Old time religion in frontier country

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Somebody mentioned the lack of catalpa worms this year. They are prized as fishbait. The mention reminded me of the big catalpa tree that stood near the front of Grandpa’s tabernacle.

Grandpa and Grandma Sanders were of the Puritanical persuasion. While for some reason they didn’t believe in “joining” a church – never knew why … family tradition has it that Grandpa threatened to disinherit Uncle Kent if he joined Mt. Pisgah Missionary Baptist, as he was considering  doing – they were super-religious.

Their religion was one of don’ts: if you didn’t do enough things, you might make it into heaven. For instance, fishing and hunting on Sundays were strictly forbidden;  playing cards was very frowned upon any time, but totally not allowed on a Sunday. Same with picture shows – grudgingly allowed sometimes during the week but never on a Sunday.

If we kids wanted to play ball on a Sunday when we were all together, we’d better do it down in the pasture, never around the house.

Adult beverages? Never – no excuses, no ifs, buts or maybes. Never. Same with smoking, chewing or dipping. A glass of white wine with your lobster? Better that you had never been born.

They were the perfect examples of the old saw about Puritans: a Puritan is someone who lies awake at night, agonizing, worrying, that somebody, somewhere, might be having a good time.

The area Baptist and Freewill Baptist and Methodist and Church of Christ congregations were not religious  enough for Grandpa (there was not a Presbyterian, Lutheran or Episcopal or Catholic church in the county), so he built his own tabernacle, right at the north side of the family graveyard.

It was a pretty nice building. It had doors and windows and walls but a sawdust floor. Services were held there every other Sunday night. There was no pastor or minister – there’d be a different preacher every time, even a woman preacher now and then. Looking back, I can see that most of them were Pentecostal or Holiness-type preachers.

There was no Sunday School or Bible study groups. You could study the Bible on your own. Grandma did have a special children’s program one time. The theme was “Bringing in the Sheaves,” and we each held a bundle of fodder as we marched across the podium, pausing to recite a (very short) Bible verse. I remember mean old cousin Wynell punched me when I hesitated a moment before doing my part.

That’s where the woman preacher paused in her charring the walls to say, “Before I go any fudder …” Immediately a little voice said, “Fudder?” It could be heard all over the building. The voice, alas, was mine.

And that’s were Uncle Kelley had an attack of the Sanders disease – dozing during  sermons. The preacher  hollered something like, “Wake up for the end is near” … or  something. Kelley jumped up, asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”

After Grandpa died, services at the tabernacle died with him; Grandma didn’t try to keep them going. The building just stood there for a few years. Then Kelley tore it down. The only sign that it ever existed is  a slight indentation along the drip line from the tin roof.

But the catalpa tree stood there a long time before it finally died of unknown causes. The stump is still there. I thought for a while a sprout might come up and last, but no.

See there? See what just a mention of a lowly worm can start?

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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