Tag Archives: Faith Baptist Church

A lifetime of New Year’s Eve deja vu

Half-way through December, when it came time for me to resume my NaNoWriMo novel, to catch up on roughly 873 unread emails and blogs that I follow, and to breathe new, consistent life into Jackson’s Journal, I had a high-level meeting with myself and decided to extend my “down” time another 16 days.

Enough. I’m breaking the huddle, getting back in the game, shaking the dust off any other cliches that refer to getting the rust out of my routine. I’m pumped. In fact, I’m going to blog every single day of 2013. Or not.

First, I’m taking stock of the greatest blessing of my life. My bride (Kelly) and I did some calculating tonight and determined that since 1974, we’ve been together every single New Year’s Eve except one. Folks, that’s 38 NY Eves.

kelly-jodie

I love the story of Dec. 31, 1974. Kelly and her family and 36 other people — 41 in all — were at the green duplex in Belle, Mo., at Eighth and Shockley, a place that I prefer to remember as “Little Fenway,” on account of the house was the left field fence for the greatest Wiffle ball field ever known.

But it wasn’t wintertime Wiffle ball that drew a crowd.

It was a fish fry.

Dad was the pastor of the fledgling Faith Baptist Church, and as best I can remember, the evening started with a fine Southern Baptist tradition, the New Year’s Eve Watch-Night Service. Or maybe the evening didn’t start at the church, which was located in the former but brown recluse spider-infested Dahms Hardware Store in Main Street/Alvarado Avenue/Highway 28 in downtown Belle.

My Little Black Book of Great Adventures — aka, my childhood diary — recounts the important details, including the reference to brown recluse spider-infestation, but also the party in the house at Little Fenway. At one point earlier in the evening, someone — either my dad, Robert Thompson or Clifford McDaniel — had a wild-hair idea about having a fish fry. Robert had a freezer full of gigged Gasconade River fish and Clifford possessed the world’s all-time greatest hush puppy recipe. (It might have been the other way around; the Little Black Book of Great Adventures doesn’t provide clarification).

Someone brought a massive iron kettle and a grand fire was sparked on the bare spot normally reserved for second base. There was fish, hush puppies, drinks (absolutely non-intoxicating beverages, of course), pie, slaw, and, for the younger set, an unofficial yet also traditional activity of Southern Baptist teens and pre-teens: spin-the-bottle. (Not sure if it was this event or a future gathering where the spin-the-bottle experience came to an abrupt end when the bottle pointed to me and my sister, Kathy).

At the height of the NY Eve Fish Fry of ’74, we had 55 people in our house. At one point I retreated to my room — a chemistry lab and railroad-killed mammal dissection facility — to jot down my thoughts. I refer now to the Little Black Book of Great Adventures:

“It is 10:40 PM, Dec. 31, 1974. New Year’s Eve. It was a good year to me and I especially wan to thank God for leading me to a good year in science. He led me to all my specimens and stuff.” (Ed. note: living less than 100 feet from the Rock Island rail line also provided me an ample supply of biological diversity).

More about the year, recapping my thanks to my parents for letting me collect so much “stuff” and thanking my friends for helping me collec the “stuff.” (Ed. note: we had most of an entire but unassembled adult deer skeleton hauled into my room/lab before my mom drew a line on the amount of “stuff” I could have in my room/lab).

Finally, this:

“I joined a taxidermy school and I have come to a greater scientific knowledge. I am going out now to join the rest of the party. There are still 41 people hear at our house.” (Ed. note: Correctly spelled “knowledge,” but misspelled “hear.”)

Now let me fast-forward three years to New Year’s Eve 1977, back in the green duplex at Eighth and Shockley after moving back from Jefferson City, where I spent THE loneliest, saddest year of my life the previous year. My year-end recap included, “In mid-October, my parents got a divorce” and my sister, Sharon, visiting from Japan where she and bro-in-law Navy man Michael were stationed, had lost her babies (twin boys). And then this: “I am very much in love with Kelly Drewel, who I’ve been going with for 13 months.”

Finally, follow me back to (or is it “forward to?”) NY Eve 2012, where I’m making the resolution to finish the novels “Dixieland” and “Chasing the Devil” in 2013, with at least one of them published by year’s end.

And then I laugh as I glance again at the Little Black Book of Great Adventures and find this:

“Lately, I’ve been writing quite a bit. In the past I’ve started a few books that I never have finished, and I’ve got several ideas for books, stories and songs. I have written about 25 stories, 15 songs and started about 5 books. It takes time to write, so I think I’ll put aside more time to write.”

And then I listed some belated resolutions for getting that done: limit television; get my homework done at school; stick with something.

The date: Feb. 8, 1978.

