“This place was our life,” he said. “Growing up, going to meeting was everything.”
The country chapel sat empty, lights off. It looked more like a shed in an overgrown pasture than it did a church. Daylight peeked through the clapboards, the floor made creaky sounds. Seeing it from the road, it resembles a leftover from another world.
“See up there?” He pointed above the choir loft. “A hornet’s nest was right up yonder, long time ago. As a boy, I had to knock it down. Whoooo-weee! I got stung to beat the band.”
This place hasn’t had a real congregation for a half a century, hardly anyone lives nearby anymore. But that doesn’t matter. Because when he’s in here, his face lights up. It’s the same grin your face might have when you bump in to one of your aunts at Piggly Wiggly.
“Folks don’t understand,” he said. “This weren’t juss our religion. It was life. Out here in the sticks, some of us didn’t have running water, women come here just to use the communal washing machine out back. Ladies all took turns.”
A different era.
He pointed to the rotary phone. “Most folks didn’t have telephones, Mama did her calling here.” He removed the receiver from the wall and pressed it to his ear, for old-time’s sake.
“Our parents was born here, got married here, then they got put in the ground out back.”
As it happens I understood what he meant. There was a time when churches were nothing like the amusement parks of today. I remember visiting the church my grandparents grew up in. It was a glorified one-room shack. They had baptisms in the creek, homecomings on the lawn.
The pastor lived in a two-bedroom parsonage until he was gray. Then, they made him interim minister. Which meant: he used a walker and still got a salary.
When someone’s barn burnt down, people chipped in for lumber—then rebuilt it. Widows got groceries. Children without parents: adopted. Here, men found jobs, women shared vegetables, and when little boys fist-fought, it was out of earshot. Because people behaved different in this place.
Today, such things sound a cheap Hallmark movie.
“Will you hit that light switch?” he asked me. “Last time, I left the lights on, few folks stopped by ’cause they thought something was going on inside.”
Silly people. These are modern times. Nothing much happens inside this old place anymore.
It’s just a shed now.