender.  It can’t be classified as Humor, but it’s full of life and life-is-funny.

            Some examples:

1.  After a tornado, our young protagonist Wyatt has a head injury and is going in and out of comas, convulsing and talking out of his head. It’s 1936 and the best the doctor can do is to leave a bottle of chloroform for Wyatt’s mother to administer when his symptoms become unbearable. Wyatt’s little sister overhears the instructions and when it’s her turn to sit at his bedside and wipe his brow, she keeps the chloroform and a rag handy.  The symptoms finally subside and Wyatt tries to sit up but she thinks he’s having another seizure and knocks him out with the chloroform, extending his coma for several more hours.

(The circumstances were sad, but life is funny.)

2.  The tornado comes while a carnival is playing at the fairgrounds. “All that remained of the midway were some Ferris Wheel seats, the Tilt-a-Whirl platform and a debris field of wires, engine parts and, from the Knock-em-Over-and-Win booth, one stack of metal milk jugs that not even a tornado could knock over.” 

(Some people see only a debris field. Some people see proof that the milk jug game was rigged.  Life is funny.)

3. Cumpsy, the old shoeshine man at the barbershop, is sitting at the sheriff’s feet, popping the rag on the fancy cowboy boots while regaling the regulars with a story.   It’s about breaking the law and Cumpsy is not just playing for laughs, he’s gauging reactions.  Although it was illegal for a black man to be inside the city limits after sundown, Cumpsy says he snuck in anyway to meet a maid who worked at the Dixie-Hunt Hotel. He ended up trapped in the furnace room of the hotel, a place of total darkness except for the fire leaping through the open door of the coal-burning furnace.  He likened it to Hell.  Half-expecting a lecture about breaking the Sundown Law it’s a relief when Sheriff Urlacher asks only, “Whatever happened to the woman?”

“Oh, I married her and she taught me what Hell was really like!” said Cumpsy.

Dr. Wisdom, in one of the barber chairs, leaned back as he laughed, causing Vince the barber to nick him in the ear with the clippers.

(Thus, an important point about an unjust thing is slipped into the stream of the novel between laughs.)

4.  When Wyatt and his friend Max decide to steal some cigarette money from Max’s Great-grandmother, Wyatt goes to the front door and engages her in a conversation while Max enters through the kitchen door and climbs onto the cabinet where she keeps her change purse. The cabinet sways out from the wall and Max pulls it back by grabbing the nail where the water bucket hangs. Wyatt watches this balancing act over the shoulder of the old woman whom he calls simply by her first name—not purposefully being disrespectful; it’s just how non-white adults are referred to in small-town Georgia in 1940.

It was touch and go for Max on the cabinet. Again he let go of the water bucket on the wall and the cabinet, with him on it, tilted backward.  Max frantically grabbed the bucket, spilling water as he pulled the cabinet back to perpendicular. 

On the front porch, stalling, Wyatt closed his eyes and said aloud, “God, if it be possible spare me this cup.  Don’t make me tell her, Lord.”

The old woman said, “Tell me what?”

Wyatt opened his eyes and held out his hands like he thought Jesus might do. “I don’t know if I can bear to tell you this message….”

“God told you to tell me somp’n and I want ter know what it is!” she said.

As Max, the cabinet and the water bucket began their final descent, Wyatt blurted out, “He said He’s coming for you, Mellie!”

She heard his words and then an awful racket in the kitchen and squalled, “Oh, Lawd!  You mean RIGHT NOW?”

As Wyatt fled the front porch and Max, coated head to toe with flour and carrying his great-grandmother’s change purse, scooted out the back door, Great-grandmother Gauze patted herself on the chest saying “Be still my heart be still my heart” while glancing fearfully at the kitchen where she could see the cabinet and water bucket on the floor surrounded by broken dishes with flour dust floating in air and smoke billowing forth from the grease fire consuming the liver in the frying pan.

She swallowed hard and said, “Take me, Lawd. I’m ready.”

And so He did.

Many a poignant story is told with humor… in the South, anyway.

