My religious and spiritual upbringing began on my Mama’s lap at Elmer Baptist Church in Statesboro, Georgia when I was 1 week old. When I was born, my sister, Gloria, was around 2 years old and she had been sitting on Mama’s lap since she was 1 week old. So, when I was born, Gloria had to sit on the pew next to Mama and each and every week thereafter until I was around two years old, that is where you would find me, on Mama’s lap, at Elmer Baptist Church, or so I have been told. When I was about 2, my brother Earl was born and I was then moved to the pew sitting next to my sister Gloria. Then Judy usurped Earl and Joey usurped Judy. My other 3 siblings, Luann, Stevie and Tommy, were not born until we moved to Florida so they did not not get to experience our little country church or country living. They really missed out on some great times and experiences.
As a child, I remember that church service was boring and more often than not, Gloria, Earl and I would fall asleep and end up laying down in the pew. I remember waking up after the service and would discover on the way out that I had left my shoes under the pew. When we got a little older, we were told that was not acceptable behavior and was rude and disrespectful, so we had to stay awake and listen to what the pastor was saying. Sometimes we would play a little game and we would each take a hymnal and we would pick an author and see how many songs he/she wrote. As we grew older, we started doing more listening and praying and learning. We also started sitting with our friends and that was okay with Mama as long as we behaved and we were always under her watchful eye.
My sister, Gloria, and I loved to sing and we sang often as we washed and dried the dishes at home. The pastor heard us singing in Training Union one evening and asked if we would sing at Sunday Service and we agreed to do so. I remember it so well and so does my sister Gloria. The song we sang was Blessed Redeemer. We had a bad start and had to start over again and the preacher told everyone that he guessed he needed to put a pan of water and some dirty dishes in front of us to make us more comfortable. I was so nervous that I thought I was going to be sick. We learned Bible verses at a very early age. I think the first one we learned was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have ever lasting life”.
It is strange the things you remember as a child. I remember when I was about 4, my brother, Charles Grady, was born and then died 3 days later. I have never been able to determine the cause of his death but over the years heard many stories, none of which was ever verified. Mama always blamed herself because she said she had asked Daddy to move a washtub and he never did, so like many of us impatient, independent women, she moved it herself. She says when she moved it, she felt a muscle pull and she was convinced that somehow she had harmed the baby. My parents had 9 children and he was the only one they had ever planned. He was named after my Uncle Charles Peavey. He and Aunt Lulu Mae, my Mama’s sister, had never been able to have children and they had bought all the things for him and for the nursery. My Mama was not able to attend the funeral because she was still in the hospital. I remember the day of his funeral sitting in my Uncle Floyd’s Model T because I was not allowed to go into the church. I was scared because I didn’t know what was happening. I saw them carry out a little coffin and go into the cemetery adjacent to the church and after a while my Daddy and aunt and uncle came back to the car. I don’t know where Gloria and Earl were but we all ended back together at home. We never got to see Charles Grady, but when we go back to Statesboro, I always visit his little grave.
Pretty soon, Mama came home from the hospital and life resumed. Mama was sad for a long time after that and she didn’t laugh or smile much. Now, having lost a child of my own, I can understand her sorrow. It takes you to a deep dark place you never want to go ever again and it takes a lot to climb out of that deep dark place and stay out. Sometimes it feels like you are just hanging on by your fingertips and all you want to do is just give in to it and let the sorrow and despair take you. But then your strength returns and believe me when I tell you that it takes real strength to bring yourself out of that dark pit of despair. But with God’s help and the help of family and friends, it is possible. Mama persevered and went on to have 5 more children who were all healthy and are still with us today. Mama’s faith in God never wavered during all her ordeals.
