A Youth of Much Promise

burson-freese-ads-WBWhen a young man still on the diaper side of his thirteenth birthday is offered the distinguished job of church bulletin editor, he’s either the preacher’s son or possesses considerable writing talent. Henry Barnes and Minister Fletcher were unrelated. When Henry wrote, the words flowed as if an angel were guiding his pen. He wrote unceasingly, patiently honing his craft for seven long years. His “Sin of the Week” column is still used as a reference and often quoted in sermons. Nine months after resigning as bulletin editor, Henry had not only completed his first novel—one of the greatest novels ever written, Henry believed—he had fallen in love. And then fate intervened. Henry’s fiancée, Miss Anne Latham, died suddenly. I was at the funeral home when Henry tossed the manuscript into the coffin. It landed with a thud.

“Without love, my work is nothing!” he said.

I remember thinking that it was a silly thing to do.

Following Henry’s marriage to Wilma Hill of Castor three weeks later, Henry began thinking of the buried manuscript, regretting his impetuous behavior. Progressively, its recovery became an obsession. Henry would see the novel in his dreams, resting on the bosom of his once-beloved, subjected to moisture, pH fluctuation, and general decay. No matter the cost, he must have it.

While the town slept one night, Henry entered the burying ground carrying a shovel. Minister Fletcher, an early riser, watched from a window. In many situations a man can carry a shovel without arousing suspicion—a graveyard at 4 a.m. is not one of them. As Henry began digging, Fletcher began dialing. Arrested for grave desecration and the use of a shovel in the commission of a crime, Henry Barnes would spend six months in prison.

Most women are quick to forgive. For example, last summer Bud Vernon threw a frozen chicken at his wife and the next morning they were seen skinny dipping under the covered bridge. Although unverified, there have even been reports of women forgetting. But some infractions are unpardonable, and among these are husbands exhuming the bodies of former fiancées. Wives tend to see it as an indication that he’s having trouble letting go. In Henry’s case, the justification made little difference. Wilma returned to Castor and quietly arranged a divorce, never seeing Henry again.

Soon after Henry’s release from jail, Minister Fletcher presented him with the manuscript, having secretly removed it before the coffin was sealed. That evening Henry read his masterpiece, feeling both joy and regret, but mostly wondering why Fletcher hadn’t given him the manuscript in the graveyard instead of having him arrested. The next morning, he burned the novel in the trash barrel. It was so horrible that he never wrote again.

Much can be learned from the story of Henry Barnes. Precocious church-bulletin editors are not guaranteed success. Throwing frozen chickens, though not recommended, can lead to nude swimming. But most of all, consider the consequences before exhuming your fiancée.

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