The Church in the Wildwood

Every Sunday after Father’s Day is Homecoming at the little country church where my forefathers attended.  This year I went with my mother, just the two of us, and it was good to be home again.

I remember these Sundays from my childhood and how I looked forward to Homecoming every year.  It’s always hot as the devil, but so much fun that nobody really minded.  Our family, including my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins would crowd into a pew in the tiny, but thankfully, well air conditioned church.  We would sing hymns from the old Cokesbury hymnal as Miss Linda played the piano with such heart and feeling that it made my Daddy and grandfather silly with joy.  The preacher was usually someone who’d once served the congregation and had been invited back to “preach Homecoming.”

At the end of the service, the preacher says the benediction and gives the blessing and everyone makes their way to a Sunday dinner that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

As a child, we had dinner “on the grounds” underneath huge oak trees.  Sunday, when I walked around the side of the church where the dinners of my childhood were served, I couldn’t believe how small the space was.  Back then it seemed like the biggest yard ever.

Somewhere along the way it was decided to use the church’s basement, which is much cooler than being outside in the late June heat, but it’s never really been the same.

I remember a line of tables that seemed to stretch the length of a football field that held fried chicken, all kinds of vegetables (some of which had been “cooked down slick”), homemade breads, every kind of casserole you can imagine, spaghetti, sliced tomatoes, potato salad, and the list just goes on.  The dessert tables alone could make you slap three people as you picked up your fork.  Coconut cake, chocolate cake, chess pie, caramel pie, chocolate pie, strawberry cake, lemon icebox pie, and a caramel cake with icing an inch thick…  Lordamercy, I might cry.

People brought card tables and chairs and sat with folks who might or might not be immediate family.  It didn’t matter, though, because most of us there were related, albeit distantly, to each other by blood and/or marriage.

After stuffing ourselves silly, it was time to walk the cemetery.  This was a tradition, and I loved walking it with my grandfather, Papa, more than anyone in the world.  Every year I would hear who was buried where and how we were kin.  I learned who married whom, who their children and grandchildren were and why we addressed some people with the word “cousin” before their first names.  I learned about my great-great-aunts and heard stories about them.  Like how one of them hated to drive out in the country for fear that she’d just come up on a strange town that she wouldn’t be familiar with. (I promise I’m not joking.)  I learned that my great-great-great-grandfather owned a farm just down the road from the church until the end of the Civil War.  Unable to maintain it, he moved his family to town, where they started attending the “big” Methodist church there.

I remember walking with my grandfather one year as we were leaving the cemetery.  He started humming the tune to “How Great Thou Art,” and I can hear his soft, tenor voice even today.  It never fails that when I go back for Homecoming, it is his voice I hear as I walk the cemetery, and I am stunned at how grateful I am for these memories.

This year, I left the boys at home with David while I went to Homecoming, but I am anxious for next year when I’ll take them with me.  I’m anxious for them to hear, from my mother, I hope, the stories of the dear people who walked before them.  I want them to have a feeling for this place, this church, this love that is part of them.

THE CHURCH IN THE WILDWOOD

There’s a church in the valley in the wildwood

No lovelier place in the dale

No spot is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale.

(Oh, come, come, come, come

Come to the church in the wildwood

Oh, come to the church in the dale

No spot is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale.)

How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning

To listen to the clear ringing bells

Its gongs so sweetly are calling

Oh come to the church in the dell.

(CHORUS)

There close by the church in the valley

Lies the one that I loved so well

She sleeps, sweet love sleeps ‘neath the willow

Disturb not her rest in the vale.

(CHORUS)

There close by the side of that loved one

‘Neath the tree where the wildflowers bloom

When farewell hymns shall be chanted

I shall rest by her side in the tomb.

Oh, come, come, come, come…

Come to the church in the wildwood

Oh, come to the church in the dale

No spot is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the vale.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kelley
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 09:45:42

    I feel like I’m “home” when I go to the church in the little town that my grandparent’s live. : )

    Reply

  2. meghan @ spicy magnolia
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:44:32

    Special! My mouth watered reading about the food, and I hope you write about Homecoming next year with your boys. I love reading about the history and special memories.

    Reply

  3. Miz Marty
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 22:14:32

    I love this. One of the things I’ve done, as I’ve gotten into researching my family tree, is to collect photos of the churches which my ancestors attended, some going back many centuries. It’s given me an increased sense of my spiritual roots and of gratitude for the many Christ-followers on my family tree.

    Reply

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