Croak, Son, Croak!

by | May 21, 2007 | Praise, Worship

Son, why didn’t you sing in church today?” Mama asked. “You’ve always loved to sing Christmas carols.”

She was right. I knew them all, having listened to her Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Nat King Cole Christmas albums over and over again.

There are certain aspects of childhood innocence that should be preserved for as long as possible. One of these is… when you’re a kid, it’s all right to sing, even if your singing can be described more accurately as… making a joyful noise.

Mama loved my caterwauling. Smiling proudly, she’d look down at my cherubic little face, lifted to the firmament, gleefully bellowing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Joy To The World,” “Silent Night, Holy Night,” “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” and all those other wonderful Christmas carols.

Once spoken, unkind words cannot be unspoken. One day, I was the first kid on the bus after school. The driver, Mr. Bailey, who always sat alone behind us in church, said, “You love to sing, don’t you, boy?” Expecting praise, I chirped, “Yes, Sir.”

“Well, there ain’t but one problem. You don’t sing – you croak.” An anticipated compliment that is instead a stinging insult doubly hurts.

That evening, while helping Mama wash dishes, I told her why I didn’t sing.

“Croak?” Her brow furrowed.

As we headed toward our pew the following Sunday, I begged, “Mama, please don’t say anything to Mr. Bailey.”

“Don’t sing today, ” she said. “Listen to Mr. Bailey instead. After church, tell him what you think of his singing.”

I’d always been so engrossed in my own unmelodious utterances that I’d never paid attention to Mr. Bailey. I discovered what Mama knew all along. His clear baritone voice was absolutely beautiful, and I could tell he loved singing carols as much as I did. The last prayer ended, and Mama admonished me to be truthful.

“Mr. Bailey, I’ve never heard a man sing as beautifully as you do.”

He froze. Glancing back, I saw his moistened eyes following me as I walked away.

On the way home, Mama told me Mr. Bailey had once gotten crossways of the law and had spent a few years behind bars. Afterwards, he became a loner… no family, no friends… but was determined to remain a law-abiding citizen and had worked low-paying jobs without complaint, never asking anything of anyone.

Christmas Eve fell on a Sunday, and as the congregation began singing, I looked up questioningly at Mama. She nodded, and I joined in.

Halfway through “Joy To The World” an affectionate, encouraging hand patted my shoulder. It was Mr. Bailey’s.

Mama taught me one of life’s most important lessons that day: Kindness toward others overcomes their unkindness toward you.

Even though my singing hasn’t improved after all these years, I still wail away every Sunday, and I still remember what Mama said that Christmas Eve morning.

“To the Lord, the voices of all His children lifted in praise are beautiful. Croak, son, croak.”

Jimmy Reed Oxford


Croak, Son, Croak!