(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Hackett had several churches, both in town and outside of town. I can think of three in town, a Southern Baptist, and Assembly of God, and my little church, the Hackett Methodist Church. I do not know when it was formed, but the old building had extremely high ceilings, frosted whitish windows, handsome hanging light fixtures, and a belfry.
There were four rooms: the main sanctuary and three smaller rooms for children’s Sunday School, divided by age into preschool, grade school, and high school. The adults used the main sanctuary for their Sunday School.
I can not remember exactly how many pews the old building held, but I would guess that it would seat around 200 people, hardly ever seen except for Christmas, Easter, and some weddings. Normally around 40 or so people, including children would attend on any given Sunday.
The first minister that I can remember was Brother Kleeb. He was a really old man and actually retired while he was at Hackett. Obviously, with such small attendance my little church could not support him, so he also was the minister at Bonanza, just four miles north, and at Hartford, about 10 miles south.
With three services to perform, the service times were staggered. At the time, Hartford had the largest congregation (and the largest amount of money), so they got dibs on the morning service. Hackett had its service at around 7:00 PM and Bonanza a little after 8:00 PM. I was really little then, so barely remember anything other than that.
After we moved back from North Little Rock in 1964, Brother Millard was the minister and Hackett became the largest of the three churches, so we got the 11:00 AM service and Hartford and Bonanza got the evening ones. Brother Millard was a really nice guy, and had had tuberculosis years before, so he sort of had a wheezy voice due to the residual lung damage. By the was, at that time tuberculosis was still fairly common although rates were falling because of better public health measures.
I was during Brother Millard’s tenure that two big changes happened. The first was building a new annex with a kitchen and classrooms, and a large meeting room, onto the existing structure. By then there were probably closer to 80 or 100 regular attendees. The second change was that our church joined the United Methodist Church. That caused a lot of heartburn, because there was some loss of autonomy. However, as far as I can remember no one up and quit over it.
After Brother Millard was transferred (ministers are often rotated at the smaller United Methodist outposts), Roger Glover became minister. He was young and vigorous, and soon we were tearing down the old church building and meeting in the annex whilst the newer, larger building was constructed. It was really nice, and they even got an organ (we had only a piano before).
Roger stayed on for many years, still serving Hartford and Bonanza. He actually performed the marriage ceremony for the former Mrs. Translator and me, at her church. To keep both sides of the family happy we offered the compromise of having my minister and her building for the service, and that kept down hard feelings.
Now I shall give some recollections of the people in my little church. The Johnson family were regulars and I have written about Leslie, the World War II veteran who recently passed away, before. Since all of the kids are still living, I shall not mention their names. The oldest sister, about five of six years older than I, was OK although extremely opinionated. The next sister could spit venom at least ten feet. The next eldest was a boy who became my best friend for a long time, and we still speak from time to time. The youngest, also a boy, was two or three years younger and was “just a kid”. My friend and I had fun cutting up in Sunday School and during rehearsals for the annual Christmas plays that we always had.
The Christmas plays were really dismal affairs, with only the children taking part. They always had the same theme, obviously the birth of Jesus. We would have some skits and would sing, and then the adults would sing some Christmas hymns. The best part was when Santa Claus (often my father) would come and pass out fruit bags to the kids. This apparently is a very old tradition. We would each get a bag that contained apples and oranges, and as I recall often bananas. There was enough fruit for a kid to eat for several days. Of course, the adults would help out eating the fruit once it got home.
Willie and Laverda Johnson, great aunts of my friend, were also regulars. They were two spinster sisters who lived together just north of town. They were older than my grandmother (who was only in her early sixties at the time), but drove their car to church every Sunday. I remember their strong grip when they shook hands (a tradition at my little church), and my mum told me that it was from decades of working on the farm, in particular milking cows. As I remember they still had a cow even then.
Another pair were John Rissinger and his daughter Arabelle. They were really nice folks, and Arabelle finally got married and moved away, but John kept coming. He was the most reliable member for going to sleep during the sermons, doing so just about every Sunday. My parents tell a story about him, years before I was born, being asleep during a Christmas skit. One of the kids in the skit new that he was asleep and when it came his turn to speak, screamed out his part. They said that Mr. Rissinger just about jumped through the ceiling!
Another colorful couple were Mary Luna Pittman and her husband Tom. Tom was tall and quiet, and a real nice guy. Mary Luna was was heavy and loud, bordering on being a boor. She thought that she could sing, and always sang loudly. In fact, she was a horrible singer, sort of reminiscent of of a cat excreting razor blades. She tried to run everything and usually did a good job of botching whatever she was put in charge.
Yet another couple were Mr. and Mrs. Cheek. I do not remember their first names, except I think that his was Elmer. They were really nice folks too, and were quite old. Mrs. Cheek was very unassuming, but was always off key. However, it was not as annoying because she was really nice while Mary Luna was not.
Then there was the Patterson family. They had five kids, most of whom were pretty OK. It was the father who was a nut. He accused another church member of having an affair with his wife (know locally as “stepping out” at the time) with not a shred of evidence. When pressed on the question, he said that God revealed the affair to him. They finally moved away after that happened and I never heard of any of them again. A seven member loss is quite a bit to a small congregation.
Christina and Clyde Williams were a couple there, with Christina being some sort of distant cousin. Clyde has at one time been a really heavy drinker. He drove a truck and my grandmother said that for years he “never drew a sober breath”, and never had any significant accident driving the truck. Of course that was back in the 1950s (before I was born) and drunk driving laws were not nearly as strict as they are these days. By the time that I was old enough to remember, Clyde had dried out and did very well. Christina was one of the female church leaders and always taught a Sunday School class. She was one of the old school dogmatic Christians, but a nice person. But she had some foibles. One of her Sunday School demonstrations was to take an egg and crack it into a glass of rubbing alcohol to illustrate what alcohol does to people. I guess it was because of living with Clyde all those years while he was drinking excessively.
She always was going on about how God was omnipotent in Sunday School and one Sunday I had read the old Greek riddle and asked her, “Christina, is it true that God can do anything?” Of course, she replied, “He can do anything.” So I asked her if He could create a rock so heavy that He could not lift it. It shorted her out for the rest of the morning, and she never got back to me with an answer. That was mean of me, I guess, but you know how kids are.
I have not been back to my little church, or My Little Town since my father died back in 2004. With the exception of a few relatives on my mum’s side, there is nothing there for me any more. I actually resigned from it back during the Bush administration because the United Methodist Church would not, as the Catholics would say, excommunicate him over his two wars, the torture, and the trampling of domestic civil rights. It is just as well, since it was sort of hypocritical for me to be affiliated with a church anyway.
Please add any recollections that you have about growing up, whether or not it was in a little town. I know that other readers are interested in these stories.
Translator, aka Dr. David W. Smith
Crossposted to The Stars Hollow Gazette
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