Bob Dylan—Chronicles, p. 276
“I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.”
At the time I thought Henry Luce Willston McElroy was the love of my life, but he shouldn’t have been. It was such a waste of precious time and energy, time and energy I wish I could get back. But it was what it was and there ain’t no going back. The Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy claimed he was ordained a preacher in the Gospel Church of the Savior when he was a young man. He said the Lord appeared to him and told him what to do and he just followed the Lord’s command. He was pretty convincing. I used to watch him on the TV, screaming and crying and making people fall back under his power. He seemed all humble and Christ-like when he asked viewers to send him money, but when he preached he seemed more like a ferocious angel, barring wretched sinners from heaven. Years later Daddy claimed he didn’t never trust Henry. Daddy said, “He weren’t God, he just played him on TV.” But Mama believed every word he said and she’d save her egg money and put it in an envelope and send it to the reverend. I was only 15 the summer he came to Easton with his Gospel revival tent. Daddy was off for weeks cutting timber and I can guarantee you that what happened would not have happened if Daddy had been at home. Mama got me and the little kids all scrubbed and shined and we went off to the revival meeting. And there was the reverend! His presence in real life was even more powerful than it was on the TV screen. He was a force, a big man with a shock of white hair, wearing a white suit, soaked in sweat, and aflame with the fury of a righteous God. He convinced us that we were going to burn in the fires of hell. And he called us to come up to the altar, confess our sins, and swear to him and the Lord Almighty that we were going to amend our ways and follow the Lord. Mama dragged me, trembling, up to the altar before him. He laid his hands upon me and prayed in tongues. Mama fell on her knees and he said, “Rise up, rise up, woman, for you have been called by the Lord.” Then he whispered in Mama’s ear, told her to bring me to him behind the tent after the revival service, that he had a special message for her. So when the crowd departed the tent, Mama stayed behind and told one of the reverend’s assistants that she had been told to bring me to see him. He was sitting in the dark, his jacket removed, a wet towel around his neck. He told my mama that she was blessed, that he had seen an angel of the Lord hovering over my head, and the angel told him that I was go with him as witness to the power of following the Lord’s will. Mama wept, but took me home, gathered my things and put me on the bus with the reverend and his assistants. I was only 15 and I didn’t know love. Henry told me I was the chosen one, that the Lord himself had chosen me to be with him, that it was written in the stars at the beginning of time. He said his love for me was second only to his love for God and my salvation was tied to his, that we would be together into eternity. He told me that my body was but a tangible manifestation of the love of God. I believed all of it. But then came the dark days, the fear, the wrath of God turned against me. And I got left behind somewhere outside of Phoenix with a suitcase and a $10 bill. I wondered what it all meant. I wondered if there’s really a God who speaks through men like the Reverend Henry Luce Willston McElroy. I was trying to figure it out, but I knew that I’d need to think about this for a while. I’d think about this later in my dumpy apartment.