As mentioned in my prior posts, my mother always had so many stories to tell of her life that I am including some of her stories here as some of my blog entries. After much prompting from my sister and me, we convinced her to put her thoughts and stories in writing. So at the young age of 81, she wrote her first story. Here is another of her writings and a glimpse of yesteryears and of fading traditions. Hope you enjoy this one.
ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE DAYS OF MY LIFE
By Veronica West
Oh, what a week of excitement in this little village of about 500 people where I lived until age 15. A sleepy little town on the banks of the Cumberland River, on the opposite side a beautiful bluff, or mountains as a band of gypsies coming through one time called them. No just Sydney's Bluff is what we call them. This was to be the most exciting yearly event, the one that was about to take place. No not Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus surpassed this event that is about to happen in the late summer months - hot, but in the cool, shady, grassy lawn of the court house it was quite cool. This little town was the county seat of Cheatham County.
Everyone who professed to be a Methodist was involved but for this one event I suppose all people participated - A revival only do you hear that word much any more? Seems a few return now and then. I always wondered in later life why they ceased. I remember attending Billy Sunday's at The Ryman Auditorium and our huge church had a most memorable one in the fifties. My dear husband, 2 daughters, and I attended every service. The preacher had a beautiful voice and his lovely wife, so charming, played the harp. Believe me the walls of that Sanctuary reverberated with all the sweet sounds. The preacher had a soft but firm modulated voice. I believe more people joined the church that time than at any other time in its history. Why did we become so sophisticated? We still have Billy Graham and his momentous ones .
Now to return to the particular one. Preparation time was so exciting all the children scurried to see the raising of the huge tent. Maybe, they would get to help the roustabouts secure the cords to the stakes. Then all the wooden benches from our church and folding chairs from funeral home and other churches were put in place. You see all the town would be involved - not just the Methodist Church. Next the upright piano was put on the raised platform that was constructed. The crocheted cloths placed meticulously on top with, of course, candlesticks. The bare floor would be covered with some of the most expensive carpeting from the local mercantile store. Countless hymnals then the thin, Cokesbury ones that any denomination is familiar with. We still use these in my Sunday School class - no newly adopted ones can take its place. Then the lectern with its huge Bible and a cross in front of it and oh, I almost forgot six or eight large ferns from my mother's yard. I always thought them so pretty - maiden hair, Boston and others. Then the dear decorating committee of buzzing ladies would stand back and adore, suggest, criticize, change until finally they agreed every thing was just perfect.
While all this was taking place, my grandmother and other ladies were preparing delicious food for all the dignitaries that would be visiting. Of course, fried chicken, country ham, fried corn cooked in an iron skillet, potato salad, tomatoes, all the fresh garden vegetables, gallons of lemonade and mild, fancy home made breads, biscuits, corn bread sticks and on and on ad finitum. Pies all the berry ones, apple, chess, chocolate and angel food cakes. I can remember the competition among the various ladies because each would want their food to be the best for the preachers, this was their Christian duty.
I was so proud that my parents were involved; my grandmother's food, my mother's decorating talent and my father even though a devout Church of Christ helping in the Courthouse yard as well as sending out letters and fliers. He was the postmaster's son. Now my pride was shattered because I never said a word but often wondered why none of the visiting dignitaries, delegates, preachers, song leaders never were overnight guests in our home.
Then my simple little mind would think about it. Maybe, our small little clapboard house on the lower end from the square on the narrow main street not fine enough. It seemed to me and I think still is some 80 years later the north end from the square the finer, richer houses and on the south end good people, plain like our family. Then I'd toss my head and think but I know ours is the happiest family in the whole world and my friends love to come to play with me so we were not social outcasts. I knew that my parents were better educated and too, our small abode would be filled to overflowing with friends and family from all over coming to be with us that particular week.
