Monday, July 12, 2010

Remembering Summertime Old Time Gospel Meetings

[Photograph: A singing school at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, Robertson County, Tenn.]
J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society

Growing up in Robertson County, some of my best stories are about attending Gospel Meetings or as some groups call a Revival Meeting. These were almost always in the mid-Summer after crops were growing, but before the busy harvest season. Hosted by local churches, these meetings typically brought in a visiting evangelist for a week-long event.
These events almost always began with a great food event. Although you don’t hear this phrase as often these days, the concept of dinner on the grounds is still a part of summer church gatherings. When I was a young man, these dinners were often held under the shade trees of some church member’s yard. Remember, we didn’t have air-conditioned homes or churches in those days.
Mr. John Sory and Maxine Inman Stroud hosted many of these picnics for the church of Christ in Cedar Hill. At that time, they lived on Garrett Road between Springfield and Cedar Hill. Their frame house set on a small hill with lots of trees in the front yard. The Stroud children, Faye, John, Tom, Sandra, Ken and Jim, helped everyone unload their food. Two large wagons covered with tablecloths became laden with some of the best food ever made. After the traditional blessing by the visiting preacher, the crowd would grow quiet while plates were heaped with favorite recipes and traditional foods. Almost everyone had a garden then, so the fresh tomatoes, squash casseroles, green beans, garden peas, and sliced cucumbers were homegrown and freshly picked.
Henry W. ‘Bill’ Baggett would choose his favorite dish, usually a dessert, and declare it ‘larrupin good.’ Of course, everyone who hadn’t tasted his choice, had to come back for their own judgment. There are some great restaurants in Robertson county and surrounds, but most of my favorite foods are directly related to these ‘dinners on the grounds’ Miss Lucille’s pickles, Miss Janie Ruth’s rolls and chocolate pies, Miss Ann’s roast beef and potatoes, Miss Rebecca’s ‘fatback’ and my Mama’s cherry cobbler have formed my taste buds. The ladies would often share and receive recipes for a new entree or family favorite.
After enjoying this bountiful feast, the crowd would settle down for conversation and the young folks would wander away to play. With six Stroud children as hosts, the young people at their home were well entertained. I still remember the year when I rode a bicycle around the yard at the Strouds. My usual gang of friends were there: Billy Corbin, Ken Stroud, Jim Stroud, Gail Carter [Jenkins], Steve Carter. Although my brothers had bicycles, their bikes were too large for me to ride. Ken showed me how to pedal and keep my balance. The group balanced the bicycle as I took my first tentative ride. I rode around the back of the house and began to build up some speed. As I approached the side of the house, the yard ran down to the driveway which sloped even further toward the road. Feeling very confident, I peddled away from my protectors and headed towards the driveway. Once I had committed to that direction, I realized that the cars were parked so closely that I wouldn’t be able to navigate this wobbly two-wheeled device between the cars.
In spite of my wonderful tutelage by Ken and the gang, they had failed to show me one important action. I did not know how to stop the bicycle. Rolling ever faster down the driveway, I realized that my stop would probably be sudden and hard. Deciding whose car I would hit was flashing through my mind, but choices like that would require more dexterity than this young boy could muster. Splat! I stopped in the middle of someone’s green Oldsmobile. No visible damage to either the car, bicycle or me, although my bruises did not appear until later. My entourage decided we should probably restrict our riding to the back and side yards.
We wandered back towards the adults when we heard a discussion about keeping in shape. Our young minister, Frank Bunner, challenged another of the men to a push-up contest. Willie Carter was the other challenger. Willie suggested they do inverted push-ups with their feet up the side of a tree. Mr. Carter then demonstrated and did several push-ups basically while standing on his head. The two men laughed and the younger Bunner told Mr. Carter that he believed he could still wrestle him down. I believe there might be old home movies of the Bunner-Carter wrestling match. The two men grappled and tussled while laughing and encouraging the other. There was no doubt that Willie Carter would be the winner. I remember some mention of the wrestling match during the sermon that night, but don’t recall the details, except Jacob and the angel.

