After Dinner Speaking

For many years, while I was actively writing for the Greenville News, it wasn’t unusual for groups to call wanting to find an after-dinner speaker. I would jump at the chance, because there was always the chance to pick up a few good stories.

I never will forget when Jack Smith with the Professional Construction Estimators Association asked me to speak to the local chapter. I knew absolutely nothing about the group, but the meeting was held where I knew from experience the food was terrific, so I immediately accepted.

That night, when I arrived, I was greeted by the president of my senior (the first year I was in the 12h grade) class. I hadn’t seen him since we walked across and snatched our official notice we were through with public school.

Then, when I was being introduced as the speaker, Jack Smith jumped up and announced his wife was in the bar and wanted to go get her. And everyone seemed to have a great time.

About three months later Smith called again, and again I showed up in the same place to enjoy the group and the fried chicken.

Little did I know where this would lead. Before it was all over I had been invited (and accepted) speaking engagements for PCEA groups in four states.

Diane and I were also invited, (and accepted) invitations to four straight National Conventions.

That was a hoot. The first year I was the Saturday breakfast speaker. To see approximately 500 people, all dressed up at 8 o’clock in the morning, at the beach, eating hen eggs and expecting me to entertain them put me to praying. Softly.

I would ask the Lord to help me. Then I’d get the feeling that I had gotten myself into this, that I would have to get myself out of it.  So I would pray a little more.

When I finished I had no idea how I had done but rested easier when nobody came up and asked us to leave.

And, surprise, I was invited back for the second year. Only this time I was to be the Saturday night speaker. And I was also serving as the emcee for all of the meetings.

On Saturday morning, that year the speaker was a local radio personality who started off welcoming everyone and talking about the carnival that only recently been it town. There was a parade, complete with four elephants. He explained how one elephant leads and the second uses its trunk to hold onto the leaders’ tail. The other elephants in line do exactly the same.

Then the speaker told how a teenager ran his car through a street barrier, ran right into the parade, hit and killed the fourth elephant.

He explained how the carnival sent a bill to the insurance company in the amount of several hundred thousand dollars. The Insurance Company pitched a fit and woke up a bunch of their lawyers.

In other words, they questioned the amount asked for one dead elephant.

The Carnival lawyers responded, explaining how elephants parade. One leads, the second elephant takes its trunk and holds the tail of the leader. The third holds the tale of the second, and on down the line. Only one elephant died, but the accident injured the rectum of the other three.

But the word rectum was never uttered. The word the man used was worse. Much worse.

Personally, I thought it was a pretty good story, only not one to be told to 500 people in dress clothes early in the morning at Myrtle Beach. Or anywhere else. This was a bar stool story.

Then the man started another story, using the same word as the offensive spear he threw in the opener.

A man in the audience stood up. He explained how his wife was present, how all of his friends and their wives were present, and how he was not going to sit there and listen to such offensive language. He challenged the speaker to clean up his act or sit down.

The speaker stammered and stuttered for a few moments, said, “Welcome to Myrtle Beach,” and sat down. I jumped up, grabbed up a box full of ticket stubs, and we gave away a television. Things eased back into normal.

But I spent the day knowing that it was going to be ME standing before these folks after they had spent the day drinking, and laying around the pool, and drinking, and shopping, and drinking, and discussing how bad the morning speaker was, and drinking.

Nervous does not even come close to how I felt. I worried, and stewed, and I worried. I knew I would come up with something, but I didn’t know what that would be. As I was being introduced, I was still scared and stewing. Did I mention scared?

Everyone got quiet. Myself included.

I took a deep breath and said, “I read somewhere, one time, that everyone should learn something new every day. I learned something new today.

“No elephant jokes!”

Everybody laughed, I started breathing again and was invited back the next two years.