Every Southerner worth his or her grits knows somebody named Bubba. Most folks actually have one in their family. Bubbas are so common, in fact, that the name has become something of a stereotype for a good ol’ redneck boy — so much so, in fact, that a few years ago when Bubba McDonald was running for governor of Georgia he went to great lengths to try and educate the electorate to the fact that his given name was Lauren.
Let the record show that the state of Georgia has elected a Lester, a Sonny, a Zell and a Joe Frank as governor, but not a Bubba -- so far.
I went to school at Newton County High with Bubba Hill, who was a heck of a basketball player and once made a 54-foot shot at the end of the first half against a then undefeated Druid Hills team -- propelling our team to eventual victory. A couple of years ago a friend of mine told me he'd met an old friend of mine, a person named Luke Hill, who lived in LaGrange. I told him that I had never known a Luke Hill -- and it took me a while to realize that he was taking about Bubba. Who would have ever thought Bubba Hill would grow too sophisticated for his childhood moniker. I didn't even know he had political aspirations.
We don't have any Bubbas in my family, but I do have a brother-in-law who calls everybody Bubba -- but that might just be because he is bad with names. And I am sure Jeff Foxworthy has quipped "You might be a redneck if someone tells you Bubba said 'hi' and you have to ask 'Bubba who?'"
Well I told you all of that to tell you this. For the last few years, whenever my kids have mentioned Bubba to me -- and they have done so frequently -- I haven't had to ask "Bubba who?" I knew instantly that they were referring to the Rev. Hugh "Bubba" Hendrickson, current pastor of the congregations at Comer United Methodist Church and Colbert UMC, over in Madison County. And the mention of his name never fails to bring a smile to my face -- or joy to my heart.
I first got to know Bubba -- or Rev. Hugh as his flock refers to him -- during camp meeting at Salem Campground, near Covington. Camp meeting is an annual weeklong gathering that is part revival meeting, part family reunion and part cultural ritual. Like the nickname Bubba, it is a Southern thing. During camp meeting week, I am given to a lot of eating and a lot of front porch sitting.
I do most of my evening front porch sitting at my family's own cabin (we call them "tents") because that's where the homemade peach ice cream can be found. During the daytime, however, I spend as much time as I can at Diane Howington's tent -- because that's where all the cool people hang out. And Bubba has always been the coolest of the cool -- and one of the funniest people I have ever known.
When I first met Bubba he was a student at Georgia State University. He would sit for hours and regale us with story after story of his adventures in the big city of Atlanta. It didn't take me long to realize, however, that in addition to being a great story-teller Hugh Hendrickson had a heart of gold and a keen insight into the human condition. It didn't surprise me at all when I learned that he intended to follow up his GSU education by pursuing a theology degree at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.
I followed Bubba's progress at Asbury closely and looked forward during camp meeting each year to spending time with him. He has never lost his penchant for a good story and is still one of the funniest people I have ever met -- but he has grown, by leaps and bounds, in wisdom and stature, over the years. When we get together now he still regales me with his adventures and observations of human behavior, but he also shares stories about his positive interactions with his parishioners and his theological beliefs -- and I have learned that while "Bubba" is still a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky cut-up, "Reverend Hugh" is a very good preacher who takes great care in the preparation of his sermons and an even better pastor who cares deeply about serving his parish. He also realizes that his parish is the world and is not limited to the people who walk through the doors at Colbert and Comer each Sunday. He has been a great comfort to me over the past few months.
I look forward to being able to say, I knew Rev. Hugh Hendrickson "when" -- and no matter what name he goes by, I am thankful to be able to call him my friend.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.