My dad came from a family of rogues:  hillbillies, partially converted Baptists, Klan sympathizers…  We suspect our real name might not even be “Smith.”  After all, a name change was just the thing in the early 1800s in case you needed to evade the authorities.  But our family genealogists can’t find out who we really are because the Tennessee courthouse with all the family records just happened to burn down.  Maybe one of our great-grandpas was also an arsonist?

By the time this dynastic rogue-ness filtered down to John F. Smith it had diluted considerably.  My dad's contribution to this family trait was to make it more politically correct (sort of) and style it with sophistication.  

So, just how did he do that?  Example: My schoolteacher mom was a stickler for proper English.  But my dad would deliberately slip back into his Tennessee dialect just to prove his independence.  Example: The Methodist church forbid their pastors to smoke or drink alcohol.  So, my dad kept a pipe in the living room and ordered a beer now and then at a restaurant.  Example: Several conservatives in his Protestant churches were decidedly anti-Catholic, and so he wore a clerical collar on Sundays.  Example: When the state of Illinois instituted an income tax in the 1970s, my dad felt offended and went rogue, deciding not to pay it for several years.  But his roguishness had its limits, such as when a letter from the Department of Revenue threatened him with jail time. And there’s this:  everyone in our immediate family has at least one aghast memory of his unexpected nudity.  There wasn’t anything immoral going on:  it was just him purposefully not giving a damn. 
 
He even went rogue on his own rogue kinfolk when he moved to the north, went to college, invited Japanese and African classmates to spend the night at our house, and taught his kids to never use the “N” word.  Had he not been so roguish, he never would have escaped the humiliations and prejudices of his elders.  

His roguishness was especially revealed in two pets he brought home, a pony and a pig. I believe that pets are our alter-egos:  they express that part of our sub-conscious selves that we are too domesticated to admit.  (I learn a lot about people by observing their pets.  If you want to know what I secretly think of you, consider the behavior of your cat or dog.)  The pony and the pig my dad brought home were intolerably roguish. 

The pony was entirely my dad’s idea:  a Christmas present in 1967 for us four kids.  He walked us out to the garage that freezing Christmas morning, threw open the door, and stunned us with a rust colored pony that none of us had asked for.  Leading her out by the rope, he invited me, the first born, to be the first to ride her.  I lasted all of five seconds before she bucked me off.  Jim, Steve, and Jay were all invited to take their turns, which they obediently did.  None of them lasted long enough on the bucking bronco to get any rodeo points either.  After each of us declined the opportunity for a second ride, my dad tied the pony to a tree and we all went in to eat breakfast.  When we went back outside after breakfast the pony was gone, escaped. 

We should have had the prescience to just let her go, but no. We spent all Christmas day chasing her up and down the three streets of Rock Grove.  Neighbors would call the house through the day to report sightings.  The pony would let us get as close as five feet away before galloping off again.  It was three p.m. before she tired of the game and let us lead her back to the garage.  

My dad thought it would be a good thing for us boys to break in this pony, build character in us and give us something to brag about.  He was too busy pastoring five churches at the time to do the job himself.  (Plus, he’d never personally tamed a horse, he’d just heard his dad and uncles brag about doing it.)  But we boys were only 13, 11, 10, and 6, endowed with our mother’s caution.  Breaking a horse was never our ambition.  And after meeting this pony, there were a million things we’d rather do.  And so “Christy” the Christmas present was never domesticated.

That summer we moved to a country parsonage, with a barn and a pasture, and my dad arranged to have the pony move with us.  Christy hung around the family for many years.  She stayed on her side of the fence and we stayed on ours. It was live and let live.  But it was hard to explain to folks why we kept this no-good horse around.  We did because my dad was a dreamer (see installment three of this series).  In his imagination, the horse would someday become a gentle, treasured member of our family, providing idyllic rides through the countryside for one and all.

Once in a while, when he had a free day, he’d go out and try to ride her himself.  That never went well. It immediately became a big physical fight between the two of them. We watch from the kitchen window, terrified of becoming orphans. And in the end, the pony always won, being bigger and considerably more the rogue.  But something in Christy’s spirit resonated with my father: deep calls to deep.  And so we kept her way longer than we should have.  

The pig came from a neighboring farmer.  As a piglet, he was the runt of the litter, destined to die of malnutrition since he could never find a free nipple amidst the clamor of his greedy siblings.  My dad, partial to the underdog (under-pig?) brought him home.  We kids thought of the charming pigs we’d seen on TV and affectionately named him “Arnold.”  The pig, in return, thanked us for his salvation by rooting up all the grass in our yard, constantly jumping over the pasture fence, and being generally obnoxious.  The only time he was cute was during a rainstorm, when we would see him standing under to pony to keep dry.   “Arnold” gave hogs a bad reputation.  Despite serving as another of my dad’s alter-egos, however, he eventually took the pig to the butcher, as our family had trouble making ends meet in those days, and we needed the meat.  Arnold didn’t even taste good, turning out to be not only a rogue pig but rogue pork as well.

One of the biggest ways my dad’s rogue-ness came through was in his telling of stories.  He never stuck to the facts. Whenever something interesting happened, he would take the particulars of the event and stretch and twist them until the story felt sufficiently entertaining to him. And then he would tell his version over and over, relentlessly offending my mom (with her more accurate memory of the event.)  Mom would try to correct him, but to no avail.  Everyone who ever witnessed them as a couple saw this litany: he was the rogue storyteller and she the earnest schoolteacher, shaking her head and objecting to his mistakes.

I think being a pastor provoked him into developing and refining his rogue-ness all the more.  Professional pastoring is a very confining, rule bound life. Playing the rogue can be a fairly ethical way to escape the moral straitjackets coerced on clergy.  It gives relief to the caricatures absolutely everyone imposes on pastors.

Looking back, it is clear that he played the part of the rogue with skill and flair.  Not all the dictionary definitions of rogue applied to him; that’s why I drew a line through some of them (see below.)  Dad was not dishonest, nor was he a cheat.  He was not savage.  And he wasn’t a tramp, as in trying to lure others into doing the hard work for him. He never avoided hard work or tough situations.  In his case, going rogue meant being a charming scamp, mischievous, playful, and incurably averse to following anyone else’s rules.  

The hardest thing about being a rogue is to perform it in such a way as to not hurt others.  No rogue is perfect when it comes to being harmless, but my dad came closer to it than anyone else I know.  I have only imperfectly imitated him in this regard.  But it’s an inheritance I think I’ll hang on to.  It helped him survive the depression, a stint in the military, a solid marriage, a demanding family, and an over-prescribed career in the ministry.  Well played, old man, you scamp!

***From Random House Unabridged Dictionary:  rogue  1) a dishonest person, a scoundrel2) a playfully mischievous person, scamp. 3) a tramp. 4) a rogue elephant or other animal of such disposition. 5) an inferior organism. 6) to live as a rogue. 7) to cheat.  8) uproot or destroy plants.  9) to perform this operation upon.  10) having an unusually savage disposition.  11) no longer obedient, not controllable, renegade.