The revival would have morning sessions, home for lunches, rest, back in tent at 3:00, home and then the evening ones. The big events about five, the little dirt roads leading into the town would, in my eyes, be equal to a large traffic jam in a big city today. Very few automobiles had just come in, but all other means of transportation - mainly wagons because more people could come. Split-bottomed chairs in the back of the wagon lined up in rows and blankets spread on floors for children. It would be quite late when they would return home.
Shall I try to describe some of the people attending and where they would choose to sit. Up front would be the bankers, lawyers, ministers, medical doctors, elders , deacons, funeral director. Then next rows mostly the very devout church members, let me draw aside for a moment to tell you about the dearest soul, a tiny little frail lady seemed to me then at my tender age of 12, she must have been about 80. She was the mother of the printing family. The Clark family - her son and his family had a small printing company.
The Clark family were leaders in my church had twelve children one of them my best friend. They always seemed poor even though a good business, it exists until this day and every person subscribed to this little local paper. The children would sometimes come to school dirty. I had to spend the night with my friend because she stayed with me often but I dreaded it always to go to her house. Their lamp chimneys always seemed dirty consequently rooms would be very dark and cast weird shadows on the wall. Not very comfortable chairs, beds hard, not many toys or games or fun things but what good Christian people. One sang in choir, two taught Sunday school, three or four deacons, and one led the Sunday night youth group.
Now back to the matriarch; she would seem to be in same little outfit, black silk skirt, little black shirt-waist (called then) and a tiny little hat. I can see it but can't describe it. Little straw, no brim, some net and ribbon about it all very black and little black mits and small draw string reticule. Why did I bring her in? It is because she always shouted and my mother would remark I truly feel Mrs. Clark is so moved by the Holy Spirit that she really feels that way. She would begin to jump up and down on her tiny little tip toes, wave those little hands and say "Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, Glory hallelujah." The crescendo would increase louder and louder.
Now to continue the seating - teachers, church members, guests about midway the tent the young folks who were considered big enough to behave could sit away from their parents. The small ones would be placed by their parents on blankets spread on the cool grass at their parents feet. This I could never understand - the men it seemed to me that needed to be inside and hear better - the so called men of sin, (today's street people) reprobates, profligates not quite that low, but who drank, cheated on their wives never attended any church any time, but they would surely turn out for the revivals arriving early, tether their horses outside, stay in the wagons until services began and then would inch up close to the tent just outside the flaps where they could hear.
I never knew if any were ever approached and invited in if they were event given any church related materials but they were certainly drawn thee by some power. I seemed to always feel sorry for less fortunate people, but always feared saying much about it to my parents. In my little impish way I wondered if they dared be imbibing while they were out there. Anyway I felt the church failed them in some way.
Now lets pretend the service begins the fourth night of the fifth and last session. The buzzing has ceased. I'm seated next to my little childhood sweetheart, Robert and Freddie my very best friend and Nancy (my Clark family friend), Martha, my rich friend - her grandfather owned the banks and "Boss" of the church. Jerry the miller's son had money and looks, but no brains. James whose father was ticket master at the depot and took the telegram messages that came in by telegraph.
Let's go right to the sermon. All the preliminaries being carried out, the minister arose, took his text which I remember absolutely nothing about. In fact, I seemed to remember none of his words except sin-sin, coming to the Lord and it seemed all night I had a nervous, churning inside me. I can explain part of it this way. At a certain age in our denomination, children are supposed to take training in a preparatory course and at the end of it ready for church membership. My name was on the Cradle roll. I still have my little certificate. I was Christened at an early age, had attended church and Sunday School all my life, but I went to my mother and dad, all my friends are talking about this course they're taking preparing to join the church. I don't understand it at all and do I have to go, Mother? She replied, "No you don't, not until you are ready and really want to, and you will know when. This will please your father and his family greatly because they were devout Church of Christ members and believed a person should understand it before deciding. My father having gone to a Bible college preparing for the ministry really knew the Bible.
