When tech school was over in Amarillo, I caught a bus to El Dorado for a longed-for month off before shipping out for Germany. After the austere scenery of Texas and Oklahoma, the tall pines and hardy hardwoods of south Arkansas were a welcome sight. I even told the fellow next to me on the bus that such familiar scenery was a welcome sight. He just looked at me as if to say, “What are you talking to me for?”
Anyway, years later I was attending an ordination ceremony in El Dorado and the main speaker was a New Yorker who taught at a famous seminary up there. The printed title of his address was “A Welcome Sight” and I thought of my bus ride of many years before.
The clergyman began his talk by saying that when he was a beginning student at the seminary where he now taught, he had a classmate who came from Texas. He said they made fun of the Texan regularly, especially for his accent. He explained that the cowboy would-be preacher said things like “wehcome” for “welcome,” “hep” for “help,” “y’all” for “you guys” and he had a mouthful of quaint expressions such as “I be dawg” and “you dang tootin’.”
The speaker went on to say that when he, himself, was invited down to El Dorado, Arkansas to speak at the present ordination, he thought, that’s close to Texas and I sure don’t want to go to the land of I be dawg, etc. But the person being ordained had been a good student of his and was certainly worthy of his presence, so he decided to go on down to Arkansas, a state to which he had never traveled nor had he desired to visit. He made that clear.
He said that when the airplane he was on got into the vicinity of Little Rock, a bad old thunderstorm cropped up and the pilot did not want to risk landing in it. It was a rough flight, the speaker said. He characterized it as a white knuckle experience. When the pilot announced that they were going to divert the flight to Dallas, he thought, oh no, not Texas. But, he said, when they got into the airspace around Dallas, the weather cleared beautifully, the flight smoothed out and the beauty of Dallas airport shone beautifully upon the earth. Then he said something surprising that brought the house down: “It was a wehcome sight, so hep me, y’all!”
I considered that one of the best introductions to a speech I had ever heard. My initial impression of the speaker was negative, indeed, a northerner thinking he was so superior to the funny-talking outlanders. But, when he got to his punch line, all that changed, and he had my attention, and that of the entire assembly.
As he spoke on his topic of the welcome sight of the resurrected Lord, my mind wandered only once, back to that bus ride from Amarillo, in which I had uttered the same phrase, “welcome sight,” when the bus rolled into familiar territory.