Tent meetings, goat man and gypsies


Growing up in my house, attending the church was not optional. It was a given. No matter how much I fussed, cried, or feigned sickness or injury, I was going to Sunday School and church right up until I got way bigger than my little Momma. Then, I had a little leverage, but not much. Daddy didn’t go much to morning services but occasionally he went to the evening services. He was a good man; he just didn’t go with us to church, so he and Uncle Aubrey went off to fish. And he didn’t tolerate me not going with Momma. I still don’t understand that, but I sure never asked.

From time to time, Big Momma would see in the Forest Blade about a tent meeting coming up, and she and Momma hauled me off with them to get a little extra religion. I don’t remember the denomination of any we ever attended, but what I do remember is, the weather would always be hot and sticky. I don’t sit still very well as an adult, so you can just imagine how miserable this little girl was sitting on the folding chair, under a steaming tent, with only a funeral home fan to swat the gnats and mosquitoes. How Big Momma could sit there and get any religion in her corset and voile dress, stockings and white shoes is beyond me. The meetings would last for hours, with singing, prayers and preaching and more singing and prayers and Jesus calling the sinner’s home. I remember one of these meetings on the south of town where the tent sat in a cleared grassy area, and the cars parked all around the tent. I never hear of tent meetings anymore…I guess we don’t need extra religion now.

The old man who traveled through town with his Billy goats pulling his wagon with pots and pans clanging, was a novelty that everybody in town talked about, passing the word from one to the other, and folks would get in their cars to take a ride just outside town where the old man would be camped. He never seemed to mind the attention, and neither did the goats. You could smell the sight long before you could see him. He traveled all over the eastern seaboard, but made his home place in Jeffersonville, Ga.

Sometimes, there would be a band of gypsies camping outside town. They didn’t like for you to get too close to their camps where they played music, banged tambourines, and danced, but I always wanted to talk to them to see where they were going, and why. Momma didn’t let me go see them, but I usually heard about them being in town. Sometimes, I would catch sight of some of the women with brightly colored skirts and lots of dangling bracelets and big loop earrings. Their hair would be dark and long, streaming down their backs and sometimes they would have kerchiefs on them to tie back the long hair. I thought they were beautiful when I did see them. I often wondered why their children didn’t have to go to school. They camped for a day or two and moved on. Some people said they were thieves. I’ve often wondered why they said that. I’m sure there must have been honest gypsies.

Sometimes, the local paper would advertise that there was going to be a “sing” at a local country church. They were very popular, always with a crowd of hardy music loving Christians, who would listen to the quartets, soloists, and duets from popular gospel singing groups that came from all over the state. Gospel music was a staple for the old timers. Sometimes, these “sings” could go on all night, or at least till the wee hours of the morning. I don’t remember ever going to many and when I did, they fell into the same category for me as the tent meetings. Sitting still wasn’t then, and still isn’t, my forte.