I knew Tate McGreer was a true Christian. It was in his words.
Not the words from his latest novel about the time traveling preacher or from his radio interviews promoting Christian fiction in public schools, but from his gut words. Tate McGreer even had holy gut words.
I first learned of gut words when I was ten. While repairing a wooden rung on a tree house ladder, my grandpa smacked his thumb with a hammer. In quick succession, a trio of four-letter words spewed forth. My brother and I froze, then gradually backpedaled. We truly expected, since grandpa had taught us, that lightning would ignite his rear at any moment. Unjustly, God spared grandpa, while our behinds still displayed switch marks for a morning exchange of "booger eater" and "egg head."
"Now boys," said grandpa. "What you just heard were gut words, and a man can't be held accountable for gut words. They fly out at times, like when you hit your thumb with a hammer, or about have a car wreck, or your team throws an interception late in the game. Gut words." That ended the discussion. Well, almost. Before we went inside for supper, he did remind us that grandma wouldn't understand gut words so there was no need to bring them up.
Years later, while unlearning dozens of grandpa's teachings in college, I applied for a position assisting the director of the university's winter writing conference. No gut words were needed when Marla, the director, called me back the following day. I had somehow landed the job. It had nothing to do with my writing ability. After submitting at least two features every semester in hopes of being published in the school's quarterly magazine, I was still waiting to see my words in print.
The conference was held the week before students returned for second semester. My first task was to take a university van and retrieve four participants from the airport. On the one-hour return ride my cargo included Dante the poet from Boston, Nina the New York playwright, and two novelists, seemingly silent Susan of Tucson and a bearded gentleman named Charles who appeared to be from the Old Testament.
After making introductions, my passengers talked about families and writers and publishers before finally discussing their own under-construction manuscripts.
Only New York Nina seemed to be making her initial trip to the South.
"Hey driver, Grant right? Will this interstate go all the way to the campus or will we hit dirt roads?"
"Paved all the way," I responded, using the rear-view mirror to locate New York Nina. She appeared to be writing in a notebook.
"Yo Grant," piped Dante. "Are you just a student or do you write?"
"I write too, well, I try. I'm a junior, I'm just working for Marla."
"She does a great job running this conference," said Dante. "I've been here twice, you should attend some of the sessions. You can really pick up...."
"Do you know if Tate McGreer has arrived yet?" interrupted Nina. "I can't believe he's coming, he's the reason I'm a writer."
As the passengers discussed their favorite Tate McGreer novels, we arrived at the participants' dormitory. The van instantly fell silent as everyone recognized the man standing on the sidewalk chatting with Marla.
"He looks just like his book cover photo!" shouted Nina, scribbling with a fury.
Marla motioned for me to pull to the curb. I lowered the passenger side window.
"Grant, this is Tate McGreer, would you mind giving him a lift to the dining hall?"
Tate McGreer, the Tate McGreer, reached across the vacant front seat and shook my hand.
"Nice to meet you Grant," he said. "If you don't mind, I need to get my cell phone from my car. Can you pull up and get me after you drop these fine people off?"
I nodded, speechless. Only Old Testament Charles decided to exit the van.
My passengers buzzed and giggled, I shook. Thirty feet away was the legendary Tate "I Publish Two Books A Year" McGreer. The great Christian novelist stood in the roadway, behind his car, keenly occupied with his retrieved cell phone. I drove forward to retrieve my next passenger.
I simply pulled too close.
Tate McGreer's face contorted and the phone fell from his hands. He grabbed the door to steady his crumbling body and unleashed a painfully long gut word into the open window.
I had driven over and cracked Tate McGreer's foot, but the man obviously walked close with the Lord.
It was a very long fifteen minutes to the emergency room.
New York Nina and Dante the poet helped Tate McGreer inside the hospital. I stayed in the van and bounced my forehead a dozen times off the steering wheel.
"Son, I wouldn't worry so much," spoke seemingly silent Susan of Tucson, my last remaining passenger. "God uses all for His purpose. Tate McGreer will never forget you, and who knows? You may even write a story about all this someday."
Jason Swiney is a Christian, husband, father and educator who lives and writes in NE Georgia (lettingitflow.com). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org