Now, back to the sermon on sin-sin. I really wasn't grasping it yet. I had never been a bad person. I had never stolen anything, murdered, committed adultery - whatever that big word meant - just something ugly, I guessed. I felt that all my friends were staring at me. Well, the preacher finally ceased preaching. 0h how glad I was that's over, now we will soon be leaving. That was not God's plan. Then Miss Kathleen, the wife of Mr. George, my Sunday School teacher, began to play the piano. I dearly loved them both. It seemed as she played, her music sounded sweeter than I had ever heard it before. Then all the songs, "I Am Coming to the Cross," I Am Thine Oh Lord." I had never liked that song, the "Revive Us Again." I had loved that song. It was fast and peppy and I could really jazz it up on my piano (that is unless my father happened to be around). Just let my friends and me be around that piano on that chorus, "Hallelujah, Thine to the Glory, Hallelujah, Revive us Again," so my mind had run away with me I was almost saying goody, goody now let's get out of here and go home, No, not God's way. Then the soft sounds of "Softly and Tenderly," it seems Miss Kathleen was playing it just for me. I knew all the words and had always just sung them for the sweet, melodious tones; but now I was really listening. "See on the Portals, He's watching and waiting, waiting for you and for me, come home, come home, ye who are weary come home." Then hits of second verse pleading for you and for me. Then the chorus getting softer and softer, near the end I looked around at my friends. What should I do? I'm still hesitant, that aisle is too long, will they laugh at me? No, I'm not ready yet, then the third stanza "the Moments are Passing, Passing from you and from me." Finally the fourth stanza, "Oh, for the wonderful Love He has promised, Tho we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon." Then "Just as I Am Lord," followed by "Almost Persuaded." I think I'm an o.k. kid I've never really sinned have I? I think again about sin. At age 12 I've sinned, how about that time you and Zora ran off at lunch time from Nancy, who was one of your very dearest friends, but you wanted to be ugly and sneak away from her so you and Zora planned to run and hide behind a big, big tree in the school yard and eat your lunch and talk about her and her dirty, stringy hair.
Sin, well it surely wasn't very nice. What about that time you and Freddie went to the fair and sneaked in that booth where the hoochie coochie girls were putting on their show? You knew something was happening, something sexy or something, you didn't even know the word s-e-x. What about the time you slipped a handful of white beans from the barrel at Mrs. Ragan's store and your grandmother made you return them. You hadn't thought of it as stealing. Sin is that sin? What's happening? No, I'll turn it all off and then the soft notes of Jesus is tenderly calling thee home, calling today, calling today, why from the sunshine of love will thou roam further and further away - Refrain "calling today, calling Today".
I've stepped over Robert's feet. I'm in the aisle going up to the altar. Should I? Am I ready? Tears were in my eyes. Will my dad be pleased with me? I'm passing by where my mother, grandmother, and he are sitting. He smiled, all is o.k. now. I'm glad!!! On I walk with sweet sounds of "Come Home, O Sinner Come Home." I am there with a few others both old and young. I only know I felt good. Then of course, we knelt and seems the minister walked around, placing his hands on our heads.
Then of course, the follow up and training the next week ending with our baptism the following Sunday at a nearby creek. This also pleased my father's family as I had always believed this way immersion, not sprinkling even though I had always attended the Methodist Church with mother and maternal grandmother, I knew I liked many beliefs of my father's church. Coming from the small town I had never seen a baptistry until when in later years was teaching school and our building burned and we were teaching in various places. The third grade was in a nearby Church of Christ. A co-worker came and called me. She had opened a door on Monday and there was this room filled with water - believe me we hastened to call the janitor and get it locked for fear one of the little children might roam in by mistake and be drowned.
Some say this was an emotional challenge. What, I don't know. I only know I'm glad it happened. I don't feel that that one event changed my life drastically, and I certainly turned from God in my later years several times and committed several terrible sins. I always had the assurance and went to my minister, prayed, repented, asked for forgiveness and continued to be a person my earthly as well as my Heavenly Father would approve of and call me a "child of God in whom I'm well pleased."