Voices from the Past, Stories with a Melody
June 1, 2014
IT WAS THE RIGHT LOCATION.
It was old.
We walked through the trees, down a narrow little road, and into Waxahachie’s Chautauqua Auditorium while the sun was making up its mind about whether or not to go down at the end of day and decided to hang around for a while.
The octagonal pavilion had been around since 1901 and looked much as it did when the early day families came from all over the country in covered wagons and surreys with the fringe on top to camp out in tents for weeks while preachers preached and singers sang and souls were saved somewhere between Softly and Tenderly and The Old Rugged Cross.
The wood was ashen and weathered.
The lights were dim.
But they were electric.
Times do sometimes change – even in Waxahachie.
The seats were hard.
Worn smooth, but hard, a lot like life itself.
A soft wind blew through open windows.
No air conditioning tainted the heritage of Chautauqua.
When they preached hell, they wanted you to feel the heat.
We had come to hear an Old Fashioned Singing.
It was old fashioned all right.
I was reminded of my growing up days when our little East Texas, hard-core, God-fearing, fundamentalist church would host week-long revivals during the sullen and sultry days of July.
Sawdust on the floor.
Naked light bulbs strung across the big top.
Funeral home fans to stir the heat, which felt downright cool when sweat began washing down our faces.
It’s the heat, we thought.
It’s your guilt, the preachers said.
He was probably right.
We couldn’t wait each summer for revival time.
Revivals were where the girls were.
Preachers preached against sin.
We weren’t for sure, but we thought girls might be involved.
We hoped so.
None of sat beside a girl.
There were scriptures against that, and none of them were in our favor.
That’s what mama said.
That’s what the preacher said.
We sat behind the girls.
And we waited for the spirit to fall, and it always did.
The preachers all took turns and preached for hours.
The singers sang for most of the night.
At midnight, they were just getting warmed up.
Tonight may be your last night on earth.
That’s what the preacher said.
He had a terrible feeling, he said.
Someone would drive away that night and never come back, he said.
Save your soul now, he said.
You could die in a terrible car wreck before morning, he said.
We were relieved.
None of us could drive.
We searched the scriptures then, while the preaching droned on, looking for what they had to say about girls, and wondering if the girls were searching for any scriptures either for or against boys.
But that was then, and then was long ago.
Now we were seated down front for some good, old-fashioned, down-home, home-grown gospel singing.
The voices on stage were voices from the past.
So were the songs.
Some condemned us.
Some saved us.
Some made you want to shout.
Some brought tears.
A few carried you to the baptizing river.
A few carted you to the burying ground.
I listened closely.
And after a while, I realized nobody was singing.
They were talking about life.
They weren’t singing.
They were doing what we all do.
They were telling stories.
We had heard them all before.
Good stories are worth hearing again.
It’s just that the stories on this old-fashioned night had a melody.