Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Just Remember Who's Town This Is....


Over Christmas weekend, I heard a lot of good family stories. But none of them tops the following story - completely true, so I'm told - about my grandpa James Baird while he served as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elko, Nevada, in the 1940's.

It was a snowy month of December, with westerly desert winds, coming off the Sierras and whipping the white farm houses and red painted barns of Elko, Nevada with the power of a sandblaster. In those days, the late 1940's, the mainstreets of Elko were as likely to see a herd of cows being driven down the center of Main Street as they were to see a white stretch limo, or a black be-curtained hearse. Cheap bars and tacky saloons lined both sides of the street, and were punctuated only by a wayward tumbleweed that occasionally blew past their doors or the bellicose drunk who crawled into the gutters. It was a cowboy, drinking man's, rough and tumble, tough dude's town.

The toughest place in town was not the bar, however, but the corner bank, where a self described "lowlife" banker and casino owner named Mr. Tibbs held court and ruled over Elko like a Columbian drug Lord. From the back of a smoky office, Tibbs swilled cheap whiskey from a chiseled tumbler and sent assignments out to his lackeys and "henchmen."

By contrast, on the other end of town, stood the First Presbyterian Church, where Rev. James Baird, a 28 year old pastor, served as senior and solo pastor. First Presbyterian Church had had a tough year. The finances were down and attendance was simply holding steady. The building, erected during the turn of the century, needed a new coat of paint. In the 5 years that Rev. Baird had served as senior pastor of PFC, he had developed a reputation among the Elko establishment for being a fiery young preacher who wasn't afraid to, "call a sin a sin." From the spindly "knox style pulpit" in the sanctuary, Baird had been known to speak against the evils of drinking, gambling, prostitution, and dancing - often all in the same sermon. While never naming anyone in particular, the city of Elko all knew that Rev. Baird was taking square aim at Mr. Tibbs. Tibbs relied on the gambling, prostitution and drinking trade to stay in business. Rev. Baird was calling Tibb's activities sinful...and Mr. Tibbs didn't like it.

One Sunday, Tibbs sent several of his "henchmen" to sit in the back row of the First Presbyterian Church of Elko. The men wore black suits, trench coats and bandito mustaches. Guns could be seen inside the hit men's coats. Just outside the door, several other men were sent to stand and send ominous, and miasmic fear into the spines of worshipers who attended there. Tibbs had intended to elicit fear, and he was good at it. After three Sundays of this intimidation and fear, Rev. Baird had had enough.

One Sunday, after the sermon, and after the thugs arrived in their usual fashion of fear and loathing, Rev. Baird finished his sermon with a crisp, "And the Lord is in this Place...". After the benediction, Baird marched directly out the back doors of church, down main street, through the front doors of the bank, past the blonde secretary in the front, past the teller with a red and black arm band. While still wearing his pulpit robe, Rev. Baird walked up to Tibbs, pointed a finger in his face, and said, "Just Remember Tibbs..Just Remember Who's Town This Is..."

Of course my grandpa meant that it was God's town. Though Mr. Tibbs assumed that grandpa meant it was his town. Mr. Tibbs backed down after that...or so the story goes...

All for Now,
GB




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