I wrote four such tales in 2015 (181,000 words.)  Hopefully, you'll get to read them in 2016. 

Here's the response I've gotten so far from two publishers, a favorite author, and several test readers regarding Preaching To The Trees, the first one of these four ready to be marketed:   

Gunnar Gray (publisher):  This reads really well…and your writing quality is solid.

Stephanie Taylor (publisher): Your writing is phenomenal.  In fact, I’d love for you to write something else for me and submit it. But this particular one, I’ll have to pass. 

Jeff Salter (author of a dozen novels who has only seen fragments of mine):  Randy Reynolds is an excellent writer with a great eye for detail and terrific sense of timing.

Sharon Chambers:  OMG randy I love it!

Kim Quinn:  I LOVED it I enjoyed it.. Great story.. I felt I was in it.. thats a great compliment and it's gonna take me a few days to get out of the 1940s lol

Jacob Waalk: I like the childhood a lot

Kim Quinn:  After reading your book. I've been answering friends like this "And the congregation all yelled Amen! and the choir sang hallelujah!" They are wondering what's happened to me lol

Ronda Reynolds:  I did have to laugh out loud.

Kim Quinn: I've laughed a lot … laughing how you wrote Wurleen.

Sharon Chambers:  I love your character Wurleen!

Ronda Reynolds:  I'm glad your family could be such an inspiration for your fiction story.

Kim Quinn:  Now I could say the congregation yelled Amen and the choir started singing California Dreaming

Ronda Reynolds:  It’s interesting how it could be so close to truth and then so outlandish!

Kim Quinn: i pictured it as a movie...I say pitch it to Oprah.  She'll love the story and the symbolic nature

Sharon Chambers:  Sounds just like Mama Maude and Mama. I can just hear them saying those things!

Ramonda Reynolds:  Loving this book.

Sharon Chambers: It made me realize what a treasure your daddy is.

Bishop and Mrs. E.J. Reynolds (who’ve only seen a summary:)  It is fine!

Jacob Waalk:  the two threads of story conclude together—the childhood in 1940 and the bishop’s son in the new South in 2015. a really beautiful ending with impact and poignancy

Ronda Reynolds:  I’m pretty sure the trees are trembling!

Jacob Waalk:  "oh wow"


by Randy Reynolds

Dora Mae Wells heard her 16 year old granddaughter's boyfriend (me) on the radio only once. Mistakenly assuming that I, the son of a preacher, was going to do a religious show--the only kind she ever listened to--she heard me spinning records and reading news, weather, and live commercials. She endured my jokes and my barely disguised on-air messages to Sherry. Finally, impatient to hear the gospel, she looked around at the rest of the family in the sitting room and said, "Well, when's he gonna sang?"

But I was just a deejay and there would be no singing from me that day in the fall of 1966 nor ever. She figured out that I was not going to become a preacher (drat the luck!) but she was happy that her granddaughter was happy with me.

A few weeks later, shortly before Christmas, 1966, Dora Mae's large family gathered around her deathbed in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, to hear her last words. But she wasn't talking. She was just singing a little ditty, the same three words over and over. Someone shushed the others so they could make out the words and as they listened carefully, Dora Mae sang in the rhythm of a schoolyard tease, though softly and with love, "Sherry's gettin' mar-ried. Sherry's gettin'  mar-ried. Sherry's gettin' mar-ried." She left this world with those words on her lips.

Now we're older than Dora Mae was when she died and we'll spend our Christmas Eve tonight  in a candlelit room with dozens of angel what-nots, statuettes, carvings and pictures. (Sherry desperately believes in angels.) And in the flicker of the candles as those porcelain angels (and maybe some real ones) listen, we'll reminisce about our Christmases together--especially that first one when her grandmother sang us her blessings with her final breath.

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by Randy Reynolds                                                                              

Sharp Spencer Reynolds, Sr., lived 60 years before the Civil War and 25 years afterward (1801-1890.)  He was a slaveholder, but had been a longtime opponent of secession.  He was a member of the Union Party but saw two of his sons leave the family’s north Georgia farms to go off and fight the Union.  (John B. Reynolds did not return.  Andrew Jackson Reynolds survived to become became a Baptist preacher in Gainesville, Georgia, and lived until 1900.)

