The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 3 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1987

Issue: May, 1987

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children. Experience their hardship and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

One night Widow Blooms, as usual, seemed to be trying to make a sure decision about something very important. Her chubby face wore a sort of puzzled expression of doubt. My brother Jonathan and I waited with a tingling of excitement mixed with apprehension as we glanced up at her as she sat beside Papa and Mama on the spring seat. She had just asked Papa what he thought about Widow Pollard praying so loudly at the revival for fire and brimstone to end the sinful world. Papa looked at Mama with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and said he bet if someone would pour coal oil on a pile of dry leaves outside the church window where she sat and the next time she prayed such a prayer, stick a match to them, he bet Widow Pollard would be the first one out of the church running like a scared rabbit. Looking quite serious, Mama told Papa he should be ashamed of himself. Widow Blooms, looking just as puzzled as before, spit out some snuff and stared straight ahead as the horses trotted toward the Baptist revival.

Jonathan and I decided then that Mama and Papa were sure Widow Pollard would not get her prayer answered but still we wondered. The other children did not seem a bit worried. They were whispering and giggling among themselves. So we decided to go to the back of the wagon and dangle our feet out as our big brothers sometimes did. We had a fine time trying to touch the dusty ground with our toes until Mama caught us and put a stop to our fun.

The sun had gone down and the August air had cooled off a little but it was filled with dust stirred up by all the horses, wagons, buggies and a few Model A's and Model T's. There was a large crowd milling about the church house and an air of excitement. Everyone said this revival was turning out to be the best one in years. People were coming from miles away to hear Brother Miller preach the Gospel and to take part in the singing of Gospel songs. There had been many confessions of faith in the Gospel and much shouting, especially among the Elders and new converts.

The atmosphere inside the church house seemed awesome; it seemed as though one could, (if he really tried) see Angels floating above, among the dusty rafters, in search of good people they would want to share heaven with; and that they would instinctively know who had been good and who had been bad.

My conscience was uneasy. Should I tell Mama that I had been hiding upstairs and reading the True Stories and True Confessions which I swiped from beneath my older sister's mattress? If I did I would have both my sisters and Mama also to reckon with for my sisters were not supposed to read them either; so I decided to take my chances with the imaginary Angels.

Papa sat up front in the amen corner to the left of the pulpit facing toward the crowd. But Mama and Widow Blooms sat a few seats back from the front next to a window with Jonathan and me. The other children being older and more privileged sat in the back with friends. Mama had a quilt and pillow just as the other mothers did, for as the services progressed into the night, the young children would fall asleep. Because of the large crowd, there was no room on the benches so the quilts were spread beneath the high seats or in the aisle next to the walls so the little ones could sleep undisturbed. Jonathan always fell asleep before the services were over. Mama, I imagine, was glad because he sure had trouble sitting still for several hours. It was difficult for me even though I was older and was altogether of a different disposition. But I always managed to stay awake until we started the long ride home.

Brother Miller raised his hands for silence. The huge crowd overflowed from inside the church house and spilled outside; people were not standing in the aisles, but they were standing outside the windows and doors looking in. The people were quiet. There was a hushed expectancy as Brother Miller began to talk about the people putting aside their plows and hoes and worries about harvesting their crops and being there for a more important harvest, a harvest of souls for Heaven. When Brother Miller sat down Mr. Tucker, a wiry looking little man, in a voice resonant and loud began to lead the singing as the piano player began to play BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES. All the crowd joined in and sang with such vigor that I thought surely that was the most magnificent music this side of Heaven.

What would Heaven really be like, I wondered? Would all the people who were saved go marching down the streets of gold singing like that all the time? And would they never have to worry about working in the fields anymore or worry about it raining too much or too little on the crops and gardens? Heaven was such a wonderful place. No wonder Papa and Mama wanted all us children to be good so we could go there. When the song came to a close Brother Miller asked if there was anyone who wished to tell of his spiritual experiences and how salvation affected his daily life. Mr. Tucker jumped to his feet to testify and told (in a voice just as resoundingly as he sang) about the many daily blessings he received; and as he talked he frequently shouted Hallelujah and clapped his hands together so loudly that Brother Miller got caught up in the emotion and began to sing GIVE ME THAT OLD TIME RELIGION, Then the crowd joined in with such thunderous voices that the piano could scarcely be heard. Some of the Elders, men and women, began clapping their hands in rhythm with the other heavenly music and milled about shouting praise to the Lord. Mr. Tucker was going to and fro clapping his hands; he skipped across the front of the choir and back to the amen corner several times; then he stopped beside the pulpit shouting that he was so happy that he had the Old Time Religion. He stood before the pulpit for a moment looking up toward the rafters; he then gave a mighty leap down over the mourner's bench which sat two steps below the pulpit and without missing a beat, he kept clapping his hands to the tempo of the song. Jonathan and I looked at each other with wonder.

People often said there was not a young man in the neighborhood that could jump as far as Mr. Tucker could when he got happy and shouted in church. We believed it for we often practiced by trying to jump over likely looking ditches and gullies on the farm. Sometimes Mama became impatient because she couldn't understand how we managed to fall into such places with such frequency.

