Now back in Colony where me and Dewayne grew up, Church on Sundays was not an optional form of entertainment. On Sundays it was the only form of entertainment we had available. We knew we’d be there if the doors were open. Ours was a small close knit community and people just did stuff like that. If you weren’t at Church your neighbors would be stopping by to see about you. They weren’t particularly bothersome with their many questions, but as friends they were concerned and expected you to do the same in their absence. You always did.
For us kids Church was mostly a time for getting together and having fun. The service wasn’t unlike any other small Methodist Church scattered around the county. Everyone did a good bit of visiting both before and after the service. People would often get there early and stay a little late just to visit.
We were one of a small group of churches that had a number of shared preachers. I remember that health issues, rain, concern for the poor and unsaved were then, as now, the subject of many conversations with God. You know, I suppose He was listening to us because it always seemed to rain some; people usually got well; and perhaps even He was overwhelmed by the poor and sinners because there still seems to be plenty of us left.
Us kids usually weren’t awful concerned about such deep matters. We were a lot more interested in the “after service” fishing and hunting activities than the ones being discussed inside. I suppose you could say that our minds did tend to wander just a tad, and for kids, I guess that could be considered a sin, but then, again maybe not!
Of course this was on normal Sundays. There’d be a few times each year when two or three churches would gather up, attend preaching and eat lunch. Everybody would bring a bunch of food and eat like we were starving to death and visit. Somebody always had a camera, or Kodak as they were called back then and from such gatherings came several pictures of people whose names have long since been forgotten. These old pictures still give us older folks something to do when we are together. Trying to figure out who this or that is remains a mental challenge.
Usually there would be kids in abundance and lots of games going on. Some even in front of various parents who would pretend to watch as they talked to and about various neighbors. These were good times for country people and the small communities stayed close from such meetings. I guess these were good times for everyone back then or they seemed to be anyway.
The two really big events of each year at our small Church at Colony would be Christmas during the winter and Camp Meeting each summer. There is a formula, long ago established by our forefathers that governed when Camp Meeting is held each summer. (The one for Christmas is somewhat older but not the topic of this story so I will leave it alone.) It had something to do with the moon, crops and most important marauding Indians that had once used the bright moon to steal livestock and horses from people living around our part of the country.
On the opening date (established by this formula mentioned above) everyone would gather up, load the wagon, get the kids cleaned up, pack a bunch of food and clothes and start for Camp Meeting. Several families had places they claimed as “our camping place” from year to year and others respected these campgrounds. I’m sure from stories I have heard that not everyone got along with everyone else but the resolution of these arguments helped the Camp Meeting to be a special place for the participants. I guess it was a good formula because the old Camp Meeting is now the oldest continual Methodist Camp Meeting in Texas I have heard. Still have it every August.
Now by the time me and Dewayne came along of course, there weren’t many Indians left in the country. That small fact didn’t keep us from looking though. Both of us spent a considerable amount of time looking for Indians, playing Indians, hunting Indians, digging up what we thought to be Indian graves and walking around over the ranch looking for arrow points. However, I honestly can’t say we ever found any live wild Indian in our many searches through the pastures. Don’t guess we ever found any dead ones either so I suppose our time spent on these endeavors was pretty much wasted. We occasionally did find some rather mad ranchers who’d catch us wandering around over their ranch, but usually they couldn’t catch us before we got back to the safety of our own pasture. I doubt if they tried very hard, just enough to scare us.
I can only remember one girl that people said was an Indian but she didn’t dress any different from anybody else, didn’t ride a horse that I know of and so far as I knew hadn’t ever scalped anyone. She had black hair, looked somewhat darker than most of us, but rode the bus to school every day just like we did. I’m sure, had she noticed me watching her as we rode along, I’d have been a good candidate for a scalping. But like I said, I didn’t have many Indians to look at back then. Heck, she seemed to be pretty nice so far as I could tell and I think she still lives around here someplace. Guess me and Dewayne were just born too late to have some Indians to chase or fight with.
Back to the Camp Meeting.
Usually by late August it was hot. Although I have to confess that sitting through a sermon delivered by some long winded preacher each week wasn’t my favorite pastime, we endured. Both Dewayne and I soon learned that sitting close to each other in Church wasn’t to our advantage and usually when we did it was the “service” after church I remember longest. Daddy didn’t understand two small boys having fun while everyone else was learning how to “walk the straight and narrow!” Looking back and remembering daddy’s teaching I guess I did learn something during those first services, or at least enough to avoid the second one.
Camp meeting in our community would be the subject of conversation for several weeks leading up to the event. Our family no longer camped during the week long affair. Nobody camped there anymore. Our community was all out of Indians and there was little need to “bunch up” for safety. I also think hot weather and lack of air conditioning kept everyone at home at night.
