Tuesday, May 28, 2013

All Day Singing and Dinner on the Ground - Part 2

Dinner on the Grounds in Mississippi, 1970 - Sacred Harp singers discuss their faith and their music over dinner on the grounds at an all-day singing in rural Mississippi, from "They Sing of a Heaven," a 1972 a 1972 film by Jerry Stimpfle of the University of Mississippi.
Oh my goodness, watching this video brings back memories. Memories when time was not so pressed with activities as it is today. Memories of a day when the community I lived in was made up of farmers and independent business owners whose success depended upon the principles of community - caring for one another, and treating one another as you wanted to be treated. There existed a sense of interdependence that cultivated a culture of family within the community.
I am not naive enough to believe this was a Polyanna existence where there was no injustice or evil. I have heard my father tell of stories where he stepped beyond those barriers to help others held captive by such injustices. I have seen many instances where God's loving hand of protection took him in spiritual boldness where many would not have dared go. During this era of my early childhood, however, there was also a healthy tradition of folks gathering together to worship, to fellowship, to honor and nourish friendships, to rest from their labor and thank God for His blessing and provision. One such tradition was the all day singing and dinner on the ground.
I can remember my grandparents talking about how at the turn of the century, especially during horse and buggy days, all day services were common. Congregations often did not get to meet for church but once a month due to the distances traveled to worship. Each family would prepare a dinner, then after the morning service they would combine the food and spend the afternoon eating and singing. Dinner on the ground was not solely related to church. Gathering for food and fellowship outdoors was a common happening. Where today many of our family get togethers occur with a television running in the background - if at all - these meals were spread out and enjoyed in God's dining room...the great outdoors.

The dark-haired gentleman with a tie facing the camera is my Paw Paw, Arch Hood. The little boy to his right (your left) is my Dad, Frank Hood. The lady beside my Dad who is taking a bite of food is my Maw Maw, Winnie Hood. The gentleman sitting on the bench in front of the big pot of food with his back to the camera (second to the left) is my Uncle Lynn Hood, my Paw Paw's brother from whom I get my middle name. This picture was a community dinner and was taken in the mid 1930's. (Click on the picture for a larger view.)

I attended dinner on the ground at cemetary workings (yes, we ate amongst the dead), family reunions, and such, but my favorite memories of dinners on the ground, came from gatherings at the Bethel Baptist Church in Bold Springs, Texas. Both my mother and father's families attended church there. My grandfather Moore, with my grandmother by his side, pastored and ministered to the people of Bethel Baptist Church for well over 40 years. My dad's family attended there as long as I can remember and farther back than that. My momma and daddy grew up  in church together. They later dated and fell in love with a rich heritage together as a result of their time spent there. Granted, Momma was a little younger than Daddy. He had to go off to war to give her time to grow up, but he came back to fall in love with the beautiful, caring woman she had become and still is to this day.

Bethel Baptist Church, Bold Springs, TX

My grandparents, C.L. and Clara Moore

From left to right - Rev. C.L. Moore and Clara Moore, Momma and Daddy (Frank and Grace Hood) Winnie and Arch Hood.

As a result of all these factors, Bethel Baptist was the central gathering place we returned to as "home".  Homecoming Sunday was always a favorite. This is when many of the younger generations who had to venture out to make a living traveled back home to Bethel to be with their parents. It was an exciting time of worship, seeing old friends, and meeting new family members. The greetings were warm and joyous, and the food was to die for. Everything from chicken and dumplings,  chicken pot pies, beans and peas fresh from the garden, fried chicken and mashed potatoes, to homemade berry cobblers, cakes and pies. One of  the deacons used to get in so much trouble because he loved to sneak up and run his finger through icing while the ladies were getting everything prepared for lunch!
 After lunch, people from all over the community came out after their churches dismissed to visit and enjoy the Sunday afternoon singing. The church house rang out with those good old gospel songs from the heart, the harmony and words stirring your very soul. As a child with a full stomach, I would lay my head in my grandmother's lap and drift off to sleep listening to them sing while watching those old ceiling fans turn. It was an unmatched feeling of security, peace, continuity, and hope.

Even today as I write about these days gone by, I find it hard to do so without a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. My heart longs to return once more to this elusive place in time. I often find myself drawn to the church as I pass it on my way out to the farm. Many of the dear folks who were once a part of these memories have long departed this earth. Their distinct contributions and unique personalities from this historical moment in time are sorely missed. I often pull into the parking lot and close my eyes. All at once it seems I can smell the food, feel the hugs of friends and loved ones, and hear the echos of heartfelt gospel music...the very essence of all day singings and dinners on the ground.

To enjoy a sample of that beautiful music, click on this link:  Jesus Hold My Hand

Homecoming Bethel Baptist Church, Bold Springs, Texas
(Click on Pictures to Enlarge)



A Poem for Bear By Maw Maw Cindy My dear little Bear who sleeps soundly and tight So peaceful and trusting, your cares free...