After singing THE OLD TIME RELIGION, WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN, and SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER, Brother Miller again raised his hands for silence. The congregation settled down for a long sermon. After that everyone sang, in a voice low and questioning, WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN; then Brother Miller asked for a prayer to be led by Widow Pollard. Widow Pollard was large boned, tall, and angular. Her grayish hair was pulled back severely from her leathery, weather, browned, pinched looking face, to form a tight knot at the nape of her neck where she held it together with at least a dozen long, sharp, wire hair pins. She never seemed to smile. I wonder if perhaps she was actually in physical pain from being pierced by all those sharp hair pins or perhaps she was in spiritual pain because she couldn't stand all the badness in the world.

As she knelt to pray, her skirts billowed about; only her feet, clad in lisle stockings and heavy shoes protruding from her several black skirts.

She rested her elbows on the bench and looked up towards the rafters and in a loud voice beseeched the Almighty to do something about all the bad people in her presence. She said she was ready to go to Heaven that very instant. She talked in such a voluminous voice as though to be sure He heard her. Some of the little children began to fidget and a couple of babies wailed forlornly. Mama got Jonathan situated on his quilt pallet and I sat down beside him thus getting an altogether different view of the bowed audience. Looking beneath the seats was a variety of dusty feet. About half of them, all the ones that didn't reach the floor, were without shoes.

Then looking straight up the aisle to the amen corner was Papa with his head humbly bowed; his right hand was over his right brow as if giving a respectful salute to the Creator; Mama there beside me, was in the exact same pose. What were they praying for I wondered? Perhaps Mama was praying for baby Mary Ann to be happy in Heaven; for us other children not to get the croup, and for Papa not to get the pneumonia. Papa was probably praying for the same things as Mama and maybe too, asking for just enough rain to make the crops grow best. Widow Pollard kept rambling on asking forgiveness for the women right there in the church who she was sure was using some powder and rouge.

I turned around again to see what was going on at the back. Jonathan was busily exchanging such antics as sticking out his tongue and making faces at Danny Davis across the aisle on a pallet underneath the seat where his fat Mama sat. It sure would be too bad for him if that seat broke and his Mama squashed him. My Mama tweaked my pigtail for giggling. The boys quit making faces and it was evident that both would soon be sound asleep.

It was quiet now except for Widow Pollard. She seemed to be directing her prayer then at old Mr. Brown who was sitting toward the back next to a window. Unbowed and staring through narrowed eyes, old Mr. Brown kept looking at Widow Pollard but every now and then he gave a quick turn toward the window and sent out a mouthful of brown tobacco juice flying into the dark. Everyone said he didn't believe there was a Heaven; that he only came to church because his wife made him bring her and their children. They said he often beat his mules shamefully and that he cussed loudly as he plowed his cotton. Was that a mean look on his face or was he maybe really afraid? He kept watching Widow Pollard as she vehemently asked for forgiveness for non believers like him. I hoped she would really scare him into believing for he had a family of little children and they needed a Papa to show them how to act when they go to Heaven.

Farther back some of the young people were whispering and didn't seem to be alarmed at the unusually lengthy prayer. There seemed to be a note passed among them and they were smiling and nodding their heads at each other when they read it. Several boys sitting by the back window in the corner were preoccupied and extraordinarily quiet. They seemed to be chewing tobacco. If they were, they sure were going to be sick for they were swallowing all the tobacco juice. After watching for awhile, I caught on; apples were being handed in through the window. Someone had been stealing from Mr. Jones' apple orchard again.

Now Widow Pollard was praying in a louder voice which might indicate she was about ready to amen. Finally Brother Miller gave a long loud cough and there was a lot of shuffling of feet from the amen corner. Widow Pollard ended her rambling prayer by saying she was ready for the brimstone and fire of Hell to destroy the sinful world; and that she hoped all the unsaved sinners there that night would come forward and confess their sins and be ready to fly away to Heaven with her. There was a moment of quiet. Then Brother Miller began speaking in a soft voice pleading and persuading all the unsaved ones to come forward and kneel at the mourner's bench at the alter and publicly dedicate their lives to the Creator. Mr. Tucker and the choir were singing HAVE THINE OWN WAY LORD. Several came forward and knelt at the alter. Many eyes were on old Mr. Brown but he just sat there staring at Widow Pollard as she loudly sang above everyone else.

A new convert rose and began shouting, "Praise the Lord. I'm going to Heaven" The crowd spontaneously began to sing THE OLD TIME RELIGION again. Mr. Tucker began to shout because another lost lamb had been brought back into the fold. Before the services came to a close there were more converts and much more singing and shouting.

Papa helped Mama and Widow Blooms up on the wagon seat; then he handed sleeping Jonathan up to Mama.

The other children got into the wagon, except Ben and Earl who always rode Widow Blooms' horse. Then Papa gave me a high swing and sat me on the seat; then he picked up the reins, climbed up took me on his lap and we started home. The moon was floating high in a blue sea sprinkled with twinkling, silver stars; a few foamy white clouds looking like puffs of cotton glided lazily into the endless beyond.

Widow Blooms asked Mama if she didn't think men instead of women should lead the prayers in church. I snuggled against Papa's strong arms and sleepily asked him how many stars there were in the Milky Way, where the Big Dipper was, and if Heaven was just above the moon up there. He answered all my questions than began to softly hum SAFE IN THE ARMS OF JESUS. Out in the lovely deep woods a few whip o wills were calling as the wagon jogged along toward home. The whole world and Heaven too seemed to blend together in perfect tranquility and peace. I slept without a worry or care about this world or the next.