I remember that my Daddy very seldom went to church. He was a farmer and that was the only life he knew. He was a very good father, a great farmer, hard worker and a wonderful man and took care of his family. Although, he was a very self-conscience man, very unsure of himself and very insecure with a severe inferiority complex, which I am sure stemmed from his unfortunate childhood. His mother died in childbirth when he was 2 years old and he had no relationship with his step-mother. All through his life, he longed for his mother until the day he died. He ultimately developed a drinking problem that plagued him for many years, much to the chagrin of my Mama. Mama hated alcohol and when Daddy took a drink it was very upsetting to her and caused many a conflict between the two of them. My Uncle Floyd use to make me so mad because he and Aunt Teeny would come to visit and Uncle Floyd would call Daddy “ole licker head”. I really did not know at the time what it meant, I only knew that it was something that hurt Daddy very much. It infuriated me and I was embarrassed for Daddy because when he would see my aunt and uncle coming up the lane, he disappeared and did not appear again until he was sure they had gone home. He did not want to face the taunting and ridicule. He was not a falling down drunk and never missed working and taking care of the farm. It’s just that when he would take a drink on the weekend, he did not know when to stop. Mama knew how to make him stop… feed him. For some reason, when he ate, he no longer wanted to drink. I did not find out about the alcohol problem until my adulthood and it certainly explained a lot of mysteries from my childhood.
I think one of the reasons Daddy did not like to go to church was because the pastor had embarrassed him in front of the entire congregation the first time he finally went to church, and I felt so bad and hurt for him. Pastor had visited and asked Daddy to please come to church and, of course, Mama was always wanting him to go. So he went this Sunday to church and at the beginning of the service the pastor called on Daddy to open the service in prayer. I know my Daddy just about fainted from fright at the thought and he asked to be excused and the pastor called on someone else. I always thought the pastor did it on purpose to embarrass my Daddy and I never forgave him for that. Even though I was still a child, I could see the look that came over my Daddy’s face and his embarrassment was plain to see. I thought he should have been satisfied that he had gotten my Daddy to come to church. Had he not asked my Daddy to pray, my Daddy might have come to church more but by embarrassing him, he just slammed the door on that and I don’t think Daddy ever went back to Elmer Baptist Church until later in life for funerals. Praying is difficult sometimes even for devout Christians, so imagine what it was like for my Daddy to be thrust into the spotlight on his first visit to church. The outcome could have been so different if the pastor had just not expected so much of Daddy in that one visit to church. Later in life, after we moved to Florida and the children had all grown up, Daddy regularly attended church with Mama until he passed away in 1994. He was a very good man and I loved him very much. Daddy was saved and had been baptized as a child so I know that he is in heaven and I pray that he has found the peace he sought all of his life and that he is reunited with his mother whose love and care he missed so much.
Going to church was the center of our lives. Everything we did as children centered on the church. Even when we were working in the fields, church was influential. We worked long and hard and we were no different than other children. Sometimes, we goofed off and did a lot of playing. We would be in the cotton field picking cotton and it was so hot you couldn’t spit. So, we would have a prayer meeting in the field and Earl would get up on a crate and he would preach. “The Lord is Good, the devil is bad”. He was quite the preacher. We also prayed as hard as we could for rain. If it rained, that meant we did not have to work in the fields. We would see dark clouds gathering in the distance and we would start praying “God let it rain, bring those rain clouds over here and pour down the rain”. We would hear the thunder in the distance and we started laughing and one of us would say, “Well, the angels are rolling watermelons over the bridge.” That’s what Mama and Daddy had always told us, so we believed them and it does make a pretty picture in your mind. I envisioned angels dressed in white with big fluffy wings dropping the watermelons and rolling them over an old wooden bridge, the kind of bridge that you would find in rural Georgia in the 1940s. So we would look and listen and sometimes our prayers would be answered, sometimes not. God works in his own time and way. I know that the best sentence I ever heard as a child was when Daddy said, “I believe the rain has set in”. Which we knew to mean it is going to rain for a while (hopefully several days). When the rain had set in, we would languish in bed until 6 and then up and do our chores because the cows still needed to be milked, pigs slopped, and chickens fed. The rest of the day we would play in the barn until Mama called us. When the morning came and the sun came out, we would grudgingly return to the fields to see what adventure was ahead of us for that day.