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Growing Up Country

Kids Were Taught To Wait When Preacher Visited At Meal Time

(Editor’s note: This is the 12th installment in a series written by Baxter Jones about his early years. The stories were written about 15 years ago. Jones passed away in March.)
 

The summer revivals held at Camp Ground Church were  not taken lightly. We had morning as well as evening services. Different families of the congregation volunteered to house and/or feed the visiting preacher for each day of the revival. The old song of Jimmie Dickens’ “take an old cold tater and wait,” comes to mind every time these revivals do. When you had the preacher for lunch the children had to wait until the grownups had finished. This custom put a lot of pressure on the act of being a nice kid. I would sit outside and pout to myself, but I never took this up with Daddy. I figured if I did this he would have a cure for my temperament when the preacher was gone. 

On these occasions, Mama would wring the necks of two or three young roosters that were just learning to crow (these were from chicks she had ordered from Sears and Roebuck each spring), clean them, and fry them to perfection. These were served with a big skillet full of country gravy on the side. While I don’t remember the ole cold tater, I do remember the wait, and about eating the “North end of the chicken flying South.” 

  During these revivals, the day services were enjoyable, and we usually arrived early. This gave me time to get with some of my buddies to run and romp until we were called down by some authority, when it was time for the services. These services were fairly short, because most of the members had to get back to their work at the farm, or job.

It was a different story, altogether, for the evening services. The visiting preacher felt a responsibility for reaching lost souls and he would bear down on the “fire and brimstone.” and then have lengthy and repeated invitations. It was on one of these nights that I went to sleep on the back pew. Mama and Daddy did their usual visiting with friends and neighbors, then when they were finished, drove all the way home without  me. Of course, they panicked and rushed back to the church where I was still asleep, and retrieved me. Mama used to kid me and say that she regretted not leaving me there long enough to get me straightened out. 

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My brother, David, was chasing me one day, with fire in his eyes. I don’t know what provoked him, but I’m sure that I was innocent on all counts. Meanwhile, I’d just best get myself out of harm’s way and harm was gaining on me. When I went by the woodpile I picked up a little piece of limb wood, about two inches in diameter. I didn’t have time to aim as I threw, which was probably why it was such a good shot. This piece of wood hit him square between the eyes, laid him out like one of the hogs that he shot between the eyes with the .22. I  had this terrible feeling that I had killed David, and I was going to have to tell Mama that I had killed him. It didn’t kill him, though, he came around moaning and carrying on. And even though the fire seemed to be gone out of his eyes, I still gave him a lot of space for awhile.

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By now, the girls had graduated from Camp Ground. Nolie had gotten a scholarship to Draughon’s Business College in Jackson, and Peggy had gone to work at the PX at Camp McCain. I looked forward to the weekends, when they came home. They always brought me a little “happy.” I missed them a lot because they had always seen so sweet and nice to me—they really spoiled me. Sometimes, they could catch a ride, if not, they would catch the Trailways bus. If possible, Mama would meet them, but with the lack of communication and since Trailways’ schedules weren’t that good, many times they  had to walk. This was two miles from No. 7 Highway down to the section line road to our house in the bottom carrying their bags, and sometimes this was in the middle of the  night.

One weekend, when the girls were home, they borrowed Daddy’s ’36 Chevy and went to town. I got to come with them, probably because I begged. When I rode in this car, I would stand on the drive shaft hump in the center of the car and hold on by the vent openings for the windshield defroster. Peggy was driving, and she almost  hit a car that had stopped right in front of us—right in front of the post office. She stopped so hard that I hit my  head on the windshield and had a real big bump on my forehead. I remember crying a lot, and they bought me an ice cold Orange Crush from Peoples Wholesale and made me promise not to tell Mama and Daddy. I don’t think I ever did.

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A big weekend event after “laying by time” was to come to town on Saturday afternoon. We’d park as close to the main door of Peoples Wholesale as possible and visit with friends who came up and down the street. I could wander about town (the rules were that I had to stay close to the car) until I found someone to play with. If Mama or Daddy needed to go elsewhere in town, they walked, so as not to lose our parking spot. When they walked, this was also an event, as they ran into other people parked in their favorite spots, just as we had. I guess Daddy allotted this time for his friends, because there was never any urgency to tend to on whatever business he had started out to do. It was the same when we came to town during the week on an errand. I know he had a lot to do, but when one of his friends were encountered, he would talk as long as they wanted. One of the things that Daddy possessed was an  inner peace. I wish that I could have had a small amount of this laid back philosophy, or maybe it was the times when life wasn’t in such a rush. At any rate, he read his Bible daily, and had faith that his Lord would take care of  and provide for him, as long as he provided the sweat from the brow and put forth his best effort. This he talked about many times.

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Starting to school somewhat cramped my style. This schedule stuff wasn’t to my liking, and I told Mama this, but she still made me go. The bright spot, though, was having Ms. Billie Murphy and Ms. Chester Shoemake (sisters) for teachers. They didn’t make me go to high first, or was it the other way around? 

Anyway, I went straight to second grade the next year, and they made me feel like a gifted child. They believed in discipline, but they were sweet, thorough, and compassionate teachers. Only a few times, when I was impossible, did Mr. Chester Shoemake (Camp Ground’s principle) have to intervene with his famous wooden paddle. Things were very quickly placed in the right perspective, and it went smoothly for a period of time.

I never knew how Mama prepared those wonderful breakfasts on that old wood stove so quickly. When I was going to school, I could hear Daddy stirring around in his long johns. First, he’d get the fire going in the kitchen, and if it was cold weather, he would start the fire in the fireplace. The coals would already be there from the night before when Daddy had “banked” the fire by adding fresh wood and covering them with ashes. He then only had to open the damper, open the fire up with a poker and add fresh kindling and wood. If it was cold, chances are that the fire place had been “banked,” as it seldom went out in the winter. 

I knew that my first call was soon to come, and I would bury up in that old feather bed for the best nap of the night—another snooze between call one and call two. Call three was more of a serious nature, and was delivered in such a way that I knew that it was time to move my bones.

A typical weekday breakfast was mush, which was made from home-ground cornmeal (I never tasted grits until I was grown), country ham, red eye gravy, home grown eggs fried up placed over on a warm platter, homemade biscuits, and, of course, sorghum molasses. I especially liked putting red-eye gravy and sugar on my mush, breaking a biscuit open and pushing it down in the mush, with my eggs and country ham on the side. 

Mama was a hard working woman, who was aggressive, almost the exact opposite of Daddy. She was always in a stir to make things better for her family. She would go to the field at first light in hoeing time, chop cotton (better than anyone else cold do it),  go to the house at ten o’clock and have a wonderful lunch prepared by noon. A typical weekday lunch would be purple hull peas, fresh cream style field corn, cornbread, and something sweet, like a plain cake or stewed dried peaches, with very strong sweet tea, which was wonderful. 

She used to tell me, “Son you eat all the peas you want, but I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself.” 

If I had really worked during this period of my life, Mama wouldn’t have been able to feed me enough. I loved my mama, and when I see her in heaven, I’m going to tell her I loved her and how much I appreciated the sacrifices that she made for us. If I told her this while she was living, I sure didn’t tell her enough times.

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