Sharp was born in Pickens County, South Carolina, in 1801, to Bartemous Reynolds (son of William Acheleus Reynolds, a Patrick County, Virginia, plantation owner) and Mary Mildred Taylor Reynolds, daughter of another Patrick County, Virginia, planter David Taylor. She was the granddaughter of a Zachary Taylor, whose grandson and namesake would go on to become the most famous general in America in 1847, and would be elected President of the United States in 1848 when his first cousin Mary Mildred was 71. Sharp was 47 when his 2nd cousin won the Presidency.   

Bartemous Reynolds, with his growing family and an entourage of slaves, settled in the place now known as Hall County, Georgia, in 1804. He became one of the founders of Hall County (along with John W. Bates and others.)  Bartemous was elected Justice of the Peace. He was also a founder and pastor of Timberwill Baptist Church.  When Bartemous died, in 1854, he left no will. Therefore, his estate had to be inventoried for taxing purposes.  When he died his storehouses were filled with corn. He still had herds of farm animals but only 7 slaves, two of whom were very old, three very young, and two of prime working age.  Several entries on the inventory from November 28, 1854, six days after his death, were individual books and several 'lots' of books, including a Bible, “Dr. Wright’s Book,” two “Law Books,” and a walnut bookcase.  So we know that his son Sharp Spencer Reynolds grew up in a slave-holding, religious family, in a home with books.  And we know from his lengthy letter to the editor of The Athenian (an Athens, Georgia, newspaper) that he had a way with words.

On January 25, 1827, Sharp Spencer Reynolds married Nancy Bates, daughter of another Hall County founder, General John W. Bates, a member of the committee that had formed the county from a slice of Jackson County.  John W. Bates was a member of Hall County’s first Inferior Court. He was Hall County’s first representative in the State Legislature (for 16 years.)  He was the leader of the Union Party in Hall County, Chairman of the Union Democratic Republican Convention in 1835, a veteran of the War of 1812, a Major-General in the 7th Division of the Georgia Militia from 1832-35, resigning in 1835, allegedly over the state’s takeover of Cherokee lands and the ethnic cleansing that would—three years later—send the entire tribe to Oklahoma over “the trail of tears.” John Bates’ wife, (who was, of course, Sharp Reynolds’ mother-in-law,) Barbary Crenshaw, was said to be a full-blood Cherokee.  When John Bates moved to Murray County which was taken from the Cherokee and awarded to white men by allotment in 1836, Representative/Judge/General Bates was once again elected to the Georgia Legislature.

So there was a time when Sharp Spencer Reynolds was in his late 40’s that:
- his mother’s first cousin was President of the United States, 
- and his father-in-law was a state legislator, ex-general and ex-judge 
- and his father was a major land-owner, prosperous farmer, preacher and local elected official.

(Note: After bearing 9 children, Nancy Bates Reynolds died in 1851.  The next year, Sharp married Elizabeth Terrell, the daughter of a civil engineer, surveyor and War of 1812 veteran named Timothy Terrell.   Elizabeth Terrell Reynolds bore four sons, including my Great-Great-Grandfather Sharp Spencer Reynolds, Jr., born on July 23, 1857. Sharp, Sr.'s third wife, Mary Anne Hendrix Parks bore him one son Minor Grey Reynolds. Minor had one son, Minor Garland "Butch" Reynolds.)

Sharp and  Nancy’s eldest son John B. (named after his grandfather Bates) was born in Hall County in 1838 and enlisted in Company D, 27th Georgia Volunteers, (Captain Dorsey’s Company,) on September 23, 1861.  John B. Reynolds was 23 years old when he said goodbye to his twice-widowed father, his five older sisters, one younger sister and his four little brothers. My great-great grandfather Sharp Spencer Reynolds, Jr., age 4, was the youngest of the brood when his gallant big brothers marched off to war.

