The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Sunshine Tales - When Mama and Papa Were Baptized

By Inez Hughes © 1987

Issue: January, 1987

Have you ever recalled some experience you had years before just from an odor or "whiff" of something? I have, many times, and it is sometimes a very pleasant experience. If I smell sawdust anyplace, I'm instantly carried back to a summer when I was a small child in the small town of DeKoven, Kentucky.

Our family, consisting of Mama, Papa, Alberta, Dick, Catherine, Walter (a tiny baby) and I, lived in a four room house in this small town. Our house was on the corner of the block and on the other side of the house was a vacant lot.

The Baptist Church officers made arrangements to hold a series of meetings in a tent that summer and they "pitched" their tent on the vacant lot that was next to our house. This was very exciting to us children. The men from the church made preparations for the big meeting. They made their benches from rough lumber from the saw mill and then they made a platform for the organ and choir. They placed chairs on the platform for the choir and visiting preachers. Then they hauled wagon load after wagon load of new sawdust and put it on the ground inside the tent. It made a real comfortable carpet, covered all the weeds and mud and also made a fine soft base for pallets for sleeping children.

Since the church was so near our house, Alberta and I went to every service. Dick would go, but he'd fall asleep before they finished singing and one of us would have to lead him back home. We learned many, many old hymns from this meeting, one of which always reminds me of the night Mama and Papa were both saved and "taken in" to the Baptist Church. They were singing "Oh, Why Not Tonight" then they sang, triumphantly, "Glory To His Name." Maude Boettger played the little organ sometimes, and sometimes it was Miss Edith Jenkins and then again it was Walker Sprague. It seemed to me that there was always someone available to carry on the work.

During the time the meetings went on, Mama invited the preacher to eat Sunday dinner with us. His name was Clark and we called him "Brother Clark."

Mama planned her dinner for a whole week before the day arrived. She also began by "briefing" us as to our behavior. She cautioned Alberta and I about coming in the dining room while the "first table" was eating. We knew we had to wait. She told Papa that, "Whatever he done, not to get that fiddle out on Sunday and play that 'hoe down' music." Papa never did make any rash promises though. He was clever and cunning, he could talk his way around a subject and would usually have things going his way without having actually gotten himself involved.

But, at any rate, THE Sunday finally arrived. The house was clean. The curtains had been washed, the floors scrubbed, the yard swept, the babies bathed and the dinner was ready. Alberta and I came home from Sunday School and took off our Sunday dresses and took the babies out to take care of them while Papa, Brother Clark, and Dick ate at the first table." Mama was "waiting on the table."

Everything was going fine until somebody passed Dick the macaroni. Maybe Mama didn't break it up short enough for Dick would get a long stick of macaroni and "slurp" it down. Mama overlooked one "slurp" but when he started on a whole plate full, she called him down before the preacher. Of course, the preacher defended him. Alberta, Mama, the babies and I finally got to eat and later while we were washing dishes we heard "fiddling" music. We thought Papa had made another social error, but when we looked, it was Brother Clark with Papa's fiddle tucked under his chin, patting his foot and playing "Arkansas Traveler." And so the preacher's visit was really a very enjoyable one and that was just one of his many visits. After that, Mama treated him like the other folks.

As the meeting went on, others were saved. The preacher preached long and we would get so sleepy. We begged so hard for Mama to let us take quilts over there and make us a pallet like the Cole kids had. They were brought in from the country in a wagon and their Mama made a pallet and three or four slept on it. Others did also, but Mama said, "No, you can come home when you're sleepy." And so it was "No."

When the meeting was over, there were several candidates to be baptized. In those days, they baptized in the Ohio River because the town was near the river where the meeting was held.

People went to the baptizing as eagerly as they attended church. Men who had wagons would place kitchen chairs in the wagons then load them with people and take as many as wanted to go. We children all wanted to see Mama and Papa baptized so they let us go. One of Mama's neighbors promised to keep the baby. After Mama had got to the river, she heard someone call to her and she recognized her neighbor with her own tiny baby.

The baptizing was a very impressive service. I mentioned before that it was held at the Ohio River. As the candidates were prepared, the people standing on the bank of the river sang, "Shall We Gather At The River," then the minister walked into the water with a stout stick. This was to measure the water. He waded out until the water was up to his waist, then stuck the stick down and came back for the candidates. They all joined hands and walked into the water. When they had gone out as far as was necessary, he would take one candidate at a time, raise his right hand toward Heaven, then saying these impressive words, "My dear Sister (or Brother), in obedience to the command of our Blessed Lord, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" and then the person would be buried in the water for a moment, then raised up out of the water, symbolic of the burial and resurrection of Christ. This he would do until all were baptized. Each one would be helped from the water and be taken care of with dry clothes, etc. The people on the bank of the river would all sing "Blest Be The Tie That Binds."

Those were old fashioned customs carried on by simple, god fearing folks. They had the faith and preached the word. These experiences have made lasting impressions on me. These were incidents that happened long ago, but I still remember them and remember many of the songs I learned there; and when I smell sawdust, I seem to hear a little old pump organ's sweet strains of music such as, "Could I tell it! Could I tell it! How the Sunshine of His presence lights my way. I would tell it! I would tell it! And I'm sure that you would make Him yours today."