Over Hill, Over Dale

I'd like to talk about divine retribution. But first, a little background information about my youth in Birmingham, Ala. When I was a sophomore at Mountain Brook High School (they name everything after Nature down there--the cross town rival was Fairfield, then there was Shade Valley--you get the picture), this classmate of mine named Charlie M. Christmas (yes, the M does indeed stand for Merry) became the local legend. Charlie moved to Birmingham at the beginning of tenth grade from what all my classmates called a hick town. Now the usual reaction would have been to ostracize old Charlie for his lack of cultcha, but there were mitigating factors. Charlie just happened to be the most amazing basketball player that had ever hit the South. He was all-state from sophomore year on, broke 30 points almost every game, just amazing. So Mountain Brook High School's collective closed mind pried itself open and accepted Charlie M. Christmas, ex-hick. Within a year, he was dating the homecoming queen.

It was a regular Horatio Alger story.

There was one other thing about Charlie. He was a roaring evangelist. He used to stop me in the halls almost every day on my way to fifth period and plead with me to see the light and be saved. He was just sure that I had Christ in me. (I would have been flattered, but he said that to all the Jewish girls). Charlie didn's stop at anything to bring Christ into Mountain Brook. He used to speak once a week at Morning Watch (a daily prayer gathering of students and teachers) and warn that all non-believers would burn in Hell unless they saw THE WAY. But the crowd was usually mixed, half Jewish and atheist hecklers and the other half holy-rolling believers.

After a while, a group started an anti-Charlie Christmas movement in the Morning Watch council. The outcome of it all was that Charlie could talk about Jesus only as a teacher. No more of this talking about him as the Lord. We don't want to offend "our Jewish students." That really ticked old Charlie off. He even stopped trying to convert me after that--I guess he figured all I had coming to me was hell fire and damnation.

That's all off the point. My last vivid memory of Charlie Christmas is an assembly which was held in his honor at the end of my senior year. The entire school attended and the bleachers were filled to capacity. Dr. Patterson, the principal, walked out on to the stage. He called Charlie to come stand beside him. So gawking, hillybilly-ish 6 ft. 5 in. Charlie moseyed down there. Dr. Patterson started talking about what an inspiration Charlie had been since his arrival at Mountain Brook--not only as an athlete but as a person. Poor, humble Charlie didn't know what was going on. Finally Dr. P.--"D.P." we used to call him behind his back--got to the point. The faculty had decided to retire Charlie's basketball jersey--they figured that no one could possibly wear that number after CHARLIE CHRISTMAS had worn it.


"Charlie," Dr. Petterson said with a shaky voice, "We're going to retire Number 20."

Charlie hung his head (in prayer, I suspect). Suddenly the whole school broke out in a deafening standing ovation. Everyone was sobbing and cheering at the same time. It was like a revival. Then Charlie raised his hands for silence...he was going to speak.

He began with his usual profession of modesty, saying that he didn't deserve the honor. But then he said that he couldn't take credit for anything that he'd done on the basketball court--it was all due to Jesus, he said. (He could get away with that--the Council had said no talking about Jesus as the Lord but no one put any bans on the basketball coach-approach). Then Charlie told us about how he'd always wanted to be a preacher but realized that he wasn't eloquent enough. One day, he'd realized that he could play basketball, so he went into that instead. And he decided he'd just be Christ's missionary on the basketball court, showing people what Jesus could do for them if they'd only let him.

By this time, the whole school was in a state of emotional climax. What a man. The news photographers started snapping pix of Charlie and the whole school swarmed around him in awe and wonder. The band struck up the school fight song (unfortunately they hadn't prepared Onward Christian Soldiers for the occasion). That's my last memory of Charlie Christmas.

I heard stories last summer about his great successes on the basketball team of a local Baptist college. He'd had great offers from all over the Southeastern Conference but turned them down in favor of Samford in Birmingham. Then last summer I heard that Charlie had quit the team because he wanted to get closer to God.

And now for the news over Christmas vacation I heard from reliable sources that Charlie Merry Christmas got a 16-years old girl pregnant and had to marry her at Thanksgiving. (He also has rejoined the basketball team).

I can imagine what's going on at Mountain Brook High School this very minute--plans to unretire Charlie's jersey or some other fitting gesture to purge our souls of his influence.

It's too bad really. But somehow I think there's a little desire retribution in it. I had to say he had it coming to him--nobody tells me I'm going to Hell and gets away with it.