The Civil War was a horrible thing for those who fought it and for those who got in its way.  For some southern cotton planters, it was a bonanza, both because cotton prices went up and because secession allowed indebted planters to get out of millions of dollars in debt to northern banks.  The Confederate government wanted the region’s planters to grow more corn and foodstuffs, but many planters refused to do so.  With dollar signs in their eyes, they kept on growing cotton. The Confederate government confiscated or bought much of the food that was grown in the south.  Confederate soldiers sometimes lived off the land; unfortunately, it was their own territory, and the more the army took, the less there was to feed the women and children at home.   There were several women’s riots in Georgia in which women broke into stores and warehouses to steal food.  Confederate soldiers, hearing about the dire conditions back home, deserted in droves to try get home to find some way to feed their families.  Many of these family men were tracked down by special squads and brought back to the front lines to be executed.

Sharp Reynolds, although a slave owner, had never been in favor of secession, arguing against it for decades before it finally happened.  His writing shows his loyalty to the concept of the Union.  His first father-in-law had been a leader of the Union Party and the anti-secessionist Democratic-Republican Party in Georgia, and Sharp had also espoused those causes. Once secession became a reality, Sharp’s loyalties may have changed.  Certainly when two of his sons, John B. Reynolds and Andrew Jackson Reynolds, went off to war, Sharp’s notions of Union vs. Secession would have become irrelevant.

When sons of the most prominent southern families grew tired of the war, they were allowed to go back home to their lives of relative ease to help run their plantations and businesses.

Whether the Reynolds family, being north Georgia farmers, not south Georgia plantation owners, were prominent enough to have eventually gotten John B. and Andrew out of service, I don’t know, but after April 05, 1862 it was too late.  John B. Reynolds died that day of Typhoid Fever in Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, Virginia.

Andrew survived the war, returned home, and--like his grandfather--became a Baptist preacher.

Sharp Spencer Reynolds, Sr., lived through almost all of that tumultous century.
He died in 1890 and is buried on land that was part of his father's original land grant in Hall County, Georgia.


My 2nd-Cousin Gloria McDaniel of Lula discovered that in 1821 Sharp obtained the first permit to sell "spiritous liquor" in Hall County. We've, so far, been unable to determine why.

If he ran a tavern, we have found no record of it.

If they, like farmers elsewhere, shipped some of their corn to market in "liquid" form, there's no record of that, either.

Although it was a widespread practice among slave owners to encourage binge-drinking and weeklong drinking competitions among their slaves during Christmas week, according to Frederick Douglass and other writers, that would not seem to require a liquor license.

The Reynolds were likely tee-totalers.  Sharp's father Bartemous was a founder and pastor of two Baptist Churches (Timberwill and Mud Creek.)  Sharp's brother Pickens Taylor Reynolds was a Baptist Preacher. Sharp himself donated the land for Springway Baptist Church and was said to be an extremely religious person.

So why he, at the age of 20, obtained a liquor license remains a mystery.

 by Randy Reynolds 

31 years before the Civil War, former Georgia Governor George Troup and the state’s aristocratic landowners were pushing hard for secession. They were opposed by former Governor John Clark and his backers, who were mostly tradesmen and small farmers including 29 year old Sharp Spencer Reynolds of Hall County (my g-g-g-grandfather.) When young Reynolds expressed his views in a letter to the editor of the Statesman and Patriot, the editor of a rival paper, The Athenian, ridiculed him. Sharp Reynolds responded in a second letter to the Statesman and Patriot, June 19, 1830.  (He writes like an educated man, though there is no record of where he may have gotten that education.)

“I had no thought of exciting the ire of that most renowned and potent knight of the quill, the editor of the Athenian… But inasmuch as he has thought fit to pause a moment in the career of his glory, and honor my humble effusion with his ‘right wittie and conceited’ remarks, I have been driven to the necessity of fleshing my maiden pen, by entering the lists against this gigantic opponent, and joining battle with him and his auxiliary.”

