to a fork in the road – literally or figuratively – is one of life’s fundamental
metaphors. Do you take the right or left road? If you take one road, what would
have happened had you taken the other?|
The Rev. J.J. Mason, who spent nearly
a half century as a Methodist preacher, never forgot the cross roads that nearly
cost him his life back in the early 1900s. Fortunately, he made the right choice.
chain of events leading to Mason’s critical moment of decision began when two
men knocked on the door of his parsonage to ask if he could conduct a funeral
at a rural residence. The funeral had been set for 4 o’clock that afternoon, they
Looking at his watch, the preacher noted that it was already 5 o’clock.
Yes, they realized that. The problem was they hadn’t been able to find a preacher
willing to ride out into the country to conduct the services.
and hitched his horse to his buggy. With the two men as his escort, he reached
the residence after dark.
“The corpse was wrapped in a sheet and lay
on the only bed in the small house,” Mason recalled in “Six Other Days,” his self-published
memoir. “There was no coffin. The family was too poor to buy one.”
preacher provided a service as modest as the means of the grieving family. A couple
of “dear old ladies” sang “Sweet By and By,” after which Mason read a few passages
from the Bible. Then he made a short talk about the dearly departed and closed
with a simple prayer.
On his way home, he got lost. Riding up on a country
dance in progress, he accepted an invitation to stay for the night. “Go feed your
horse, then feed yourself,” a friendly soul offered. Mason turned in early, but
the banjo- and guitar-playing and the stomping of feet kept him up late.
In the morning, somewhat sleep-deprived, the preacher left for his next appointment,
still pretty far back in the sticks.
Soon, Mason came to the intersection
of two roads. Still not knowing where he was, he stopped to ponder the fundamental
question of which road to take.
Fortunately, a substantial house stood
nearby. Hoping for directions, the preacher shouted a friendly “Hello!”
a woman’s voice yelled: “Pa, there is that man again.”
At that, a tall,
grim-faced man burst out the front door with a double-barreled shotgun in his
“I was near enough to hear both hammers click and to see his eyes
looking straight into mine as he aimed the gun,” Mason remembered.
minister could have said a prayer or talked fast. Having preached that God helps
those who help themselves, Mason chose the latter course.
“Sir, I am the
Methodist preacher,” he said quickly. “I held a funeral back over here a few miles,
and I am trying to get to my [next] appointment, if you will be good enough to
give me the directions.”
The man squinted down the barrel of his side-by-side,
but something about the young fellow’s voice kept the farmer from pulling both
“Say them words again,” he said.
More slowly this time,
Mason repeated his statement.
At that, the man lowered the weapon and clicked
the hammers down. Not one for idle talk, the farmer indicated with a wave of his
hand which road the preacher should take.
Mason thanked him and drove
off, not yet fully appreciating how close to death he had come.
or so later, the reverend figured out what had happened. It involved one of his
congregants. One of the men who attended his services could have passed as his
double, and often did. But the similarities between the two men stopped with appearance.
It turned out that the other man, though married, had made overtures to the daughter
of the farmer the Mason had run into. When the daughter first saw the preacher,
she had thought he was her erstwhile suitor and told her father.
is that my … double stayed away from that place,” Mason later wrote. He added,
with understated certainty, “I never had a desire to go back.”