It had been a long day. Not a particularly tiring or stressful one.
It was the kind of day where so much happened so quickly that, later, you ask, “Did that happen yesterday? Or before?”
We were in Nashville for the fourth time in weeks. This time, though, rather than being downtown, we were in the enchanting town of Franklin.
Franklin was a smidgen of a place when I first came to know her years ago. While she has now become famous as a hip place to live, back then she was primarily built on antiques and ancient memories.
It was the site of one of the bloodiest Civil War battles. Confederate General Hood lost six generals and the battle to the Union, and, essentially, the war. Many buildings from those years still stand.
In the 20th century, the town became known primarily for one man. Every Sunday, before a NASCAR race — in the years when people still cared stubbornly for stock car racing — the melodious voices or either Barney Hall or Eli Gold (now the incredible play-by-by announcer for the Alabama Crimson Tide; I adore him and his voice), would say, “Starting on the pole, ladies and gentlemen, please make welcome from Franklin, Tennessee — DARRELL WALTRIP!”
The stands erupted in cheers and boos, for there was no in-between when it came to DW. You loved him or hated him. I remember once that his wife, Stevie, my dear friend, began to weep softly over the hate.
Driver Cale Yarborough’s wife hugged Stevie and instructed, “Honey, don’t cry when they boo. Cry when they don’t. That means they care.”
A few years ago, Tink and I sat with the Waltrips in a little steakhouse in downtown Franklin. Darrell, retired from racing, is a well-respected businessman with several car dealerships in town. He was giving Tink a history lesson on the battle and the buildings still standing.
He pointed to the street that ran alongside the restaurant. “They say that blood ran like a creek down that street.”
Years earlier, the Waltrips’ daughter married in a small Presbyterian church so old that, during the war days, it had been converted into a hospital. I had joined them a few times for Sunday morning services. That night, I sat in the simple, beautiful service lighted only by candles, and I thought of the lives that had been saved there — literally and spiritually.
This leads to that recent day in Franklin. It was 9:30 p.m. and we were all ready to call it a day well done. Our friend, Cindy, was taking us back to our hotel after dinner when, suddenly, she asked, “Have y’all got 15 extra minutes?”
Out of courtesy only, we said, “Yes.”
Franklin has a church on every corner. She took us to a 19th century brick church called St. Paul’s Episcopal, decorated with marvelous stained windows. It is unlocked 24 hours a day.
We entered quietly. The altar was beautiful with one of the most stunning crosses I’ve ever seen.
On the front bench, a man coughed in the darkness. Then his dog — a support animal — stretched noisily. We walked to the altar. Turning to leave, we saw the man who bore a striking resemblance to the photos of Jesus we often see. Except his dark, long hair was matted to his head and his face, deeply lined and calloused, held not a fragment of hope.
“Do you mind if I pray with you?” I whispered.
He didn’t look up. “Please.”
I held his unwashed hand and prayed.
“I’m Timothy,” he said at “Amen.”
“One of the Apostle Paul’s favorites,” I replied.
“My other name is James.”
“My favorite book of the Bible.”
He was dirty and “likkered up” a bit. He whispered, “I lost my son in 2005.”
Then I knew how a man named after two biblical giants had stumbled onto the wrong path, one that had also drawn his blood.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.