Gerald Johnson

Gerald Johnson 

The Lone Ranger: If we ride together, we ride for justice.

Tonto: Justice is what I seek, Kemosabe.

The Gordo Ranger: Each life has a beginning, middle and an end. What’s important is not how long but how deeply and fully we live.

Kemosabe: Your model of a full life is what we seek, Kemosabe.   

David Housel may well be our last, I hope not, Lone Ranger. Let’s call him, The Gordo Ranger. 

In “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s,” his 113 kaleidoscope pieces of reminiscences constitute the telling of a full life, resplendent with tales of justice, fairness, goodness and good sense, each and all in the warmth of a life full of kemosabes, including The Lone Ranger. 

The collection includes some athletics, not as much as you might expect. And, each ball story is a human-interest story, not wins and losses. There is some politics. Politically, David, seems to me, is clearly a flaming moderate, although some have charged him with being a liberal and some a conservative. Proves my point. He cares deeply. 

And, of course, included in the work is Gordo and the Green Wave — two words;  Momma and Daddy and Gramma, — favorite people; first love — Annette Funicello; and Auburn University, among a string of other pieces on various topics and personalities. All deeply human-interest stories. Well, there is some preaching. He has some opinions.

However, the real story, the compelling story, the story that is right out of Flannery O’Connor, makes up sixty-one percent of the 113 telling moments of a full life.

Flannery O’Connor is one of many southern authors whose works have been haunted by southern religion. She writes, “While the south is not Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” From O’Connor to Faulkner to many, if not most, of the great southern novel writers, the Christ story, in all of its complexity and simplicity, infiltrates, sometimes overtly and oftentimes covertly, the telling. David is a southern writer. 

There are well over 50 (I lost count with the duplications) biblical text references — OT and NT —, allusions to religion, the church, salvation, the soul, prayer, and, of course, to God and Jesus, and Abraham, Moses and St. Paul, as well as Adam, Eve, Mary, Pilate and Barabbas. 

The two quotes following the dedication page are both of saints and sinners and beliefs. The titles, “Through a Glass Darkly” and “It’s Okay to get Mad at God” and “Lord, Gawd, Dave” and “Frustrated Jesus” to “Buddy Have a Drink” and “Running Naked through the Street,” are all “religion” stories, some biblical. Even the non-religion haunted pieces include the spirit of religion in tone and tenor, warp and woof. Yes, David is a southern writer.

This major set of David’s reminiscences reflect his theology. As with his political character, David, to me, seems to be a religiously flaming moderate — caring, loving, forgiving, sensitive, mostly nonjudgmental. He cares deeply. He quotes Archibald MacLeish: “Religion is at its best when it forces us to ask hard questions of ourselves. It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.”

In the thematic finale, David writes about “imperfect people, people like us, living in an imperfect world, doing the best we can.” Living the full life. He quotes my good friend, Dr. Seuss. “Don’t cry because it’s ending, smile because it happened.”  

“From the Backbooth at Chappy’s” is a good read. More importantly, it is a compelling, funny, warming and profound accounting of each of our lives — the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, the people who have touched and shaped us and make life full. 

Friends make life better, Kemosabe.

Gerald Johnson is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Auburn University. 

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