A Mr. Ford had replaced the old wagons with a slightly better method of transportation and so we drove over for the two or three services each day. Of course, kids rode in the back of the old pickup and me and Dewayne would gather us up a bunch of rocks and chunk them at everything as we passed by. Hit lots of the stuff we threw at too.
As I recall, the morning service would start usually around 9:00 each morning and they would have a sermon, bible study or something followed by some songs and then everybody would go home for dinner. Pawpa and Nano would take a short nap in the afternoon. About 5:00 or 6:00 in the evening, just after supper, we’d start getting ready for the night service. Momma and Daddy didn’t usually attend these early morning meetings except on Sunday but we all made the night ones.
Momma would have us some clean clothes laid out and she would make us take a bath to get the “afternoon dirt” washed off. That would usually take awhile! (not the “bathing part” but the “making part”, especially if it included soap) Often by the time she and daddy got us all cleaned up I’m sure they had some pretty interesting stuff to discuss during prayer that night. I never knew if they were asking for strength or forgiveness during those conversations. I guess looking back though, I’m glad me, Kay and Bob could do our parts to make Camp Meeting a meaningful time for everyone.
Of course, getting us all cleaned up was mostly to please Mom. The old roads down to Bend and on to Chapel were dirt and very dusty. Like I said, I always like to ride with Pawpa and Nano because they only had a pickup and me and Dewayne could ride in the back. Later Bob and sometimes Kay would ride back there but I guess now I will have to admit, it was somewhat dirty. Kay wasn’t a willing candidate usually and didn’t enjoy the dirt like us boys.
We’d often would get some dirt on our freshly cleaned clothes. It couldn’t be helped so far as we could tell because pickups were usually dirty to start with. Other kids arrived in the same condition so didn’t make much difference and as with most other livestock it’d been awful hard to “pair us up” with anyone by our clothes. They mostly all looked the same.
The old building was supported by large cedar posts and had wire stretched around the outside to keep cattle and other unwanted animals from coming in under the roof. Out front there is a tree with a small stand built on it to hold a water can full of ice water to quench the thirst of everyone before or after a long sermon. After standing around the water can awhile, in front of the gate leading into the seating area, people would start gathering in under the “tabernacle” as the old building was called. It was a large building “by a small kid’s standards” although it really wasn’t very big at all. The floor would have fresh sawdust covering the dirt underneath. Some of the men of the community would make a trip to East Texas or someplace and buy a load of sawdust each year to cover the dirt floor under the tin roof.
The benches were wooden and very uncomfortable, probably for a reason I’ll discuss later and under them often would be a doodle-bug hole that usually caught a kid’s eye. I never thought of watching a doodle-bug as being a sin but I guess it was according to some of the old preachers. All I can say is that usually what they were doing was a lot more interesting for young kids than the sermons was.
As stated above, along about dark, people started gathering in for the service everybody knew mostly where they were to sit and took their seats. The preachers back then were from someplace off and as such were always touted to be “The Reverend So and So” instead of “Brother somebody.” They would drive up in some old car and sometimes would unload a wife and perhaps a kid or two and be all dressed in a suit with a tie even in the heat of a Texas August.
These old preachers would always wander through the crowd with a large black Bible carefully held in their left hand or tucked under an arm as if somebody was about to grab it and run off with it someplace. I guess from all the papers sticking out it contained a sermon we were about to hear and they didn’t want to lose it. As they made their way around and through the crowd they would stop and visit with each individual sitting or standing around waiting for the service to get underway. They always spent a lot more time with the old folks than us kids as I remember.
This visiting probably had something to do with the collection plate. I remember one old man that when a tin plate was passed would put one hand over the top and thump the bottom to make it sound like he was putting in money. He seldom added to the plate. Somebody finally went to straw baskets which foiled his donations. Times were hard back then.
Air conditioning was graciously provided by Howell Doran, the local funeral home. As people entered there would usually be either a cardboard box or stack of small fans, each with a wooden handle. Each had a religious sort of picture on one side of the pasteboard part which moved the air. On the back would offer various advertising of local businesses. Don’t know why people advertised on these because everyone used these merchants anyway because they were about all we had. Guess it made them feel good to let people know that they were supporting the Camp Meeting. Hardly any of the businesses owners ever came to the meeting that I can remember except Irvin Keeney, and he didn’t advertise on the fans anyway. The pictures were pretty good though.
Up in the right side was the choir. I can remember both Mr. and Mrs. McCoury and others standing there singing old songs we all knew from many years of exposure. I think perhaps Mr. Keeney led the songs but I can’t remember for sure. Mrs. McCoury had one of the most memorable voices I have ever heard and I always wished I could sing like her. Of course, with a wire fence enclosing the gathering everybody had to sing awful loud to be heard.
As a kid I remember noticing that some of the bunch tended to drift a little, maybe just a tad, more toward the “awful,” but did pretty good on the “loud part.” Of course, I was one of them so it all worked out and I doubt if God was paying much attention to all that racket anyway. I imagine, if anything, He was more interested in availability than ability from His flock gathered under that tin roof. Sure do hope so!
