Virgil Hale

Joseph Mansfield


In the Dunlap of the 1940s and 1950s, the Methodist parsonage stood at the corner of Rankin Avenue and Dell Trail, where the Church of Christ is now.  The next house, going north, was that of W.W. Harmon; then came a rent house, my paternal grandparents’ house, a garage apartment, and Clay Wilson’s house, with my maternal grandparents’ house on the far corner, at what is now Cates Street.  With both pair of grandparents on the block, it is not surprising that I spent a lot of time in and around the parsonage as well as with my grandparents.  In the summers, when I was not yet six years old, I would ride my tricycle back and forth on the length of the block many times a day.  I knew every crack and bump in the sidewalk. 


The first preacher I remember was Carmack Morris.  The household included his mother, a plump lady with ample lines in her face.  Near the parsonage there was a place in the sidewalk, a place where in one section only the finish of the concrete had broken up and left a rough area exposed, neatly centered and with the intact part of the section framing the rough spot like a portrait.  It reminded me of the preacher’s mother’s face and I called it “that Mrs Morris place”.


I spent countless hours playing with the parsonage children, William Henry and Susie Q.  Sometimes I accompanied William Henry on his after-school chores.  Brother Morris kept pigs in an enclosure at the back of the lot.  All the households up and down the street had buckets on the back porch where food waste—“slop”—was kept.  William Henry would go to each house pulling his red wagon, in which rode another bucket.  He would collect the slop from each house into his bucket, then return home and slop the pigs.


The Morris family was transferred out when I was about five years old.  The next preacher was Virgil Hale, who also brought children near my age.


The Hale family was the source of two developmental experiences for me.


The first incident occurred one day when there were only two children in the parsonage yard, myself and a kid about two years younger.  There was no adult around either.  A playpen stood in the dust near the front porch.  This kid and I stood outside the pen on opposite sides, facing each other.  Suddenly, for no visible reason, the kid reached through the playpen bars, picked up a toy truck, and threw it at me.  He missed.  I picked it up and threw it back, and quite to my surprise hit him on the shoulder.


Now I did not hurt the kid, or wish to; even at that age I had quickly reasoned that I would not hurt him because this truck was made of soft rubber and had little weight.  The kid ignored my reasoning.  When he was struck he put up a howl, turned toward the house, and said, “I’m gonna go nell [sic] on you.”


Two thoughts flashed through my head.  One, that I had done no wrong, had even been careful not to hurt the kid.  Two, that the adults in power would not see it my way.  I took off running and stayed out of sight for a couple of days to let the incident be forgotten.  But I never forgot the lesson:  That what happens and what a non-witness may make of it can be two very different things, and that one ought to anticipate this possibility before acting.


The second incident occurred in the downstairs northwest room of the parsonage.  Jimmy Hale was the preacher’s oldest child and about my own age.  We got along well.  But on the day in point we got into a fistfight in that front room.  Brother Hale heard the commotion and came running.  But he did not do what I would have expected in my own home.  He did not break up the fight and he did not punish us.  Instead he stepped into the room and snapped, “Hit ‘im, Jimmy!  Hit ‘im!”


In the next three seconds I did a lot of developing.


In the first second I was flabbergasted that Brother Hale was jumping into the fight on the side of his son, making two against one, an entirely unfair thing to do.


In the second second I understood that Brother Hale was in fact not in the fight, had nothing against me, was hardly thinking about me.  He was doing what a father should do.  He was teaching his son to take care of himself in any circumstance.


In the third second I thought how blessed it would be to have a daddy like Brother Hale.


© 2008 Joseph Mansfield

2008.06.21 first draft

2008.06.23 revisions

2008.07.02 revisions

2008.08.18 posted