Sunday, June 1, 2008
Little Brown Church
8.5" x 11"
"Now, open your hymnals and let's all sing, 'The Little Brown Church in the Wildwood'." The preacher announced the page number as Mama started playing the introduction on the organ. The congregation seemed to swish in unison as everyone stood up in the pews and the pages rustled as pages were turned all over the church.
I looked for the songs in the bulletin and on the board in the front of the church, and turned the pages back and forth until I finally found the song. I was a little sweaty with panic, worrying that I wouldn't be able to find the right page before the song was over. I could read, but not as fast as the grownups, or so I thought.
There. I found the page as everyone started to sing.
"Oh, come, come, come, come." The repitition reminded me of a march, with the drums drumming.
I could hear Daddy's deep voice coming from the back pews of the church, along with Herman in the choir near Mama and the organ. I could hear "Toot" beside me, with her deep voice, and Miss Mildred who stood in front of us, but toward the center aisle. And, of course, Joe Bill's distinctive voice as he usually led us at Sunday School. Over everyone, Miss Imogine's operatic soprano voice soared through the building. Everyone else blended in, and even harmonized appropriately.
This day, I picked "Toot" and "Honey" to sit with during church. Barbara was probably sitting with "Pappy" and Uncle Tom". We rotated who we sat with while Mama played the organ. We couldn't sit together or we would soon be squirming, pushing, pinching, squabbling, and had to be separated. Grandma had quit coming to church since she was deaf and couldn't hear anymore. They tried all sorts of hearing aids for her, but none really worked. The shrill noise as she tried to adjust it was earsplitting to everyone around her, but she couldn't hear it. So, she stayed at home.
If church was really crowded, or if some of the family was not at church that day, I might sit with Daddy on one of the two back pews. This was where a group of men sat. Usually, Grandpa and Irvin were also there, and sometimes, Uncle Tom, if "Pappy" were not at church for some reason. Mr. McMillan sat there, and several others. The men took up the collection and were ushers. But, when the sermon started, it become the snoring section. The men fell asleep and had a nice nap until Mama started playing the organ and woke them.
To make us behave, when we had to sit with the men, Daddy or Uncle Tom would provide us with Smith Brothers cough drops. Daddy would occupy himself with counting. He used the bulletin to write down the number of people present for Sunday School and for church, counted those there, wrote down the collection amounts. And he kept all of those, for years.
"Toot" was kind of a "cut up". She would show us how to make things out of the tin foil gum wrappers. (Of course, we couldn't chew gum in church, but we could find a wrapper saved in a purse, just for such occasions.) A goblet was the favorite thing to create with the foil.
She also showed us how to do "Here's the church, here's the steeple." And then we would pass that on to the younger kids near us. Something we could do without saying anything.
"Toot's" gold bracelet and compact, and her purse, often entertained me through church services.
Eventually, I learned to read the back of the hymnal. And, after I was grown, they added a Bible at each place along with the Sunday School and Church hymnals. I would read the announcements in the bulletin several times, but there usually were not that many. Also the devotional on the back of the bulletin was sometimes of interest. But too much reading, and I would be asleep like the men in the back.
I wish that I had thought of drawing but it wasn't a good thing to have a pencil or pen out in church. People would expect that you were going to damage the wooden pews or mark in a hymnal. So, I drew with my eyes! I outlined around the stained glass windows, the pews, the box by the door that held the speakers for the organ, the pulpit, the altar, the posts.
One day, I had been doing that, while sitting with the choir, and, after church, a lady came up to compliment us on the music. She told me that my eyes just danced while I was in the choir. I thought that, maybe, I would have to tone down my drawing with my eyes, and try to look at the preacher or my music. But, if I did that, I would surely fall asleep too!
As we grew older, we would sit with our friends from school and Sunday School class, or sit in the choir, where everyone could watch us.
This particular Sunday, as we sang "Little Brown Church in the Wildwood", I tugged on "Toot's dress.
"Toot", is that our church that we are singing about?" I whispered.
"Toot" kept singing and nodded at me to be quiet and sing.
I sang a little and imagined a small church, out in the woods, painted brown.
But, that didn't make sense to me. We were in a brown church, so did someone in our congregation, or maybe a long ago member, write that song about our church? If not, who did? And why? What was the church that they were writing about? What did it look like? Where was it? Was it a church that people went to before this one was built? Or was it just an imaginary church?
Why were we singing about a little church when we were in a big church, Sneed Memorial Methodist Church in Calvert? One that was brown, but brown brick. One that looked like a castle, not a cozy, small country church.
Maybe, if they were writing about our church, the author thought that this was a small church compared to those in large cities.
Were they writing about a tiny church, like the ones that we made with our hands? Or maybe a church made of logs?
So many questions and no answers, I thought. I just kept imagining that church and the woods, and wondered about it every time we sang the song.
The drawing above is a sketch of my memories of the times that I sat with "Toot" and "Honey" at church. I haven't added in other church members as it is kind of small, and I didn't want to cover my primary subjects. The little brown church that I envisioned is floating in the front of us, much the way that I saw it.
Interestingly, the little church I imagined, looks a lot like the one where one set of great-grandparents went in Tennessee. A place that I never saw until I started corresponding with the author of "Mechanicsville". She has some wonderful pictures in her book! One difference is that pictures I have seen of the Short Mountain Methodist Church do not show woods around it.
At the top of the page, I have added a link to SHIFT, that will let you hear some of their music. They will be at Texas Scottish Festival next weekend. Hope you enjoy their music and be able to go to Arlington for the big Festival.
Also, under MUSIC in my sidebar, you will see links to Ruthie Foster, who is from this area. And another link to Big Otis, who will be appearing at the Texas Reds Festival June 21. You can hear some of their music on their links. Enjoy!
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