In the end, husband only guy who counts
I’ve been a big Guy Penrod fan since before the vocalist’s departure from the Gaither Vocal Band a few years ago. For 14 years he was the lead vocalist for GVB, as we gospel music aficionados call the band. Few people under the age of 65 have heard of him. Only a handful of people over 65 know who he is either, unless I say, “He sang with the Gaithers; he was the cowboy with the long, grey hair.” He is notorious for his Western attire, his long, dappled grey locks and a voice so rich and powerful, people sometimes cry when they hear him in the upper range.
Ironically, I was introduced to Guy Penrod by my childhood archnemesis, the Rev. Billy Graham.
Growing up, the mere mention of Billy Graham’s name sent shivers down my spine and into my soul. Some parents had Dr. Spock to guide them through their children’s formative years; Margaret and David Wilson had Billy Graham. My parents’ annual attempts to hog tie me and force me to sit, bound and gagged, in front of our console television watching the Billy Graham crusades were largely unsuccessful — although I saw enough of the revivals over the years to know that if the song “Just as I Am” was wafting from the living room, the living room had to be avoided at all costs. To inadvertently venture into our living room during one of Billy Graham’s televised altar calls was to ensure my parents would have me on my knees for the next several days. I guess they thought I had a lot to repent for.
My disdain for the preacher was based exclusively on my personal belief that pastors shouldn’t yell at their flock. Billy is a yeller. Worse yet, he’s a fist pumper. Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino may have brought fist pumping to the Jersey Shore, but Billy Graham brought it to the pulpit. I’m already hard-wired for anxiety; the last thing I need is a screaming spiritual adviser pumping his fist at me.
“He isn’t yelling,” my mother always insisted. “He’s making a point.”
Mom’s semantics and her vehement defense of Billy Graham served as evidence to me that he was using the television as an instrument of mind control. By the early 1980s, I was so sure Billy Graham had brain-washed my parents I told my brother we might have to have them abducted and taken somewhere for deprogramming. (Oddly enough, by the time I turned 25, they seemed to be regaining their faculties.)
I was in my 30s when I finally watched Billy Graham preach. Mom’s smile was so wide it threatened to swallow her face; Dad was humming “Victory in Jesus.” They’d trained me up in the way I should go and although I’d departed from those ways long enough to make a complete debacle of my personal life, the prodigal had returned to her parents’ couch to watch Billy Graham. Oh, happy day.
Joking aside, failure is the precursor to transformation, and in that respect, I was ripe for change. The facts were, my life wasn’t working and my parents’ lives were. Although I knew they would give attribution to Jesus, not Billy Graham, my desire to do things differently was just strong enough for me to agree to watch the crazy preacher man.
It was so moving and memorable an experience I should have sent Billy Graham a thank you note – for none of the reasons my parents had hoped. Toward the beginning of the program, the Gaither Vocal Band began singing. The camera panned the stage, past Billy Graham, past Gloria Gaither, past Bill Gaither, and then … Well, hello handsome cowboy singer. Have we met? No? Well, that’s a shame. Do I come here often? No, actually, now that you mention it, this is my first Billy Graham Revival.
“Who is that guy?” I asked my dad pointing to Guy Penrod on the screen. “He’s hot.”
I’m sure my parents were disappointed. They wanted nothing more than for me to understand God’s eye is on the sparrow, but I couldn’t take mine off the lead singer. All I remember of that Billy Graham special was the striking figure with the towering height, long hair and vocal abilities of an angel choir.
The encounter sparked an interest in gospel music that has grown since, to the point that besides listening to some golden oldies now and again, gospel and southern gospel music dominate my play list. While my son Zane has branded the entire genre “crap,” I get my jam on with the late Vestal Goodman, The Blackwood Brothers, The Kingdom Heirs, Johnny Minick, The Cathedrals, The Kingsmen Quartet, Gold City, GVB and of course, Guy Penrod. While I love them all, Guy remains my favorite – probably because he was my first.
