Webster: The secret that led to Gulnare's notoriety

Zimbabwe teaches how to furnish a new home

Contributing columnistDecember 11, 2011 

In the '50s, old Mr. Burchett was a real good fiddler, and lived where his people always have — down at the new Selma, a place on Lower Johns Creek called Gulnare.

Lower Johns Creek in Pike County is Upper Johns Creek in Floyd County and goes back to being lower when it nips Johnson County, and drains on to the Upper Atlantic Ocean and runs down to the Lower Atlantic Ocean, a really big holler, with Africa on it.

I go through Gulnare a lot but never quite knew when I had got there or got through there. But, back to Mr. Burchett who was walking in the suburbs of Gulnare and got hit by a car and mused, "Hell, they ain't two cars a month comes through here."

John Pelphrey's mother's side lives at Gulnare and most of the time old Mr. Burchett's descendant, Denny Paul who actually knows all the words to 'Sally Goodin,' some of which are dirty, but only after you think about them a long time.

Denny Paul's banjo up to now was about the only thing African at Gulnare.

Gulnare is not snake-handling country. That is usually done in real little white churches and not those big brick ones. Some mountain churches handle snakes, but pose no major threat to the snakes. We hillbillies mainly know that because it is on television, but many a time have sat in a pew and wished they would do something like that up front to liven up church.

Handling stuff that bites you is said to be a purifying religious experience. Bitten and purified, the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church announced that it would no longer judge people by the color of their skin, but it would judge them by whether their nose is sort of flat and they have real curly hair. Coloreds no longer have to, but are welcome to if they want to, sit in the church balcony or ride in the back of the church bus and we will put the fire out on the cross.

Just don't turn our music African. Those big gospel women who shake it like a hurricane in church may be all right, but we just don't do that at Gulnare.

Personally, I think Lower Johns Creek men could profit from being instructed by a Zimbabwean. I went there and found a delightful culture in which housing didn't cost much because it was made of cow dung and mud, which are both affordable in southern Africa. To furnish a home, the bride brings a stone about the size of a square Kleenex box from her village, the groom brings one the same size from his village, and the two of them go out together and find a third stone to match and they come back to the hut and put those rocks down in a triangle and put a grille on them and that's your appliances.

Women raise the crops and do all the work and carry the water on their head, and men sit around in the shade and play the drums and make music.

Just as secret as the taking up of serpents in mountain churches is the real reason that a church populated with people who would give any African their last food could stumble into notoriety. Sunday School is the problem. Now, a preacher would probably not get up and preach that God put a curse on the black race, but that is taught as a fact in the more subversive Sunday Schools of fundamentalism. And from that religious doctrine comes leave to discriminate and a sort of duty to do so.

The Bible is trumped, though, by Robert's Rules of Order.

Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney. Reach him at websterlawrencer@bellsouth.net.

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