One day in the old days when life was "simpler", a woman was fixing to do her laundry and she had just got her fire started under her big kettle to boil the wash water when she discovered she was out of soap. So she hollared for her seven year old boy and gave him some coins and sent him to the store in town to get some soap. And she told him "Don't forget now! Soap! You just keep saying "Soap" till you get to the store."
So the boy lit out for the store and took his usual short cut down a dirt lane and he kept saying "Soap ... Soap ... Soap ! Soap ... Soap ... Soap!" Now it had rained real good the day before and that dirt road was pretty muddy. He was concentrating on saying "Soap ... Soap ... Soap!" so hard he stepped into a muddy pothole and he stumbled and almost slipped. But when he caught his balance, he'd forgotten what he was supposed to get. He tried to remember. "Here I had it! (pacing) Here I lost it! " "Here I had it! (pacing) Here I lost it! "...(pacing back and forth till his feet had made a big muddy spot.)
A man came along and he watched the boy's strange behavior. He walked up. "Here I had it! Here I lost it!" The boy kept saying. "What have you lost young man? I'll help you find it" the man said but when he stepped forward to help look he slipped in the muddy patch the boy's pacing had made and exclaimed. "This spot is slicker than soap!" When the boy heard this, he grinned and said "Soap! ... Soap! ... Soap!" and started dancing around. The man, however, thought he was being made fun of and grabbed the boy. "Don't you make fun of me, young man! Say you're sorry and won't do it again!" "I'm sorry ... (said the boy) Won't do it again!"
He ran down the lane and kept saying "I'm sorry! Won't do it again" "I'm sorry! Won't do it again" over and over. He couldn't remember what he was going to the store for. He ran around a corner in the lane and right into an old lady with a basket full of milk and eggs she'd just gotten from the milk man. The basket flew into the ditch, the eggs breaking and the milk spilling out. "I'm sorry ... won't do it again" Said the boy crying. "Child, you just busted my eggs and spilled my milk". "I'm sorry ... won't do it again" "Well, I know you are sorry, at least you can get me my basket out of the ditch." The boy fetched her basket and got broken egg and milky mud all over himself as he climbed out of the ditch with the lady's basket. He still was crying . "I'm sorry ... won't do it again" "That's all right child, I know you are sorry. There's no use crying over spilt milk"
The boy headed on down the lane and he still couldn't remember what he was going to get. He just kept saying "No use crying over spilt milk". "No use crying over spilt milk". Then he came upon the Milk man whose wagon had gotten stuck in the ditch. The milk man was trying to push it out. He heard the boy repeating. "No use crying over spilt milk". "I ain't crying, kid - help me push this wagon out. Can't you see! I need help!" So the boy got in the muddy ditch behind the wagon and after a lot of shoving and shouting at the mule, and a couple of falls flat on his face, the wagon was freed. The man thanked him and drove his wagon off.
When the boy reached town, he still couldn't remember what he had been sent to get. He just kept on saying: "Can't you see! I need help!" "Can't you see! I need help!" Just in front of the store he met an old man with with a white cane. "Can't you see! I need help!" The old man said. "I may be blind, but I sure can smell. You sure do stink! and you need a bath, I think!"
"I sure do stink! Need a bath, I think!" "I sure do stink! Need a bath, I think!" repeated the boy as he entered the store. "I sure do stink! Need a bath I think!" The woman behind the counter looked him over. He was filty from top to bottom - mud and egg shells and even some manure from the wheels of the wagon. His face was all black and streaked from rubbing his eyes with dirty hands and crying. "You sure do need a bath, boy. And you'd better use lots of soap!" She said. "Soap! Soap! SOAP!" Said the boy! "That's what I need, Soap!" He bought the soap and he went straight home and he didn't take the short cut.
And when he got home, his mommy took one long disbelieving look and wrinkled her nose. She grabbed a brush and the soap in one hand and his hand in the other and marched him down to the creek. She soused him in the creek, clothes and all, and soaped him up and scrubbed him down three times, until all the mud and dirt and eggs and milk was gone and he was clean and smelling sweet. Then she took two clothespins and hung him on the clothesline, clothes and all, to dry until she had finished doing the rest of her laundry.
Moral of this tale: Don't Forget where you are going and why you are going there!
In thinking about this tale, it would be easy to see the boy as a fool - mindlessly repeating whatever phrase was last encountered, and by pure co-incidence stumbling upon the right word. I took a different stance on this youngster. He has the "guts" to continue in his quest, despite his puzzlement. In telling this story - as each phrase was repeated over and over by the boy, I used the voice, tone and gestures of someone trying to remember something, scratching his head or finger to his lips, a "question" implied by the rising tone at the end.
I used this story as an introduction to a sermon I preached on Deuteronomy 4. I saw in the story an illustration of God's providence overcoming our "straying" from "right paths" and the "washing" of His grace. Moses was reminding the people to remember His Word and trust His unseen presence to overcome our failings as we press on into the unknown in faith.
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