Usually after all had played awhile, a group would pull out some songbooks and an impromptu acapella singing would erupt. Gathering around with our parents and their friends was often a highlight of the day. E.W. ‘Dutch’ Armstrong was the prominent bass. His brother, Doug Armstrong, would often take the lead, while everyone else joined the singing. The Armstrong boys had learned to sing back in Stewart county in one of the traveling singing schools. Using shaped notes, they often would share techniques for reading music with our group. Although the harmony was beautiful, all were invited to participate, whether they could carry a tune or not.
This wonderful event finally ended when someone suggested they needed to go feed the cows or milk before church time. Family, friends and visitors were warmly greeted as they parted this wonderful fellowship.
More on these memories later. Keep telling those stories

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mineral Springs and Boyhood Trips, Part 2

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society

As my Dad continued his story, we headed toward a picnic table with our dessert from JELLIS. [J. Ellis Drug Store, Glasgow, KY] Towards the river, a large round stone stood with water flowing from the top and sides. My Dad said when he was a little boy and they stopped here, he would go to that stone and drink as much water as he could hold. He said the water contained minerals and was good for one's health. I walked to the stone and saw the water shooting about 3 or 4 inches above the stone. I bent over and began drinking the cool water flowing above the stone. Just like many of the springs where I have tasted water, this water was very cold. I swallowed a big drink from the stone and stood up. Suddenly, I realized the water had a peculiar taste. Not only did the water now have a taste, I began to notice an odor much like rotten eggs. I was drinking from a old sulphur spring. As I began to belch the sulphur gas, my Dad began to laugh.
He related the story of the Sulphur Well. They would stop here for a rest during the all-day journey to the house of his Aunt Maude and Uncle Leonard. The ladies would begin to spread linens across the picnic tables, while the men and children washed their hands at the big stone.
I could only imagine the lunch these relatives prepared. Growing up attending family reunions, these relatives made the most scrumptious fried chicken, cathead biscuits, and sweet corn pudding. The ladies were recognized as the best cooks in southern Kentucky. There were three sisters called Annie,Nannie and Clara. As everyone else unloaded their prepared feasts, Annie and Nannie were spying out what they might carry home for supper.
We sat down at the picnic table, and I asked my Dad what they did while they rode along during this journey. He told me they sang songs, told stories, played games, and watched the sites along the road. His Uncles had to bring gasoline along to fill the tanks. Although there were some gas refueling stations or service stations, my Dad said there were few in the country.
He said the family gathered around the picnic feast, which was now covered with a large tablecloth. One of his Uncles would lead a prayer of blessing and the cloth covering the food would be removed.

When my Dad visited the White Sulphur Well as a boy, he remembered a swinging bridge crossing the water to the hotel and grounds. On the site of the sulphur well is a Kentucky Historical Society roadside marker:
This artesian well was discovered in 1845 by Ezekiel Neal, who was drilling for salt water. When he reached 180 ft. depth, pressure shot water, auger, and shafting over top of large sycamore tree. Besides salt, water contained sulphur, magnesium, and iron; used by many for its medicinal value. Constant water supply not affected by cold, heat, rain, or draught.

Beula Villa Hotel - Built in 1903 by Catlett W. Thompson, across from sulphur well. Two main buildings with guest rooms were noted for spacious, wide verandas. A swinging bridge was erected from the main veranda to the well. Next owner was King C. Crenshaw. Business thrived until 1960, when Crenshaw's health failed. After 65 years of serving the community, this popular hotel closed in 1968
My Dad did not remember ever staying at the hotel, but he did remember eating there on one occasion. He remembered the wide porches with rocking chairs, the smell of country ham and hot biscuits. My two most vivid flashbacks of the visit are seeing my Dad laugh as I continued to burp the taste of sulphur on our journey.
Martha Neal Cooke shared her memories of the Sulphur Well Hotel called the Beula Vista from her childhood.
“The smells from the Beula Vista met us as we made the turn toward the grand hotel in Sulphur Well. This was th eone Sunday ritual I looked forward to as a child. We got out of our car and headed for the enormous porch which semi-circled the hotel, and each adult and child found a high-backed flat-armed rocking chair in which to rock and talk for at least 30 minutes before dinner.
At the stroke of noon, King Crenshaw would come out on the porch and ring the biggest brass bell I’ve ever seen. He then led us through the parlor, with its Gone With the Wind lamps and their awesome prisms, to the dining room. There, round tables to seat 12 were ready with starched linen, heavy flatware, and the precious cargo of Sunday-dinner: fried county ham still steaming with the smell of coffee in the red-eye gravy, mashed potatoes with butter melting from the peaks, fried chicken and accompanying bowls of cream gravy, green beans visibly bolstered with ham chunks, and those silver dollar biscuits that would fog your glasses when you pulled them apart. How could they keep everything so hot! I don’t remember salads, except maybe cole slaw, but dessert! I can still taste the mixture of hot apple cobbler and cold ice-cream coming together in my mouth.” Sources: Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, in History, Egerton, 1993, Kentucky Historical Society
J. Mark Lowe
J. Mark Lowe Reviews
Springfield, Tennessee Speakers
powered by Speaker Wiki