I grew up in two worlds…in various military towns and in my grandparents home in the Appalachia foothills. We moved frequently from Washington to Louisiana and many places in-between. I loved the mountains because everything remained as it was between stays. My early years were with my grandparents…up until about three and then off and on through the years depending on events I have little knowledge. I spent all my summers and winter breaks in the foothills and moved in again at about the age of ten.
My parents were agnostic at the time and eventually my father became more atheistic. He really hated God so I am not sure you could really call him a non believer since you have to believe in something to hate it so much…sadly my brother has followed him into the same nonsensical conclusion. At this point I honestly have no idea what my mother believes…if anything. Well, all of this background is to let you know that my grandmother took it upon herself for my religious education and training. I didn’t mind because she and Papaw were the closest I ever had to a home until I married my husband.
I believe the church she grew up in was called an Old Regular or some would say Primitive Baptist. I liked going to church with Granny and Papaw when I was a kid. Papaw always sat on the back pew very close to the door. I remember being scared to death for him one Sunday when the preacher told us that Old Satan always sat on the back row. I don’t really remember the point of that preaching but I tried several times to get Papaw to sit on the next row up. Granny always sat on the third row from the front, on the left side next to the isle. She said only “show-offs” sat any closer. I liked sitting there because the Candy Lady always sat in front of us and I got a piece of cinnamon gum every Sunday. Granny said “show-offs” always had candy to give away too…
Preachers are different in the mountains. Most of the preaching I was exposed to was not from seminary trained professionals. The mountain preachers had other full time jobs and were not paid by the congregation. (Granny always told me to never trust an outside preacher without a real job.) Usually a plate or hat was passed around after the service for the preacher or sometimes preachers. Sometimes there were more than one preacher and those meetings (we didn’t call them services) could get really long. One of my favorite times was when we’d sing the preacher down. Singing the preacher down was when someone in the congregation (usually a Deacon) would get up while the preacher was talking and start singing. Then someone else would join the deacon and then the rest of us would sing along. These would usually be in the style of shape note singing (I think that is the name of the style). A hymnal wasn’t used when this happened. Most of the time these happened at the big mountain top graveyard but occasionally during a meeting.
The preaching sounded different too. I’ve never heard the sing-song chant style outside of the mountains. Some even held the Scriptures to the side of their head in order to better hear the Holy Spirit’s message. Most of the sermons were about either hellfire or the Lord’s triumphant return in the final battle when everything will be made new and the dead will get up out of their graves. Some of the sermons I remember were about the dead waiting in their graves for new life and the sound of the victorious trumpet to awake them. I wandered what that must be like for the dead and eventually for myself…all that waiting. I asked Granny about it once and she told me the good souls went to Jesus and the bad souls waited in their graves for the Great Judgment Day. I still wander about that when I visit graveyards today. Mostly I just stay away. Such thoughts and beliefs made it easy to believe in omens, dreams and visions which were common discussions on the front porch as summer evenings settled into night. Some nights Papaw would tell us a ghost story…
The Jesus I came to know as a child is very different from the Jesus I’ve come to know in modern churches. The Jesus my Granny taught me about was fierce, terrifying and wild. I often imagined Him with flames in His eyes and carrying a flaming sword. He could not be tamed or understood by us regular folk. Looking back it seems I must have heard many sermons on Revelations. Jesus loved children and repentant sinners and He had a dreadful knowledge of right and wrong. I understood that I had to walk the line when my childhood was over because He wouldn’t love me anymore unless I was repentant. I remember very clearly the day my childhood was over but that is a story for another time. God was very real when I lived in the mountains and we sang hymns while working in the garden and feeding chickens. When I returned to the modern world with my parents I kept my Wildman Jesus a secret. I wasn’t allowed to go to church or ask questions about God. Eventually, my father found my Bible and I never saw it again. But I still remember my Bible. It had a colorful picture of Jesus with children on it and it zipped shut.
I like the modern church I attend now even though it would be nice to “sing the preacher down” sometimes. Jesus seems very friendly and personal in modern churches…so much so that I think we can forget He is Deity. But no matter how Jesus is preached in these modern churches I will always remember He cannot be tamed by anyone…modern or mountain.
Yeah, this post is kinda long and different from my usual sharing. I miss my grandparents and am sad to know that their ways are becoming distant memories, forgotten and stereotyped by shows like Justified. Life and death were hard and faith was breath but it was a good life. Fall is around the corner and that is when I really miss my mountain home…something that is only in my memories now.