You might have heard about the redneck who happened to cross paths with his neighbor on a dirt road not too far out of town.
The redneck had a sack over his shoulder and his neighbor just had to know what’s in it.
“I got me some watermelons,” the redneck answered.
“How many watermelons?” the neighbor asked, licking his lips.
“Well, I tell you what,” the redneck said, hoisting the sack into the air. “If you can guess how many, I’ll give them both to you.”
And that, my friends, is a Jerry Stafford joke. Until he died a little over a month ago, the larger-than-life Kentuckian was a regular contributor of fun tales for this column, though he would never allow me give him any credit.
Jerry and I had spent a lot of time together and had swapped a lot of stories in the years that I was his pastor. My favorite involved a watermelon heist he had plotted long years ago. But before I go there, I’d best tell you a bit about Jerry. He was a legend in Kentucky’s burley region. It seems everyone had a Jerry Stafford story, well-honed from the telling. As is the case with legends, the stories tended to get embellished with each successive telling.
Jerry, well into his 80s when he died, would laugh heartily about those stories that turned Jerry into a modern day Davy Crockett, the legend from America’s pioneer days. Jerry insists that he never actually chased down and picked up a full-grown bull or that he had tossed said bull across a woven-wire fence he had escaped from. He never lifted the back of a Chevy pickup while his buddy changed a flat tire. And he never jumped from a 15-foot-high barn roof he was repairing only to turn around and jump back up.
But he wouldn’t deny stories about his practical jokes, though. Those were largely true. He just couldn’t help himself when it came to pulling pranks. So it was that he plotted the raid on a neighbor’s watermelon patch. He had pulled together some of the neighbor boys on a hot summer day, enticed them with visions of juicy, ripe melons, and enlisted them to go with him after dark and help themselves to all they could eat.
Once the boys had been sold on the plan, Jerry went to the farmer and told him what time they would arrive. Jerry encouraged the farmer to be hiding on the edge of the watermelon patch when he and the boys got there, that he should give the boys time to snatch a watermelon apiece, then flip on a spotlight and start firing a shotgun into the air.
Preacher Pat Butcher shared that tale at Jerry’s funeral, vividly describing those boys running and crying and praying and repenting as they scrambled to escape that watermelon patch. Meanwhile, Jerry stood nearby, laughing hysterically as this wild chaotic scene played out before him, just as he had planned. Perhaps it was his finest practical joke, one that taught those boys a lesson they would never forget.
In true legend fashion, Jerry faced death fearlessly. He had lived a long life, had done a lot of good, had had a lot of fun, and, most importantly, had surrendered his heart and life to Christ. So when it came his time to go, Jerry went confidently, like the legend he was, “pressing on to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). .