Sharp wasn’t afraid to take on the power structure, because he felt truth was on his side: “We are informed, by sacred history, that a certain little son of Jesse, David by name, armed only with a sling and smooth pebble from a brook, encountered and slew the mighty Goliath… and the cause of his success is stated in the same authority to have been the armour of truth in which he stood invulnerably clothed. Now although there may exist the same disproportion between my assailant of the Athenian & myself, intellectually speaking…I feel that the mantle which protected David, had descended upon my shoulders…”
In other words, Me David. You Goliath.

Sharp Reynolds tried to show that Troupites weren’t practicing what they preached: “The government of Hall county stands in the same relation to the Government of the State, as the latter does to the Government of the United States. …A party of the State wishes forcibly to resist the right of the United States’ Government to interfere with its regulations… That same party is busying itself with endeavoring to control the conditions of every county in the State…”

“…the Athenian—printed in Clark county—stoutly objects (to what is going on in Hall county) and with a long string of jibes, and jeers, and reproaches, seeks to (interfere)…”

The newspaper treated Sharp as if he—not the armed insurrectionists—was stirring up all the trouble. He responded:

“The Athenian raises so great a lure and cry, as if like Troup, I had talked of guns, swords, & pistols…. Its extreme sensibility upon this point, is a sufficient commentary upon the enormity of its own doctrines in regard to the relation of the State, to the United States—so much for the gratuity of its interference; let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us.”

Sharp must have gotten some laughs with lines like “Let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us” but it was a serious issue. George Troup, while governor, had signed a treaty with his cousin, a half-Indian named William McIntosh, giving the State of Georgia title to all remaining Creek Indian lands. McIntosh had no authority to do this—and the Creeks murdered him for it. President John Quincy Adams called the treaty illegal and overturned it. This enraged former Governor Troup and the plantation owners, and they began agitating for secession. Former Governor Clark’s followers, including Sharp Reynolds, favored a more reasoned approach: they stayed in the Union and took the Creek Indian lands “legally.”

Sharp writes that it was the “…height of imprudence to take possession of the Indian lands under a title which was not only voidable, but actually void; when by pursuing a different course, with a little patience, it could be had (and was) with title sound and indefeasible.”

Even after the state reclaimed the Creek land, the Troupites continued to demonize the Clarkites for not being willing to secede. Sharp said the Clarkites were only doing the patriotic thing:
“We refuse to enter into the disunion schemes of Troup, and there lies our sin. Because we will not contribute to strengthen the arm that is raised to cut up root and branch the tree of our liberty, planted by Washington, Jefferson, and their illustrious compeers…

"Because we are not willing to erect the standard of civil war... we are subjected to the abuse of The Athenian, and all others who would plunge us into civil war…”

When Sharp Reynolds wrote that letter at the age of 29, the issue was “States Rights”--the state’s right to secede over how to take land away from the Creek Nation.

When he was 60 and the plantation owners finally got the Civil War they had wanted for so long, the issue was still (supposedly) “States Rights”—the state’s right to secede from the Union. But after seceding, they formed their own nation—the Confederate States of America—that denied the right of states to secede.

Bartemous Reynolds by Randy Reynolds  

I was surprised to learn that my great grandfather (5 generations back) was both a Baptist preacher and a slaveholder.  Wondering if that was unusual, I did some research and learned that, at a time when only 1 out of 11 white southern men owned slaves, fully 40 percent of Baptist ministers in South Carolina were slaveholders.  (James Oakes, THE RULING RACE) ...

Bartemous Reynolds (whose name was spelled at least 5 different ways in official records) was born in Patrick CountyVirginia, and lived in Pickens CountySouth Carolina, during his young adulthood, before moving (with his slaves) to the area that is now Hall County,Georgia. He was a farmer, not a “planter,” but it was a big farm located on a portion of the 3,000 acres that he apparently obtained via land grant.  Like all prosperous farms of any size in the south, it ran on slave labor.  How many slaves, I don’t know.  

