Every third Sunday in October during the 1950s and ‘60s, my family and I would go to the Thompson Reunion out from Mount Gilead. It was held at a small Baptist church of which my great-grandfather was one of the founding members and he is buried in the valley right below the church. The church was located in a beautiful grove of oak trees. Inside the church was an old-time choir loft, beautiful oak pews, knotted pine paneling and an old pump organ sat close to the front of the church.
Most of the time we would be running a little late and the preacher would have already taken his seat behind the podium. The preacher would stand up with his Bible in his hands and welcome everyone and especially the Thompson clan that was there. Most of the time he would apologize for the old pump organ not working properly and would call on Sister Sarah to lead the congregation in some old-time gospel songs. Like in a lot of churches, a few could sing but most just made a joyful noise, don’t you know. They’d sing songs like “Bringing in the Sheaves,” “Down to the River to Pray” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”
When the singing was over and everyone had cleared their throats, the preacher would tell Sister Sarah and the congregation, “That was some mighty fine singing, mighty fine. The angels in heaven was rejoicing and singing right along with you praising the Lord. Hallelujah.”
Then the preacher would tell everyone to take out a Bible and turn to a certain scripture he was going to preach on that Sunday. Sometimes he would take his text from the Old Testament and preach on the prophets. Other times, his sermon would be out of the New Testament about our risen Lord, but you could always expect some hellfire-and-brimstone-type of preaching, don’t you know. Won’t nobody, nobody, going to sleep while that preacher was preaching, no sirree.
Being a young boy, my attention span won’t very long. I found myself looking up at the ceiling where there would be several big wasps flying around and occasionally one would light on people’s heads or in the webbing of women’s hats. That was always very interesting, don’t you know. But what caught my interest the most was staring out the open window at an old wooden picnic table that would soon be full of the best food a Southern cook could provide.
I didn’t think that preacher would ever finish them sermons of his, but finally, after the last song was sung, the people would file on out the door and begin hugging and shaking hands with each one. Now this was one part I, as a small boy, didn’t like a’tall. Why, them older ladies would grab me and pull me to their bosoms and say “My, my son, ain’t you a growing like a little weed.”
After a bit, the people that was gonna eat started bringing out picnic baskets and cardboard boxes of food and placing it along the long wooden table. At one end of the table there’d be bowls of fried okra, field peas, butterbeans, sliced tomatoes, tater salad, cornbread and several baskets of country ham biscuits. Just down from that would be plates of fried chicken, meatloaf and a big pot of chicken and dumplings. Following that would be the desserts like 16-layer chocolate cake, homemade nanner pudding, sweet tater pies and my favorite —wild persimmon pudding. Now folks, if this won’t make your mouth water, the sun don’t shine in Carolina in the summertime. Then to wash it all down would be homemade lemonade and sweet tea. Needless to say, nobody knew much about cholesterol back then.
J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book “Southern Fries: Down-Home Stories” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at email@example.com.