Guy Penrod is the only person whose “Tweets” I subscribe to, and I stalk his Facebook and web pages fairly frequently. Two winters ago, in an effort to enhance the similarities in he and Guy’s physical appearances, I asked my husband, Roger, to grow his hair long. He complied, but only because his head gets cold in the winter. The likeness was actually quite remarkable – that is, until Roger started to sing.
“Why can’t you be like most women and just fall in love with a movie star?” Roger asked one night when I was pasting pictures of Roger, Guy, Sam Elliott and Dr. Drew Pinksy next to one another under the caption, “All the men I’ve loved before.”
“Why do you have to lust after a gospel singer? He’s a man of God. It ain’t right,” Roger said, as if the torrid affair he’s having in his head with Angelina Jolie is somehow appropriate.
My mother agrees with Roger. When I told her my friend, Sharie Leazer, and I had tickets to see Guy Penrod July 13 at the Adler Theater in Davenport, she voiced concerns. She called me just before we entered the theater and firmly instructed me not to “rush the stage or throw your underwear at him.” I assured her there is no need to rush the stage when you invest in front-row seats; we were so close had I been so inclined, I could have licked Guy’s cowboy boots.
I also thought better of hurling my panties on stage. Guy spent a significant amount of time quoting the Bible and “getting his preach on.” A man of the cloth most likely would have found a pair of flying underwear distressing, particularly when he saw the amount of cloth in the underwear I’m sporting these days. Furthermore, with the exception of a girl in her 20s who brought her grandmother, I was the youngest person in the crowd. Several people relied on canes and walkers to get into the theater, and one person was on oxygen. The excitement generated in that demographic by the flashing of undergarments of any sort could have proven fatal. Besides, Guy announced he would sign autographs after the show, affording me the perfect opportunity to make my move.
When I met Guy, he wasn’t as tall in person as in my dreams. He was sweaty from singing and preaching, and his hair hung in ringlets around his rugged jaw line. As he was autographing my photo, our eyes met, I opened my mouth, but the profundity I’d prepared was not forthcoming. In fact, I could make no sound at all. I again opened my mouth to speak. Again, nothing. It was as if the Lord himself had rendered me dumb. (My mother also may have had a hand in it.)
Finally, I eked out one sad, simple sentence.
“Thank you for the concert,” I stammered.
Thank you for the concert? Why would I thank someone for a concert I had to pay $38.50 to see? I had planned to tell Guy I had been touched and helped by his music. I was going to explain how music ministers to me in a way preachers can’t. I wanted to say I admired his convictions and core values. Surely, we would have shared a laugh when I told him it was because of his influence I came out of my recent colonoscopy singing, “I Believe in a Hill Called Mount Calvary” at the top of my lungs.
Instead, I said, “Thank you for the concert.”
I was quickly cast aside so Guy could sign autographs for all the other old women hurling themselves at his feet. It’s apparently hard to remain standing after a double knee and hip replacement; ladies were falling all over him. Do they not know Guy is merely a vessel, an instrument through which the Lord works? By the way these women were carrying on, you’d have thought we were at an Engelbert Humperdinck premiere.
“Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do,” I prayed as we walked to the parking ramp.
Guy was so occupied signing pictures for the pack of vultures, he didn’t even notice when I left.
“How was the concert?” Roger asked sleepily when I came in at 1 a.m.
Just seeing Roger reminded me he’s the one I always want to come home to. He may not be able to hit Guy’s high notes, but he carries a tune well enough to contentedly sing along with the hymns at church. He’s an excellent provider and a wonderful dad. He’s fiercely loyal and more importantly, he’s got the courage and stamina necessary to survive being married to me.
Lying next to him, strains of “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor” still echoing in my head, I was lulled to sleep by the comforting awareness that in spite of his receding hairline, at the end of the day, Roger is the only guy for me.
Staci Ann Wilson Wright teaches special education at the Fairfield High School; she is a Ledger summer staff writer.