“Mamma! Mamma! What If I Hadn’t Told the Truth!”

By Harold Jackson “Jack” Holcomb


I remember hearing Jack Holcomb sing on one of his LP records back when I was about 18 years old. He sang with a high tenor voice. He was born in Waco, Texas in 1921, and died July 13, 1968 in Dallas, Texas, at the quite young age of about 47. His recording career lasted only 15 years, but the spiritual impact of his life lives on today, in 2015.

The following, which I found online, is a moving portion of a recorded life testimony given by him at a church in Springfield, Missouri in about 1954. The written version is titled: “I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS.” — Duane V. Maxey, October 30, 2015

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By Jack Holcomb

I suppose if any man were to give a complete testimony of his life, he would have to begin with his mother and dad. My mother is a saint. I came dangerously close to worshipping my mother. I have never known a person in all of my experience that I felt knew God any more than my mother, and I’ve known many people. My father was a contractor. He worked with men and had seen a hard life. Losing his parents when he was eight years of age, he made his own living, raised himself, and grew hard as the years went by. The two influences in the home were making their impression upon the children.

There were five boys and two girls. My mother absolutely made us go to Sunday school. Mother used to line us up – Norman, Charles, Colleen, Jack, Carroll, Ginger, and little Frank – and we’d all go to church. If we’d get thirsty, mother would take us out to the water fountain to get a drink, and then we’d come back and stay there until the last “amen” was said. I’m glad for that training.

Some of my happiest memories are the time when that sweet, precious mother would gather us around her in that little home and then all seven of us children and mother would pray. She would read the Word and explain to us all what the Lord Jesus had done for us.

When I was just a tiny fellow, I felt I wanted to be a preacher. One day I got little Carroll and Virginia, set them down before me, and preached to them with all my heart. Something happened. I began to cry and weep and I felt as though I was the greatest sinner that ever lived. I got down on my knees. I don’t remember what transpired in my heart, but it was a great experience that I have never forgotten. I had experiences like that because my mother laid her hands upon my head daily and asked God to guide this boy.

When the depression hit Texas, it was really very hard for our family to get enough to eat. We went as long as three months eating day-old bread and what we called “thickened gravy.” Flour and water – hot! We’d pour it over our bread, and that’s what we ate. I was too young to realize what it all meant, but those days of hardship became an awful burden, especially to my mother and dad. It became more difficult for my dad to find work. He always tried his best, but work just was not to be found. We lost our furniture. We were reduced to living in a great big old rambling house, sleeping on the floor.

I really loved school, even at my earliest age of attendance. But I remember a certain time that [my brother] Carroll and I had to stay out of school for three weeks. There was a definite reason: we just didn’t have the clothes to wear.

Mother tried to fix me some clothes from a pair of my dad’s old trousers, but she had no machine, and could see with only one eye, and it was hard. So we had to stay out of school. We played around the house, and naturally the little fellows from nearby would pass on their way to school.

“Jack? No, he’s not sick.” And they’d take the news to the teacher. She got the idea I was playing hookey.

Three weeks went by. One day my grandmother came down and asked my mother why we weren’t in school. “Well, they haven’t the clothes to wear, “ she said. “I’ve worked and done everything I could to make the clothes look presentable and wearable, but they’re gone now.”

And my grandmother – God bless her precious heart – called Carroll and me to her and said, “Now boys, you must get back to school. I see an ad in the paper where we can get you some overalls for sixty-nine cents.” In Waco, Texas, there is one of these fellows who is perennially going out of business. He’s probably got a “going out of business” sale on tomorrow. But anyway, he had a pair of overalls for sixty-nine cents. Grandmother gave us the money. I called him up and persuaded him to open the store for us at 7:30, although his regular opening time was 9:30. The next morning Carroll and I got up early and ran all through town, and got there just a little before Mr. C did. I’ll always love and appreciate him for what he did. In we went, but, tragedy upon tragedy, the sixty-nine cent overalls were too small for us. He solved the problem by giving us a pair of eighty-nine cent ones for the sixty-nine cents. We ran all the way home. Mother told us to come back so she could get us cleaned up and ready for school.

I was ready to run out the door when mother said, “Wait just a minute, boys, you’ve got to have an excuse.”

“Oh, yes. Well, tell Miss B. I’ve been nearly dead – awfully sick.

“Son, you know I can’t tell her that. I’m going to tell her the truth.”

“But Mamma, I don’t want her to know we’re so poor that we didn’t have any clothes.” I may not have had a shirt on my back, but I had pride!

Mother saw I was in a fix. She called Carroll and me together, put her arms around us both, and through tears said, “Boys, I want you to promise Mother that no matter what it takes, or how bad it hurts, from this day on, you’ll tell the truth. It’s so important, boys, that you be genuine.”

I thought my heart would break. I didn’t want to take that note, but she finally wrote it, and I walked out and was late to school anyway. When I walked in the door every eye turned my way. Miss B. said, “Hello, Jack. Come here. Where have you been the last three weeks?” I gave her my excuse. “No, I don’t want to read your excuse. You turn around and tell all the children where you have been, and why you haven’t been at school.”

“But, please, Miss B, please read the note; it’s on the note.”

“No you tell the children.” She thought she was teaching me a lesson not to play hookey. I pleaded with her, but she said to tell the children, so I faced them all.

I fully intended to say that I had pneumonia. Then I thought of the note, and that my mother had said to tell the truth. But I just couldn’t tell those kids that I didn’t have any clothes. I looked at Miss B. one more time and said, “Well, if you won’t read the note, will you come out in the hall and let me tell you?”

“Alright, alright, I guess you’ve suffered enough.” So we walked out in the hall and I told her rather dejectedly that I didn’t have any clothes to wear to school. I thought her heart would break. She dropped on her knees and threw her arms around me and began to cry and pray, “Dear Lord, what have I done to this boy?” She cried, and I cried – what a time we had!

When we went back into the room she had her arm around my shoulder and she said, “Students, we were absolutely mistaken about Jack. I want you to know that he had a perfectly legitimate excuse, and everything is fine.” You’ve heard of the teacher’s pet? I was it from then on.

That afternoon she asked me to stay after school. She took me down in her car to the largest department store in town. She bought me two pairs of shoes, lots of socks, two lovely pairs of trousers, shirts, corduroy jacket, a little helmet – everything! I ran home with it all, and as I ran in the front door, all I could do was shout, “Mamma, Mamma, Mamma, What if I hadn’t told the truth? What if I hadn’t told her the truth, Mamma?”

2 thoughts on ““Mamma! Mamma! What If I Hadn’t Told the Truth!”

  1. This story brought tears to my eyes. It shows the importance of telling the truth, but also the importance of compassion.

  2. Mary Margaret Fussell Dykes

    Lula May Tidwell McKay was my Great Aunt – baby sister of my Grandmother Georgia Tidwell Fussell. I’d just like to say that Aunt May was born outside NASHVILLE – not Chattanooga – many hundreds of miles away – in the small farming community of Charlotte – in Dickson, County, Tennessee. She died in India long before I was born – but Grandmother spoke of her often and her sweet son Buddy who died with her in a car crash in India. I knew her husband John McKay who returned to the US and married May’s cousin Mary Hunter McKay. Their lives are an inspiration to me and so many more…

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