At the time of Bartemous’ death at the age of 85, he had only 280 acres left… the remainder had been sold off and/or transferred to his eldest son Sharp.  He had barely enough slaves left to run an old man’s household and the much-reduced farm.  His remaining slaves were listed by the Hall County appraisers who evaluated the estate on the 28th of November, 1854, six days after his death.  They were:


Dick, Dan, Selia, Will and the four children, like their forebears, probably went to church with their white master and preacher.  Bartemous founded and, at various times, pastored Timber Will Baptist Church and Mud Creek Baptist church.

Sermons of other southern slave-holding Baptist preachers of that era were rife with politics, and often—directed at the slaves themselves—used scripture to justify their bondage, including such verses as:  

Colossians 3:22-25, Colossians 4:9, Deuteronomy 24:7, Ephesians 6:5, Exodus 12:44, Exodus 21:1-7, Exodus 21:7-11, Exodus 21:20-32, Exodus 22:2-3, Ezekiel 27:12,13, First Kings 2:39, First Kings 11:26-35, First Peter 2:18, First Peter 2:21-25, First Samuel 25:10, First Timothy 6:1-5, Gen.9:20-25, Genesis 9:25-27, Genesis 17:12,13, Genesis 37:27,28, 36, Genesis 41:1-45, Leviticus 22:11, Leviticus 25:40-46, Luke 12:46-47, Philemon 1:10, Numbers 31:28-40, Revelation 18:13, Second Samuel 8:2, and Titus 2:9-10,15.

Whether those slavery justifications were part of Bartemous Reynolds’ sermons, I don’t know.  No manuscripts, outlines or notes of his sermons remain, as far as I know. 

Both of the churches he founded are still active.


by Randy Reynolds (written 1/26/11) 

My mother's brother, Ensign Bobby Cecil Appling was the first official “rocket scientist” in our family. Bobby wanted to be a fighter pilot, but flying made him dizzy and he became a rocket scientist instead.

We've had lots of other military men in the family--though, to be honest--not that many "rocket scientists." ...........................

General Zachary Taylor, (related to both my father's and my mother's clans,) was the hero of the Mexican War, became President and died in the White House after overeating in July, 1850. My mother's ancestor Colonel Daniel Appling, (for whom a county was named in Georgia,) was a hero of the War of 1812. Other kinfolk fought in the Civil War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. ..........

But this is not about them. This is about me and why I didn’t serve.
There was never any question about whether I believed in the war. If the U.S. was in it, I was for it. I believed in Johnson. I believed in Nixon. I believed we had to fight in Vietnam or we'd be fighting "over here." .................

When I was a teenager Lyndon Johnson bombed North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin "incident." As my dad and I listened to news of the attacks on the car radio, Dad predicted "We'll bomb them back to the stone age. This war won't last two weeks." This concerned me greatly because I didn't want it to end before I was old enough to fight.

Not to worry. It was still going strong when I turned 18. But I didn't volunteer because I had one little problem: military physicals required blood tests; and though I fancied myself to be unafraid of bullets, bombs and the Vietcong, I was deathly afraid of needles. ......

When the nurses came to Lee Road School to give polio shots the last year before we started getting our vaccine on sugar cubes, I got lucky: they didn't call my name. I was sitting in Mr. McKee's History class reflecting on my good fortune when Beverly McClain (who was always so theatrical) came back from the nurse's station rubbing her arm. I fainted dead away and fell out of my desk. Mr. McKee picked me up and carried me to the teacher's lounge where the smoke gradually brought me back to consciousness.
I was so scared of needles that I refused to enter the doctor's office when my fiancee and I went to get the blood tests required for a marriage license. As Sherry was getting stuck, the doctor asked who the lucky man was. She said, “Randy Reynolds.” He said, “Oh, I know him. He doesn’t need a VD test.” And he signed the papers verifying that I passed the test. .....................

I accepted his help avoiding the needle and I got married and didn’t go to Vietnam and we lost the war. ........

Ps. I became a hero anyway--at least to the nine grandchildren who eagerly watch me stick my finger with a needle to draw a drop of blood, which I have to do each morning before my first cup of hazelnut coffee. .........
And now I'm a "rocket scientist," too--at least to these nine, who think I have all the answers. (And who am I to tell them any different? ).......................................

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