Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Harmony Homecoming

This past weekend I read the new Southern Living magazine, which featured a story about the Southern custom of “dinner-on-the-grounds.”  (I don’t know – maybe Yankees have the same custom?)  The recipes all sounded fabulous – especially the desserts -- but the story brought back wonderful memories from my childhood.  Every summer, the little church in rural Arkansas that my great-grandparents had attended held Homecoming Sunday, and my parents made the trip from Little Rock with us kids several times that I recall.  My great-grandparents are buried in the graveyard behind the church, and we always went out to see their headstones and hear stories about them.  I even have a photo of my baby sister holding my daughter as a toddler next to my great-grandparents’ headstones!  (You know you’re Southern, if you take photos of children in graveyards.)  My sister is going to kill me for posting a photo of her wearing tube socks.

A church service was always held before dinner-on-the-grounds, and I remember sitting in the un-air-conditioned building, dressed in my Sunday best and fanning myself for dear life.  I was always more than ready for the service to end and the meal to begin.

My grandmother and aunts would have been cooking for days in preparation.  Each had her specialties, and we knew to look for them on the long tables set up under the pines to hold all the food.  Some of my favorites were Grandma Rachel’s fried chicken, caramel cake, and fried pies, not to mention Aunt Ava’s homemade bread and Aunt Lottie’s “goop” salad.  The grownups usually sat on folding lawn chairs to eat, but the children sat on blankets and quilts spread under the pine trees.  

After lunch was the hymn sing, and I enjoyed that part, too.  As I recall, the pianist was one who could play everything with a real flourish.  We sang all the old-time hymns, but my favorite song was Little Brown Church in the Vale.  It was a song I learned from my parents, who would sing with us on long car trips.  My daddy and my brother would sing the “Oh-oh, come, come, come, come” part while my mother, sisters, and I sang the refrain.

In wonderful synchronicity, this past Sunday was our church’s annual Gospel Sunday, and we sang FOURTEEN of the old beloved hymns, including Little Brown Church in the Vale.  After standing on the promises – and Jordan’s stormy banks--, leaning on the everlasting arms, and counting our blessings, all present were singing When the Roll is Called up Yonder with conviction!  (By the way, my offspring have strict orders to include that last one in my memorial service.)

I am thankful for the fond memories I have associated with dinner-on-the-grounds and old beloved hymns.