My childhood took a jolt when Dad bought half interest into the only insurance claims service in Carrollton, Georgia, with his friend, Charlie Bass, in 1961. I was 10 years old when my life was uprooted, and we moved West about 60 miles from Decatur, Georgia, to Carrollton, Georgia.
I left behind my grammar school, Hooper Alexander Elementary School which was razed a few years ago, and my second grade, blonde and blue eyed girlfriend, Beverly Perry. I wonder what she’s doing now and where she lives. She’s probably married and probably has grandchildren like I do.
When we moved to Carrollton, I left behind my back door neighbor and best friend, Phil Lazenby. We played neighborhood baseball and cowboys and Indians. The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and Rin Tin Tin were three of our favorite TV westerns that we watched every week on our black and white television screen. The screen seemed to take forever to warm up until the picture came on.
Another back door neighbor was “Happy” Edwards. His quarter, the Harmoneers, was the first white quarter to cut a record with RCA and became one of the top Southern Gospel Quartets in the nation. Happy always made sure I got their latest recording. Back then, I didn’t know how famous he was.
Mom loved Decatur even though she was raised on a farm. But, Mom never liked Carrollton. She said the people were clickish and snobby.
Carrollton was a small town where everybody knew everybody and everybody knew everybody’s business. She felt she never felt like she fit in although she made some close friends. I suppose the never fitting in feeling came from the flour sack dresses her mom made for her and that she had to wear to school. She always felt a little inferior to the city girls in Jefferson, Georgia, where she went to high school. Like the days of her childhood, she felt inferior and snubbed by many in Carrollton. Dad called such people, “Ten cent millionaires!”
Different from Mom, Dad plunged into Carrollton and made a lot of friends and a successful business. His best friend was Bill Johnson, a lawyer who drove 200 miles to North Augusta, South Carolina, for Dad’s funeral in 1981.
Dad was raised in Sumter, South Carolina, a small town of 9500 people when he was born in 1920. Mom considered him a city boy and just what she wanted. No Georgia plow boy for her!
Mom was born in 1926 near Talmo, Georgia, which was barely on the map back then. It had a population of 131 in 1930.
She was baptized in a horse trough beside the general store and was forever embarrassed about that. Everyone else was baptized in the creek near Talmo. She would kill me for telling that she was baptized in a horse trough!
Mom and Dad met at a boarding house in Buckhead, Georgia, just north of Atlanta where both of them worked. Mom worked for Southern Bell Telephone, and Dad worked for Irby’s Insurance Company. They married on April 15, 1949, at the parsonage of First Baptist Church, Winder, Georgia. The pastor was Mom’s former pastor at Talmo.
They spent their wedding night in Augusta, Georgia, and the next day traveled to his widowed mother’s home in Sumter for a wedding celebration. She had made them wedding cake. That was their honeymoon.
Dad grew up in the First Presbyterian Church of Sumter, and attended faithfully. His mother was Presbyterian and his father was Southern Baptist. Every Sunday morning, they went their separate ways.
On the other hand, Mom’s dad wasn’t much of a church-goer. He blamed it on the huge thousand acre farm he owned. Something always had to be seen about. The cows got out of the pasture or the eggs in the huge chicken house needed gathering. There was always something to keep him from church.
But, Mom’s mother loved to go to church at Talmo Baptist. She and her mom, my great-grandmother, were charter members and helped organize the church in 1911. But after marrying my grandfather, she couldn’t attend much because he wouldn’t take her, and she couldn’t drive.
In Decatur, Mom left her Baptist roots and went with Dad to Midway Baptist Church not far from where we lived. I was baptized by sprinkling at Midway. Me and the pastor’s son made up the children’s choir and often sang duets together. I vividly remember one of the men standing beside the pastor as we exited the church house and handing ever kid a stick of Juicy Fruit gum That was a real treat in those days.
Time really changes things. Hooper Alexander School was set on fire by a vagrant and subsequently razed, and Midway Presbyterian Church, established in the late 19th century, closed. The building was sold, but it still stands as a silent sentinel over the grave yard.
Urban sprawl brought a different sort of people to DeKalb County and demographics have changed the complexion of everything I once knew.
