Read Local

Service calls

by | Sep 16, 2022 | Opinion

When you grow up in a Southern church, you learn how things are done. And how they’re not done.

Some kids learn early. Some kids never get it.

Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was a small, white frame structure. Like many churches of mid-20th Century America, it was plenty big enough to accommodate the 75 or so who went there. It was a lot like a weekly family reunion since many attendees were kin to each other.

That’s one of the first things you learn in the South. Your family hangs out a lot, including on Sunday.

When you’re a kid, you get a grace period on behavior. The little old ladies in the church all carried contraband. Gum, candy, drinks, and other food substances were all a no no. But if you were a kid, the geriatric widows would give it to you, even if your behavior wasn’t so great.

Mrs. Arnett carried gum, usually Juicy Fruit. If you smiled and asked nicely, she’d palm you a piece while you were on your way to your assigned pew seat. Usually next to your mom or your grandparents.

My grandfather always had spearmint gum, and he chewed it constantly. A habit he picked up after he gave up his previous habit – smoking. He also slipped me gum.

I liked Juicy Fruit better, but if I couldn’t get to Mrs. Arnett in time before the preacher started, I’d take a stick of Spearmint.

Those who deal in pediatric church contraband can’t be picky.

Something else you learned attending a Southern church is that each hymn has a third verse, but you don’t sing it. I never understood why, but if I’d ever had a Sunday School pop quiz on the words to the third verse of Amazing Grace, I wouldn’t have passed.

I hope that’s not a pop quiz question at the Pearly Gates.

One great thing about Southern churches, especially Baptist churches, is potluck lunches. Before air conditioning, they were called, “Dinner on the Grounds.” They weren’t every Sunday, but potluck lunches were something you looked forward to.

Well, except for Jell-o dishes, green bean casserole, and a few other unholy concoctions that the same little old ladies who carried contraband always brought.

I’ve never understood the necessity to infuse gelatin with fruits and vegetables. It is the epicurean equivalent of a square peg in a round hole.

The dinner on the grounds were where the payback for accepting contraband in the Lord’s house came back on you.

If you had taken Mrs. Arnett’s Juicy Fruit Gum, you had to also accept her Jell-o with pineapple and carrots in it.

I can still see the pineapple and carrots shaking as I carried my plate to the table. Ugh.

Discipline was taken seriously in Southern churches. Kids who acted up got taken outside and spanked.

There were the repeat offenders whose backsides regularly met with their parent’s insistence on behaving. But most kids took the long stroll down the aisle to the exit at one time or another.

The inevitability of what was coming was met with a stiff upper lip, but there were a few who protested all the way down the aisle and out the door.

Many things were said, but the best story recalled is the kid who, just as his dad was closing the church door screamed, “Y’all pray for me!”

The annual Christmas program was always something that was looked forward to. At least by the adults.

The pressure felt by each kid was pretty intense. Not everyone has an innate ability for memorization, so trying to recall and recite four or five Bible verses in front of everyone in the church could be tough.

Doing that while dressed as an angel, a shepherd, or a wise man, made it seem even tougher.

Moms put a lot of effort into those homemade costumes, so you didn’t want to blow it when your turn came to speak your part.

There was something pleasantly simple about growing up in a small, Southern church. The rules really weren’t that tough. Act right, remember your verses, and if you’re going to chew contraband gum, eat your Jell-o with pineapple and carrots in it.

I’m now the grandpa who carries contraband gum. As for the hymn’s third verse, I’m working on that. Just in case there’s a pop quiz.

By John Moore

0 Comments

Related News

Hogging the channels

Hogging the channels

I have a lot of my grandparents in me. I’m cheap. I also love the Arkansas Razorbacks. Nowhere is this truer than when it comes to radio, television, and an Arkansas game. I grew up listening to free radio and watching free television. So, the idea of paying money to...

read more
What drives us

What drives us

Not so long ago, you could tell quite a bit about someone by the car they drove. If someone drove a sensible vehicle, such as a small sedan, they were frugal and wanted to make sure their family enjoyed comfort during their travels. If someone drove a big red sports...

read more
That sweet, sweet tea

That sweet, sweet tea

Something happened to tea along the way. Something bad. And it needs to be stopped. Growing up in Ashdown, Arkansas, in addition to water, tea had just two other ingredients; tea and sugar. Not necessarily in that order. This sacred recipe was handed down through...

read more
Under the chinaberry tree

Under the chinaberry tree

My grandparents lived modestly. Most from their generation did. It wasn’t a choice. It was necessity. My grandmother and grandfather were teens when the depression hit, so instead of enjoying their formative years, they worked to eat. They worked to survive. I heard a...

read more
When life hands you lemons

When life hands you lemons

I’m seeing lemonade stands again. At a time when all you seem to hear is that the number of young people quitting their jobs is growing, I’m seeing young folks setting up to sell lemonade. It makes me smile. And I stop and buy some. My first exposure to good old...

read more
Big Tech is steamrolling America’s newspapers

Big Tech is steamrolling America’s newspapers

Google and Facebook have enormous economic and political power in society – especially over the news industry. Many ask if they have played a role in the misinformation that erodes our free press and plagues our democracy. Google and Facebook have a duopoly of the...

read more
What’s in store?

What’s in store?

Malls were the beginning of the end. Although, in the 1970s when Texarkana welcomed its mall, those of us who lived in the area were all too busy being excited about having a mall to see that by shopping there we were hurting our neighbors. “What could be better?” we...

read more
What’s in a number?

What’s in a number?

My mom turned off her landline. For 50 years, my parents had the same number. 898-2446. Now, it’s gone. “Mom, did you get rid of the landline?” I asked. “Yes, they wanted an extra $38 a month to keep it. I don’t need it since I have a cell phone,” she answered. It was...

read more
Pet Milk memories

Pet Milk memories

Pet Milk was a kitchen staple in most Southern homes in mid-20th Century America. It had as many uses as a coffee can full of bacon drippings. Thankfully, the two weren’t used interchangeably. Opening our Frigidaire, you’d see that the top shelf of our refrigerator...

read more