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PHIL THRAILKILL


My lovely wife, in her fashion sense, hits the sweet spot between modesty and style, fully feminine and yet restrained in epidermal exposure. I sometimes find myself issuing compliments to adult women with her same blend of wardrobe virtues.

Well, in one of the schools where she taught years ago, there was a new teacher who’d not yet attended “Mrs. Lori’s Seminar On Appropriate Teacher Attire.” Camilla Capone was an Italian brunette, only recently moved south from Chicago, young and fit and firm with lots of heel and lower cut blouses. Think clingy.

“You can’t believe how she dresses,” Lori complained over supper, “Cleavage confuses fifth-grade boys and draws lots of attention from the custodians. Her floors and bathroom are spic and span.”

When I asked for clarification, she said, “Every day looks like date night.” I got the picture. And when I gave a brief lecture on cultural differences among immigrant groups and their views on modesty, particularly if from the warmer climates of southern Europe and Sicily, she was not impressed. For her, there are classroom standards. Think the 11th commandment.

For part two of the story, we retreat eight decades back to the early 1930s.

The rays of the late afternoon sun shone through the pines of the Sumter National Forest and glinted off the face of a $5 gold piece as it tumbled in an arc through the air to the right hand of my Uncle James, then in his mid-teens in the later years of Prohibition.

It came, according to family legend, from Frank Nitti -- Al Capone’s notorious enforcer who’d driven down to inspect liquor operations to make sure they were lead free and no radiators in use, only copper. And what a fine automobile it was, a Pierce Arrow, chauffeured down the sandy and rutted logging roads between McClellanville and Monck’s Corner, in those days a haven of home made distilleries.

James had been banished from Coward for, as the euphemism goes, getting a young lady in the family way. My grandfather hid him in the tobacco barn until the sheriff left with the angry father, then spirited James off to the safety of his eldest brother Frank who was then a steward in a little Methodist Church near McClellanville.

That he was making high-octane ‘shine for a Chicago crime syndicate didn’t seem to conflict with his church responsibilities, but then they weren’t Baptists or Holiness, and a man had to earn a living in those most hard of times.

I’ll never forget the afternoon I visited Lori just after the final bell with her favorite surprise, a strawberry milkshake. As she marveled at my romantic surprise, in clipped Miss Italy with a question, and in that moment, I knew that my wife’s earlier description was understated. Here was an educational goddess only lately descended from some Roman temple. Victoria had no secrets left!

I smiled at Lori; she smirked back, milkshake in hand. “Camilla,” she said, “this is my husband Pastor Phil,” with a sharp emphasis on the title Pastor.

“Pleased to meet you, Camilla,” I said with a handshake, “I understand you’re a Capone from Chicago. Was your family in the business?”

“Yes,” she said with a flashing smile, “Al was my great uncle.”

In one of those rare times when the right words came, I said, “Camilla, we have to find some time to talk. Some of my people have done some work with some of your people.”

“How is that?” she replied, after which I told her my Uncle James story.

“Do you still have the gold piece in the family?”

“No,” I said, “but we’re still looking.”

Lori dropped her straw.

So relish your history, the righteous and the rogues, saints and the sinners. And why? Because it can make for some interesting connections later on. And, just in case you’re wondering, Uncle James cleaned up his act and died a faithful Baptist in Barnwell. I buried him and even sang an Elvis hymn at his funeral.

I wonder if the gold piece was in his pocket. Only Jesus knows, and he’s not telling.

Phil Thrailkill is pastor at Main Street United Methodist Church in Greenwood. His weekly sermons are found at msumc1.org. He can be reached at Pthrailkil@aol.com or 864-229-7551.