From Chicken Soup for the Country Soul

Promises Kept

Events that would forever change the lives of two young brothers started when John was twelve and Malcolm was eleven. At the time, they were visiting their grandmother’s farm in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Though the boys were supposed to go to church that morning, they had decided to go crow hunting instead, so they stayed home with their aunt and uncle.

As the boys prepared to go hunting, they loaded the rifle, set it in a corner of the living room and filled their canteens. Because they weren’t allowed to go after crows ’til their aunt and uncle left for church, the boys got to feeling their oats and started roughhousing. Before long, Malcolm—who had forgotten that the gun was loaded— picked it up and began pointing it around the room. John shouted, “Don’t point that thing at me—it’s loaded!”

“No, it’s not,” Malcolm said as he squeezed the trigger.

But it was. The rifle went off and a bullet hit John in the side of the head, penetrating several inches into his brain. The saving grace was that he had on earmuffs fitted with a thin steel band that clamped the muffs to his head. That metal band split the. 22 cartridge into several pieces so the bullet didn’t go as deep as it would have if it had been whole. Yet the fragments crushed the entire side of John’s skull and went into the brain.

Seconds after the shot rang out, John hit the floor yelling, “You shot me!” He fell with his head next to the bed so all that could be seen was blood trickling onto the rug. Malcolm thought for sure that his brother was going to die. Their aunt heard the shot and came running. She knelt down, took a close look at John, got up and ran out into the yard, where her husband was fixing to go to church. They put John into their car and took him over to the funeral home for transfer to an ambulance. From the funeral home, the boys’ aunt and uncle went with the ambulance to the hospital. All this time, Malcolm was left alone at the house. That was the first time he had ever prayed in earnest.

“Dear Lord,” he said, “Let my brother live. Let him live, and I’ll become a preacher.” Up until that moment, he had never even thought of being a preacher!

On the way to the hospital, John began praying in earnest also. Over and over again, as he felt the blood oozing from his head, he said, “Dear Lord, let me live and I’ll become a doctor.”

When John got to St. Thomas Hospital, the brain surgeon told his parents, who had arrived by that time, that the damage was severe enough that, while the boy might live, he would probably be a vegetable—unable to walk, or talk, or do anything for himself for the rest of his life.

Later on when Malcolm got to the hospital, he was told the same awful news about his brother. Overcome with remorse, Malcolm was left alone in a small room with only his thoughts for company. That was when the Lord spoke to him. (It was the first and last time he ever had this experience in his entire life.) God told him, “John is going to be alright. Don’t worry about it.”

It wasn’t long at all before John got strong enough to go back home—but he still couldn’t talk. By then it was summer. The house didn’t have air conditioning, so the windows were kept open most of the time. One afternoon, the family was sitting in the kitchen, not far from John’s room, when all of a sudden they heard someone going, “Ugh, ugh.” They rushed into the bedroom and discovered that a wasp had gotten under John’s blanket. It was then that John decided he would talk.

Doc McClure thought John’s recovery was such a miracle that he got doctors from all over the area to come and look at the boy and check his X rays to confirm this miraculous recovery.

Did the boys keep their promises to God? While Malcolm did become a preacher, the fact is he tried everything he could to get out of it.

After high school, he attended Martin College. He was sitting in his dormitory room one Friday evening when the district superintendent walked in and said, “Someone told me you want to be a preacher; is that right?”

Now Malcolm didn’t remember telling anybody he wanted to be a preacher—in fact, he was certain he hadn’t breathed a word to anyone! “Yeah . . . yeah, I guess that would be nice,” was his less than enthusiastic response.

“Well, that’s great because we got a little circuit down here in Wayne County, Tennessee, that doesn’t have a preacher. . . . They will be looking for you this Sunday.”

As it turned out, those Wayne County folks may not have wanted a preacher. But then, Malcolm was the nearest thing to nothing they could have found. So they sent him to the largest circuit in the state, where he started pastoring six churches. In 1957, Malcolm got his license to preach, later attended Vanderbilt Seminary and has enjoyed pastoring ever since.

Now what about John, his brother? He not only recovered, he became an all-’round athlete. He played football, basketball, track and more. He graduated as valedictorian of his high school class with the highest grade point average in Marshall County, Tennessee— 98.9. After that, John entered the Sewanee University, where he finished his premed studies in three years. He later became a board-certified radiologist and went on to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Today, John is a partner of the Rush Medical Clinic in Meridian, Mississippi.

Now you may be wondering how I’ve come to know so much about these two boys. That’s not hard to explain— Dr. John Patton is my brother.

Reverend Malcolm Patton

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