This post originally appeared at MaxMcAlister.com, a website I created for my first grandson. The site no longer exists.
Max will never get to know Lynwood. It’s hard for me to imagine, having never spent a moment of life where I didn’t know Lynwood. He was larger than life to me. A fixture of our brotherhood. A man who terrified me as a child. A man who made me laugh as an adult. A preacher who could move my emotions. A storyteller without comparison.
Our phone rang around 4:30 this morning with news that Lynwood was gone. Dead from a bout of pneumonia, kidney failure and staph infection. Health had failed him in recent years. The road – and the millions of miles on buses and airplanes – hadn’t helped much. Like most, I knew it was inevitable, but as Kevin Presley said on the phone to me this morning, “It’s surreal.”
One of my earliest memories of Lynwood was when I was a child living in Ada, Oklahoma. My father owned a service station on Main Street. I was very young and enjoyed hanging out playing on the pinball machine and climbing all over the tires. This was probably around 44 years ago when cars would pull into gas stations and a bell would ring when their tires ran over a cable as they pulled up to the gas pumps. It signaled the gas station attendant that a customer was present. Old school. Nobody pumped their own gas in those days.
We lived on some acreage near Wintersmith Park in Ada. Johnny and Sally (and kids) lived across the park from us. Stan Elmore and I were – and still are – best friends.
I had recently been in trouble with my parents for lying. I was a child pyromaniac and refused to fess up to my fascination with fire. Lynwood was on a bus headed toward Ada. My dad was scheduled to pick him up that afternoon. The bus station was just down Main Street.
My mother informed me that as soon as Lynwood arrived she’d be telling him of my lying. Terrified, I ran to the men’s room where I promptly locked the door and crouched down in a corner. Adam and Eve hid from the Lord in the Garden. They had nothing on me.
I don’t know how much time passed, but I remember hearing a voice I knew very well. Lynwood knocked on the door – it wasn’t just a tap either – and said, “Randy, it’s Lynwood.” My heart stopped and I knew this was not a man who suffered stupidity – including stupid behavior of setting small fires in the yard. I also knew my hiding was over.
I have no recall of what he said. I don’t even remember opening the door of the men’s room. Perhaps that’s my mind’s ability to block out horrible experiences. I do remember that I didn’t have trouble with lying or setting fires any more.
For an unmarried man with no children of his own, Lynwood had a sobering affect on me – as he did all children back in the day. Most of us had witnessed him “calling down” some young person who was misbehaving in a worship service. Those of us with a brain in our head made sure it was never us! Stan and I sat as still as possible on the front row of church whenever Lynwood was in town. Occasionally we’d suffer the flick of an ear during services, but no such correction was necessary if Lynwood was in the pulpit.
I was born in 1957. The two Homers (King and Gay) weren’t so much part of my childhood memories. The prime of their life was past by the time I arrived on the scene, able to know which end was up. Fred Kirbo was a name I heard all my life, but alas – I have no memory of him either. Lynwood, I knew well. I’m sure I would have been a better person for knowing the Homers and brother Kirbo – but each generation has their own characters and for my generation none was bigger than M. Lynwood Smith.
Like most people who knew him, I have plenty of memories and stories involving Lynwood Smith. I’m glad I knew him. I’m thankful Ryan and Renae knew him. He baptized them both. I’m thankful he stayed in my home, and that I was summoned to the airport or bus stations to rescue him more times than I can count (sometimes not so willingly I might add – to my shame).
Lynwood was sentimental. He was talented with words and stories. He was gruff, impatient and abrasive. He was not hypocritical. He was not fake. He was not politically correct. He was old school, all the time. He always seemed old to me. He acted old – grumpy. But I loved him. And almost always I enjoyed being in his presence. Not always – some times I’d rather be locked in that men’s room. But mostly, he made my life better. He taught me to love the church by loving her so much himself.
Lord willing, Friday morning Ryan and I will board a plane to Jackson. We’ll drive down to Brookhaven and attend the funeral of a man who seemed impervious to death – but Lynwood was a mortal man subject to ill-health and death. As I sit in the New Salem building on Friday afternoon and soak in the scene – I’ll recall the man, his songs, his words, his stories and his sermons. I’ll thank God that I had the opportunity to know him and to be touched by him. And I’ll be somewhat sad for Max never having that chance.
Max will have his characters who affect his life for good. For me, Lynwood was as big as it gets.