After a few songs we’d stop and somebody would pray awhile and then we’d sing another song or two before getting down to some serious preaching. The morning services were usually a little less formal than were the night ones. Since I made mostly the night ones, I will dwell on them a little more than the morning ones, mainly because if the truth was known, me and Dewayne usually didn’t get exposed to very many of them. Oh, we’d go alright, if I could convince daddy that Nano and Pawpa wanted me to go with them but once there it wasn’t very hard to ease off from Nano and Pawpa and right next to the Camp Meeting ran Cherokee Creek.
The water of that creek was home to some impressive fish. Of course, impressive fish didn’t necessarily mean big fish, just a lot of ‘em! We hardly ever went anywhere without our rod and reels, and Camp Meeting seemed to be a good place for such gear. We’d set out a line or two and once they were in the water, so was our attention. Of course, I can’t speak for Dewayne but mostly I prayed that a big fish would find my worm. I suppose most of my prayers went unanswered because I only caught one really big fish over there.
The rest were small and didn’t make near as much of an impression as that big cat. Problem was, Daddy wasn’t near as impressed as I figured he should have been watching me parading my catch through the crowd.
As I remember it was on a Sunday morning and after disrupting the mood of the Camp Meeting carrying that big old fish around Daddy made me turn the fish loose back in the creek, put my pole on the pickup and promised me we’d talk about it when we got home.
The very thought of that discussion later that day did put me in a praying mood. I even paid a lot more attention to the sermon that day. I guess that my prayers did get answered because by the time we got home he’d pretty much forgotten about the discussion we were going to have. Suited me. Just another example of how Camp Meeting changed my life.
The night services were different. Mom and Dad were there and we knew we’d better behave or we’d get it when we got home. I’d had about all of that kind of training I could stand so I’d try and behave if I could. If not, I’d be awful careful to stay out of sight of Dad.
Of course to a small kid, Camp Meeting was more or less a learning experience. As I sat there on that hard bench, between messing with some doodle bug, and listening to some old preacher discussing, this form of sin, or that form of sin, it soon became apparent that as kids we had quite a lot to look forward to. Why sounded to me like most of the stuff he’d be talking about was probably going to be lots of fun. Most of it hadn’t even occurred to us kids yet being young and tender. Sounded like we were going to be awful busy if these were some of the many options we were fixing to have as we got older.
Being the small boy, I was I knew I wasn’t doing much right anyway and then that danged old preacher said something about “thinking about bad stuff being almost as bad as doing it!” I knew I was in deep trouble! I, like I figure most everybody else sitting on those hard benches, had a pretty vivid imagination! About the only good thing I could think of was probably I’d know some of the people I was about to spend eternity with. I could hardly wait for the “forgiveness” part of the sermon!
I had never heard of some of the stuff he would tell us was a terrible sin, so at the end of the sermon there would be a “call for all sinners to come up kneel at the rail and be forgiven!” Boy howdy I’d be right on up there so quick I’d almost leave a dust trail through that sawdust.
I would kneel down like he said and the old preacher would come over and lay his hand on top of my head and say a prayer for all to hear. I’d be crying like a baby as all my sins flowed straight out of the top of my head and up that old preachers arm and from there on to Heaven I guess. I’m not sure how some of mine got through the tin roof but I guess they did. Some of them were pretty heavy or so they seemed. I imagine that there are probably some dents in the tin from the underside as mine were lifted aloft. To me they were pretty big ones, especially after the part about thinking about bad stuff. Why all the time I thought it was just August heat we had, but after listening to this old preacher I was sure the heat was coming from a far hotter place than Texas.
I know I wasn’t the worst person there but danged if those old preachers didn’t make me feel like I was. Oh, there would be some others up there kneeling in the soft sawdust and offering up prayers for forgiveness, however I always felt that I was the one he’d been picking on. I hoped some of those prayers included me. I always suspected there were some that just got tired of sitting on those hard wooden pews and needed some relief and soft sawdust.
You know, looking back I suspect that every one of these old preachers had been a kid one day and may or may not have even liked to fish. Anyway, those smart old buggers knew from experience how little boy’s minds worked, what we were thinking about and where the hot buttons were to put them on an endless guilt trip. I suspect there were those of us who were “saved” during those meetings and perhaps I was one of them. I had some really good religious experiences over there and although never got baptized in that creek there was one time some bumble bees did put me and Dewayne in it. All we needed was the preacher. Those buggers were plenty mad but that’s another story.
I have many fond memories of that old place. I imagine I will continue to feed countless generations of mosquitoes and chiggers that live there each year, awaiting another camp meeting and bunch of country folks for supper. I’ll bet these bugs look forward to these gatherings every August and probably even call the meals, “Dinner on the Grounds,” like the Methodists do? All I can say is that I hope the pasteboard fans hold out.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and sharing in the memories of a small boy.