Last week, we walked around part of the home place. This week, let’s ride around the whole community, make that “circle.”
You may have grown up in a community like mine…or your parents did…or your grandparents, and perhaps you’d visit them each summer. There are no doubt tens of thousands of similar communities…but this was mine.
Our community was held together by three main things. First, everybody was kin to somebody else in the community. Second, there was the 20-family party line, with listening-in not considered bad manners at all. It was expected. Everybody had a “ring.” Ours was a long and a short. You wanted to know how some sick person was doing? Call, or just listen in. Butt in if you desired: “She is? Why, I didn’t know that.”
Then, third, there was Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church. It was actually on a mount, downhill in every direction, a typical frame church building. Then they moved it down hill a little and across the road and built a nondescript brick building. It was where you went for preaching every Sunday, and to the revival (protracted meeting) every summer, and to the annual all-day singing, and, probably, to a singing school after laying-by time.
It is truly a church in the wildwood. You gotta want to go there. You’re not likely to see it just driving by. You could have asked my late and much lamented friend, Willie, about it. He and Ms. Willie drove up there in his pickup just to see some of the things we’ve talked about. He found Mt. Pisgah, but only after he had missed a turnoff or two.
Geographically, the community is shaped like a Y, with the Reeves house at the bottom of the Y, just after the Mule Reed Branch crossing, a little over a mile from town. Uncle Grady’s place is at the western tip of the Y (house falling down), and cousin Lindsey Crowder’s house place is at the eastern tip. In between, there’s a network of little roads which would be quite confusing to a stranger.
Fine families made up the population, families Boman and Chandler and Sanders and Reeves and Roberts and Matthews and Finch. There were also the McCarvers and Bickerstaffs and Piersons and Todds. These were people who tried with varying success to scratch a living out of the red clay hills and creek bottoms; and whose younguns made the swimming hole/baptizing place at cousin Bailey’s a busy place on summer Sunday afternoons.
A few houses still stand — the Reeves house, which I thought was the most beautiful sight in the world when I came out of the Valley of the Shadow (the little Mile Reed Branch hollow) after seeing a Dracula, Mummy, Frankenstein or Wolf Man movie in town.
Uncle Asa’s house has been restored by his grand-daughter, while keeping the old dog-trot house look. Mother’s place is still there. Early Matthew’s house is still there, used on weekends by his daughter. Uncle Kent’s house is still there, absentee ownership, as is cousin Hezzie’s — still kept very neat as it always was.
Cousin Bailey’s (the man with the Jersey bull) is now a huge junkyard. And J.T. Todd’s is still there, looking almost like it did back in the days when we were young.
But J.T. died a couple of weeks ago. He was the last of the old-time Mt. Pisgah community people. The other houses? Dust. Some places, like the Bickerstaff place, the other Matthews places, Walter Chandler’s place, and the others–not a trace of the people who lived and raised children and talked and listened on the telephone. Look at Uncle Jeff’s, from which cousin/best friend Ross and I launched many a hunting or fishing trip. Not a trace, except two tall oak trees I can see from the road. Or Ed Finch’s. Not a sign.
Physically, the roads in the community are still there, but with the passing of J.T., that’s about all … except memories.
And there are getting to be fewer and fewer who even have those.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.