LESLIE CRISS: Palm branch incident burned into memories of Easter season

“Where there's smoke, there's fire.
- Unknown

Several years ago when I was working at the newspaper in Booneville, I wrote a story about an Episcopal priest friend of mine in Corinth.

The day after the story's publication, I received a call from a woman who asked if I were an Episcopalian.

“Yes, ma'am,” I told her.

“Well, you people are strange,” she said. “And except for you, we don't have any in Booneville. We didn't let the Catholics in here until just a few years ago.”

A threat? I wasn't sure. I decided, however, not to genuflect in public, just in case.

I wanted to tell her that in the big picture, we're all fellow strugglers and that if we'd concentrate more on our similarities than on our differences, well, what a wonderful world it could be.

Today is Palm Sunday. It's the day that commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem days before his crucifixion. In the Gospel of John, it's mentioned that palm branches were scattered along the pathway into the city, a custom of honor.

I love Palm Sunday. When I was a kid, I was sort of embarrassed by us Episopalians and our Palm Sunday behavior. The Baptists passing by on their way to church stared at us unmercifully as we processed with our palms.

A shy child who abhored attention, I was mortified one particular Palm Sunday, thanks to the antics of my buddy Betsy.

We were about 13, Betsy and I, and the older of the five youngsters in the choir at All Saints, Grenada.

When the palms to be used in our procession from the parish house to the church were blessed by the priest, our choir director and organist instructed us on proper palm etiquette.

“Hold them still as you walk down the aisle. Don't stick them in anyone's eyes or nose. Don't pretend they're swords.”

Once we entered the church and started toward the choir loft, Mrs. Page's palm pontifications flew right out the stained glass windows – for Betsy anyway.

Passing her parents' pew, she whacked her brother on the head with her palm branch. As she pulled the palm back to her shoulder, the tip touched the taper decorating the pew.

Betsy and her smoldering palm left a snaking trail of smoke that hovered above the heads of the congregation as each member tried to stifle laughter.

Just as we got to our seats, an acolyte saved the day when he grabbed Betsy's now-flaming palm and stomped out the fire.

At the end of the service, the blessed palms were turned in. They would be burned later, the ashes used for the following year's Ash Wednesday services.

All, that is, except for one.

Betsy's prematurely parched palm.

Leslie Criss is the Daily Journal's features and special sections editor. Contact her at 678-1584 or leslie.criss@djournal.com