GALEN HOLLEY: Spring finally comes to downtown Tupelo

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

The fourth week of March was the week people came to work in the morning and said, “I do believe spring is here.”
Down at the Salvation Army, the daily feed went on as usual. The sky was a little dark, but it didn’t keep Ray from enjoying his ravioli and green beans.
He sat in his baseball cap and jeans, silently eating his meal, and while the rest of the world was arguing about health care reform, Ray was just trying to figure out how he could get back to work.
Ray is in construction, and in this economy he hasn’t had much of a chance to ply his trade.
Ray wasn’t much in the mood for talking Monday. He just politely finished his cupcake, then excused himself and walked out into the soggy afternoon.
John sat down in the place Ray had vacated.
John is slim, tall and voraciously friendly. He’s been at the lodge for about a year, offering his help around the grounds, cleaning, greeting and doing whatever he can to earn his keep.
John is a tool and die man, a machinist, a metal worker, and I told him my father used to do fab work down at Jesco, just down the street.
John just couldn’t heap enough praise on the man they call “Pep,” the hybrid, half-preacher-half-coach who is kind of legendary around the Carnation Street office.
On the east end of town, the guys at the Greyhound station were shrink-wrapping palates and filling out delivery slips.
“The boys on the bus,” as I’ve dubbed them, are Shriners.
These are good men – Ortho Stevens, Junior Dye and their gang – always itching to hide some eggs or to take care of a sick child.
In their spare time, between the two morning and two evening departures, they like to stroke their beards, drink coffee and help folks figure out whether they’re going to Birmingham or Memphis.
If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Ortho is Amish, with his shock of white hair and his beard with no mustache.
He’s a soft-spoken, kind man who measures a community by how happy and healthy its children are.
After the rains came, Andy Ray called from First Methodist to say he was gearing up his troops up to “Knock on Nine,” a new project where they’re going door to door asking neighbors to give them something to do.
“Can we mow your yard, or take you to the grocery store, or help you move some furniture?” Andy asked, giving me a sample pitch.
This is the way I remembered it: The Sunday before the Kentucky Derby, the FUM folks are having church out in the community, working around downtown when they’d normally be worshiping, cleaning, clipping and generally serving the community in the name of Jesus.
“Good luck with that, Andy,” I said. “Sounds like fun.” Then, he invited me to the picnic on the 25th, which will probably be held at the Helping Hands building on South Church Street.
On the corner of Elizabeth and Spring streets, the blooming flowers looked like that poppy field in the Wizard of Oz, and I wanted to get out and roll around in them.
Education reporter Chris Kieffer asked me what those white blooms on all the trees were, and I wasn’t quite sure.
“They weren’t there Sunday, now they’re everywhere,” he said.
“Yes, Chris,” I said. “That’s true.”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holleyat 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.