Oh, and the move to Carrollton changed our religion too. Dad went to First Presbyterian and Mom did too. We all worshipped there as family. But then, one day Mom’s gregarious beautician, the biggest, both literally and figuratively, gossip in town, asked Mom if she had heard the news. She then told Mom that the First Presbyterian Church pastor was queer. After all, he never married! Today, we call it gay. Essie let gossip fly like dandelion seeds blown by the wind.
Well, that gossip about the Presbyterian Church pastor did it for Mom, and she started attending and then joined Tabernacle Baptist Church. That’s why I am a Baptist! Gossip made a Baptist out of me!
Tabernacle was the largest church in town that seated 1400 people. At the time it was built in 1912, it could seat the entire population of Carrollton!
Mom chose Tabernacle over First Baptist. First Baptist was known as the church for the elite. I don’t even think they had revival meetings back then. At least, I don’t remember any, and I had some friends who went there.
Tabernacle was more of a blue collar church. It sat across the street from the cotton mill. Back then, Southern small towns like Carrollton had two Baptist churches. The First Baptist Church for the uppity-ups, and the working man’s church like Tabernacle for the rest of us, although Tabernacle had its share of highly educated professionals too.
Tabernacle was where I was saved during a two week revival meeting that was preached by a flaming, hell fire and brimstone full time evangelist. He set the whole town on fire. You had to get there early to get a seat! And, Mom was always late. So, we had to sit near the front which was anathema to Mom. She loved the back seat during those times like revival meeting when she wasn’t singing in the choir in Sundays.
Dad wouldn’t go to revival meeting. He said going once on Sunday was enough for Presbyterians, and he couldn’t understand why Baptists attended every time the church doors opened.
Pastor Lewis H. Brazell was my pastor then. Now, he could flat preach too. Old timers say, “He could shell the corn!” And sometimes, he wore a white suit. The First Baptist Church pastor wouldn’t be caught dead in a white suit. Dark blue or black was about the extent of his wardrobe.
Dr. J. Howard Cobble followed Rev. Brazell, and we kept up with each other until he died. We’d always get into it when Georgia played Tennessee in football. Whoever’s team lost would get ragged until the next season.
Dr. Cobble couldn’t preach like Pastor Brazell. His sermons were more measured and reserved. They were more intellectual, and God forbid, he used notes and a manuscript. Plus, he preached with his left hand behind his back and limited his ability to gesticulate. Now, Pastor Brazell gesticulated with both arms and pounded the pulpit for emphasis which always brought me to full attention and everyone else especially those who might be nodding off for an early Sunday nap.
Tabernacle moved up and away from the old time religion with Dr. Cobble. I can’t recall Pastor Cobble ever bringing in a flaming evangelist for a revival meeting. He brought in Doctor This or That to preach what went for revival.
One time after Mom and Dad had moved to North Augusta for Dad to take a new insurance job after his claims service business tailed off, Jerry Falwell and Doug Oldham came to the Bell Auditorium in Augusta for a one-night stand and to promote the books and tapes they were selling.
Somehow, Mom dragged Dad to the meeting. After it was over and they were walking to the car, Mom remarked how wonderful the meeting was. She asked Dad how he liked it. He replied, “I kept waiting for them to pass around the popcorn!” Mom wasn’t happy with Dad’s sarcasm, not happy at all! She never understood that Presbyterians don’t like stuff like that.
I loved Tabernacle Baptist Church. I sang in both the adult and youth choirs and went to Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly near Asheville, North Carolina, for a week every summer. I enjoyed Rockridge Baptist Assembly camp near Carrollton each summer. I was a counselor for the Royal Ambassadors (Southern Baptists Boy Scouts), and some of friends went there too along with some of my teachers including my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Eric Johnson, who kept up with me until she died.
Sundays in Carrollton back then caused Carrollton to become a ghost town. Not a store opened. It was the Lord’s Day, and it seemed everyone in town went to church somewhere. If you needed gasoline, you better fill-up on Saturday.
Dad always traded at D. A. Jackson’s Gulf Station, and he closed his business on Sundays. He and his wife, Helen, were faithful members of Tabernacle. When I turned 15, he gave me a job as a grease monkey, washing cars, and pumping gas. For his regular customers, we had to vacuum out their car.
No one dared cut grass or work in the yard on Sundays. Women like Essie might gossip about you!
I asked Dad to take me fishing after church one Sunday. His answer? “Son, fish don’t bite on Sundays.”
