Croak, Son, Croak

December 24, 2006
by Jimmy Reed

Psalm 66:1 – Make a joyful noise unto God. (KJV)

"Son, why didn't you sing today?" Mama asked. "You love singing carols."

She was right. I knew them by heart, having listened to her Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole Christmas albums over and over again.

There are certain aspects of childhood innocence that should be preserved for as long as possible. One of these is that when you're a kid, it's all right to sing, even if the singing can be described more accurately as making a joyful noise.

Mama loved my caterwauling. I remember how she smiled at my cherubic little face, lifted to the firmament, framing an ovoid mouth, gleefully hallooing the Doxology, or outright bellowing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Joy To The World," "Silent Night, Holy Night," "O Little Town Of Bethlehem," and all those other wonderful Christmas carols.

Once spoken, harsh words cannot be unspoken. The week before, I was the first kid on the bus after school one day. The driver, Mr. Clooney, who always sat alone behind us in church, said, "You love to sing, don't you, boy." Expecting praise, I chirped, "Yes, Sir."

"Well, there ain't but one problem — you don't sing; you croak." An anticipated compliment that is instead a stinging insult hurts twice as badly.

That evening, while helping Mama wash dishes, I told her why I didn't sing.

"Croak?" Her brow furrowed menacingly.

As we headed toward our pew the following Sunday, I whispered, "Mama, please don't say anything to Mr. Clooney."

She whispered back, "Don't sing today. Listen to Mr. Clooney. After church, tell him what you think of his singing."

I'd always been so engrossed in my own unmelodious din that I'd never paid attention to Mr. Clooney. I discovered what Mama knew all along: His clear tenor voice was absolutely beautiful, and I could tell he loved singing carols as much as I did.

The last prayer ended, and Mama whispered, "Be truthful, son."

"Mr. Clooney, I've never heard a man sing as beautifully as you do."

He froze. Glancing back, I saw his moistening eyes following me as his throat tightened.

On the way home, Mama told me Mr. Clooney had once gotten crossways of the law and had spent time behind bars. Afterwards, he became a loner (no family, no friends) but was determined to remain a law-abiding citizen and had worked low-paying jobs without complaint, never asking anything of anyone.

Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, and as the congregation began singing, I looked up questioningly at Mama. She nodded, and I joined in. Halfway through "Joy To The World", an affectionate, encouraging hand gripped my shoulder. It was Mr. Clooney's.

Mama taught me one of life's most important lessons that day: Kindness blunts the sting of unkindness in others.

Even though my singing hasn't improved after all these years, I still wail away every Sunday, and I still remember what Mama said that Christmas Eve morning: "To the Lord, the voices of all His children lifted in praise are beautiful. Croak, Son, croak."

Prayer: For the gift of our voices, Lord, we give You thanks. For Your delight in the praises of Your people, we also give You thanks. For the gift of Your Son Whose praises we sing, we truly give You thanks. Help us to use our voices to build others up and to encourage everyone to sing praise to You. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

About the author:

Jimmy Reed
Oxford, Mississippi, USA

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