By the time I was born in the fall of 1952, I had been attending Harmony Baptist Church for nine months. During my early childhood there were only a few steps separating Harmony’s sanctuary and that of Smyrna United Methodist. The distance between those white frame buildings was probably no more than 50 feet. The congregations shared an unpaved parking area, an ancient cemetery, and a long row of concrete picnic tables located beneath towering virgin pines.
I’m not sure who built the impressive, though unpainted, cement block outhouse. I think it was on Harmony’s property, but the open-door policy welcomed members of either denomination, as well as those who only came for special occasions like revivals, funerals, and Decoration Day.
The oversized outhouse was divided into two sections, one for ladies and the other for men. Each side had a long wooden plank that could accommodate two people, or maybe it was three. In my young mind it seemed that a cement block privy for a rural clapboard church reflected an uncommon degree of prosperity. I can honestly say, however, that I never heard anyone boast about it.
There was a hand pump near the outdoor concrete baptismal pool. After a few strokes of the rusty metal lever, cool water would trickle from its iron spout. I don’t remember girls drinking from it, but young boys found immeasurable pleasure pulling that handle and leaning over to take a sip, knowing a little mud might splatter on our shoes. That sure was good water, especially in the middle of summer.
I don’t think Harmony’s baptismal pool was ever filled from that old pump, but I’m not sure. When I was baptized in the summer of 1962 the church had a deep well and a water hose. Right after our July revivals someone, usually the nearby Deloach family, would remove the winter leaves and summer frogs from the uncovered baptistry and fill it with clean water. Reverend Earl Troglin was the young pastor who immersed me. I told Brother Earl a few years ago that some people think he didn’t hold me under long enough. He said he’d rather be accused of going too short than too long when he lowers someone beneath the surface.
In the days before air conditioning Harmony had big ceiling fans that stirred the air almost imperceptibly. The windows of both churches, Harmony and Smyrna, were raised for services during hot weather. It was an enchanting view looking through those open windows. A downside, however, was that wasps would occasionally join us. Their unpredictable flight patterns provided welcome amusement at times. On other occasions young boys fought bravely to conceal unadmitted fears.
Those menacing wasps were especially unsettling during prayers. The decision whether to keep our eyes fully closed or discreetly monitor for potential attacks was never easy. I was thankful when I discovered there’s a code of silence among peeking sinners of all ages.
Boys could feel a wasp landing on our flattops, and men could tell if one skidded down a Vitalis coated runway. But ladies, especially those with fresh permanents, had no idea when an invader lightly meandered across a stiff hairdo in search of a nesting site. It was a delicate matter whether to ignore the wasp, sound the alarm, or swat it with a funeral home fan and hope it didn’t land in some place even worse.
Although wasps could be troublesome, there was one thing I especially enjoyed which came through those open windows. I loved hearing familiar hymns sung by our Methodist friends, and I tried to make sure they heard us too. Daddy told me about a memorable Sunday morning of long ago. While the Harmony folks were singing “Will You Meet Me Over Yonder?” the Smyrna congregation was answering “No Not One, No Not One.”
I think that’s just an amusing tale my father heard and passed along. But remembering those open church windows reminds me of moments long ago that still matter. There were times at Harmony when I listened to the preacher and times when I listened to the songs. And there were times, thankfully, when I listened to the Lord. That’s the part that still matters.