The two Carrollton restaurants and barbecue shack at Lake Carroll closed on Sundays too. One restaurant had a sign out front, No beer or wine, just good food.”
I remember on an occasional Sunday when Dad would load us up and drive to Atlanta to eat at the S&S cafeteria. That was a real, special treat!
Dad would always prompt me and my brother on those rare occasions to always choose what Mom chose. She had this habit of eating off our plates. “Oh, that looks so good.” Then, she’d reach into our plate with her fork and take what she was after. That drove Dad nuts. Presbyterians didn’t do that.
On the other hand, Mom’s Baptist rearing included many “dinners-on-the-ground” free for alls where everybody had to try a little of Cousin Katherine’s fresh coconut cake and Aunt Ulah’s mouth-watering southern fried chicken.
Katherine was such a great cook that her husband opened up Katherine’s Kitchen when Interstate 85 came through close to Talmo. It was quite a success. But, after she died, the family closed it. I think it’s a tire store now. Quite a fall from grace!
Mom told me that her Dad, my grandfather, would go to those covered dish dinners at Talmo Baptist with a watchful eye. He wanted to see where whose fried chicken was placed where on the endless table of food. He wouldn’t let his children eat the fried chicken of any woman who didn’t coop her chicken before slaughtering and frying it. Only those who had cooped their chicken and fattened it up on corn were they allowed to eat. Oh, and another thing. He forbade them drinking water from the old open well at the church. The graveyard was close to the well, and he didn’t want his family drinking water that might have leached into the well from someone’s dead body. But, there was always plenty of southern sweet iced tea to go around that his children could drink.
Sundays were a day of rest and worship in Carrollton. But, after church, Dad would allow me to go down to my friend’s house and play baseball in the spring or football in the fall in my friend’s huge yard. We’d play “blood tackle” football because we’d get bloody noses and skinned knees.
But, I always had to get back home early enough to shower and get dressed for Sunday night Church Training and the Sunday evening worship service which I enjoyed. Baptists don’t miss any meeting and especially on Sundays.
By the first of May, we always played shirtless and shoeless. We’d turn as brown as an Indian.
There was no air conditioning back then. It was better to be outside sweating up a storm than inside and miserable.
Mom and Dad had a GE oscillating fan that they used in their bedroom. Me and my brother just had to sweat out the hot, humid Georgia nights waking up with our beds drenched as if a bucket of water had been poured on it.
On Sunday mornings, I took great pride in filling out my 6-point record offering envelope for Sunday School. You’d get 20 points for just showing up, 10 points for being on time, 10 for bringing your Bible, and 10 for giving an offering. Dad always gave me a dime or a quarter before I started working for Mr. Jackson. Then, I proudly put in my own offering which was usually a tithe of what I earned. Baptists believe in tithing 10% of your earnings.
Then, you got 30 points for studying your lesson which I always did on Saturday nights, and 20 if you stayed for preaching. I was always 100% except on those Sundays when Mom was late. Dad didn’t go to Sunday School. I don’t guess Presbyterians did that sort of thing. At least, not adult Presbyterians.
There were no Little League games or practices ever held on Sundays in Carrollton. All of the coaches went to some church in town including my Sunday School teacher, Mr. Wilson. There were no events sponsored by the Recreation Department on Sundays either, and youth travel ball that plays tournaments on Sundays had yet to be invented.
I was proud of my daughter, Kelly, for saying ‘no’ when she was invited to play on a fast-pitch travel ball tournament team. “Dad, you have to play on Sundays. I don’t want to do that.” My ego says that she didn’t want to miss one of her Dad’s sermons, but I don’t think that was the case. More than likely, she just enjoyed the quiet rest Sunday afternoons gave her from her busy schedule. Although, hearing her Dad preach may have had a little something to do with it.
I miss those Sundays in Carrollton. Today, Sunday is just another day. People go full throttle. I wonder when they ever rest and revive.
About the only stores closed on Sundays are Chick-fil-A and Hibby Lobby. Sam Cathey, Chick-fil-A founder, was a Baptist. The founder and owner of Hobby Lobby, David Green, is Pentecostal which is Baptist on steroids.
I thank God that both of them hold Sundays as holy and that they reverence the Lord’s Day by closing shop. It reminds me of my growing-up days in Carrollton when faith and worship took pre-eminence over making money and even taking your son fishing!