Sometime in the 1980s an elderly couple moved to Athens with a prior connection to the people of Saint Stephen’s.  Mr. and Mrs. Thigpen, for such was the good Georgia surname in which they rejoiced, were the parents of Al Thigpen, a longtime friend of our founding member, Bill Herringdine.  Al at the time was living in Grey, Georgia, between Macon and Eatonton.  His parents moved to Athens, where they stayed for only a year or two, from Saint Simon’s Island.

Bill, of course, alerted me to the arrival of these likely new members, and as parish priest it fell to me to visit the Thigpens and to welcome them to Athens and the parish.  They proved to be lovely people, did attend Saint Stephen’s, and had many interesting things to say.  I confess, however, that I do not remember most of those interesting things, because all of them were far outweighed by a single, vivid, and unforgettable story, which I shall now record:

When the Thigpens moved some years earlier to a small town in south Georgia they found themselves living next door to two elderly sisters.  I believe the sisters were widowed ladies living together, but that does not really enter into the tale.  What does matter is that the sisters proved to be good neighbors, who were friendly with Mrs. Thigpen but who utterly adored her husband.  The only blot on this warm acquaintanceship was the absolute inability of the rather uneducated women to master the name ‘Thigpen’.  After a couple gentle attempts to correct the sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Thigpen simply resigned themselves to the fact that in the minds of the neighbor ladies they were and would remain Mr. and Mrs. Pigpen.

Spring gave way to summer, and summer to autumn, and then came Christmas.  When the first Christmas in their new house approached, one day the neighbor sisters rather shyly came to Thigpens’ door.   They had with them a little package, attractively wrapped, containing, they said, a Christmas present for Mr. Thigpen.  Or, since we are quoting them, ‘For Mr. Pigpen.’  Mrs. Thigpen knew where she stood in this neighborly relationship, felt no slight to herself, and joined in accepting the gift with many sincere thanks.  The sisters, who were always a little shy, did not stay, but simply dropped off their package and went home.

In due course the Thigpens opened the present.  The package contained half a dozen, handmade, beautifully sewn, linen handkerchiefs.  Not only were the handkerchiefs handmade, but the Thigpens quickly realized that the sisters have been extraordinarily observant.  It seems that as Mr. Thigpen left his house each day to go to work, the sisters had carefully watched and diligently, with the eyes of observant and knowledgeable seamstresses, had noted and memorized the precise colors of all of his suits.  The handkerchiefs were not white cotton, but were colored linen matching each of their neighbor’s suits.  And there was more.  Each of the handkerchiefs was beautifully embroidered – monogrammed, in fact – with a lovely capital ‘P’.  For ‘Pigpen’.

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