The more things change …

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kelly, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, National Novel Writing Month 2012, Nature & Animals, Old Time Religion, WIPs

The Write Life: Setting as character

It’s Saturday, time for The Write Life, an exploration of words and the nuts and bolts of the writing craft. Guest posts and comments are strongly encouraged.

Setting as character

I simply have to learn how to use Dropbox. I’m constantly emailing myself notes and reminders. This week I had an epiphany about viewing my fiction’s setting as characters: alive and organic. Give the setting weight, make it an integral part of the story, not just an element that fits a novel-writing formula

I thought I was really on to something until I found this buffet of thoughts on “setting as character.”

I was especially struck by the last line: “The only question will be whether you use your setting consciously, or it uses you.”

I’ve tried to put some of these ideas into practice this week as I’ve honed, revised and forged ahead on my unfinished first draft of Chasing The Devil. I know my characters intimately, yet I don’t watch them in the bathroom. Sounds a bit awkward, I know, but the point is there are unseen elements in their lives. And that’s okay. They aren’t automatons. Robots. (That’s an idea someone else can pursue; it’s not my genre).

In the same way, I want to know some of my settings so intimately that they are alive, yet retain the shadows, nooks and crannies that make them complete — and more life-like. In my tiny hometown of Belle, Mo., the damp, dank areas between the buildings on main street (Alvarado Avenue/Highway 89) always caught my eye. When we lived above Faith Baptist Church – the old Dahms Hardware building that was infested with brown recluse spiders – one of those shaded, shadowy walkways separated Faith Baptist from the local newspaper, Tri-County Publications. The street-side entrance was through a brick archway and I always felt as cool and tough as James Dean when I went between those buildings.

And I like thinking about the nooks and crannies in the lives of Cole Davenport and Jamie Light, the primary protagonists in Chasing The Devil. I know 99 percent of all there is to know about them. Somehow it’s nice to know that there’s 1 percent – probably more – of mystery. Besides, it leaves room for my fictional creations to grow and develop.

I suppose there are dark alleys and breezeways in both characters and settings.

Here’s one attempt to create a setting as vivid as the characters. In this example, from the chapter “Missing Pieces,” the old house of Cole’s childhood seems to literally breathe. At least that’s the movement and presence I’m trying to create. Cole’s mind is tortured by empty, shapeless memories of something his parents and sister refuse to acknowledge, much less talk about.

I want the creaking floor to become so familiar to my readers that the mere mention of that setting triggers sights and sounds in your mind. (Let me know how I’m doing).

MISSING PIECES

(Chasing The Devil)

Every floor board in the house announced each approaching footstep, each closing door, and every stiff breeze that frequently blew across the flat expanse of Cole’s hometown. His mother complained that something was always “settling.”  The house wasn’t as old as it sounded, and until recently the predictable vibrations of something settling took Cole’s mind to a different time, a nostalgic trip to a more peaceful time. A time before the night-long nightmares began.

He read the sounds vividly and depended on the rattling from the China cabinet to announce the next person coming down the stairs. The importance of that announcement was incalculable when the teen-age Cole sat on the sofa with his high school sweetheart – with the lights off.

The staccato, high-pitch “ping” of the cream-colored gravy boat was a dead giveaway for his sister, Penny. The cabinet doors emitted a low, prolonged growl of sorts, sometimes barely perceptible, when his dead approached the top of the stairs. Now even that sensation slipped further away with each nightmare seizure. The missing pieces of memories cried out for exposure from the fog and static in Cole’s mind, and the mental chaos blocked the signature rattling. Now Cole felt like a stranger in the creaking, noisy house, sitting on the sofa, more like an unannounced houseguest, waiting for his dad to summon his mom from her bedroom. This time, he said to himself for the thousandth time, she’s going to tell me the truth.

Cole missed the China cabinet’s high-pitched pinging announcement that Penny was on her way downstairs. A shadow on the wall below the off-key musical bird clock was the giveaway that Penny was finished having another whispered conversation with their mother upstairs. His sister’s tired eyes were full of disappointment. It was a stinging look that Cole knew well.

“Cole, you’re such a moron.” His sister shook her head slowly. “You just can’t let it go.”

Next time Cole’s childhood home comes into the picture, I’m hoping you’ll “see” the sounds, and feel that the creaking floors are as important to the scene as the cacophony of misfiring synapses in Cole’s mind.

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Cave song

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

A memoir-in-progress of my life’s spiritual journey, centered on but not always about Wednesday night prayer meetings of my childhood and teen years.

 

Caves have impeccable acoustics.

There’s a cave at Windermere Baptist Conference Center near Lake of the Ozarks. In September 1981, a group I was with from the Baptist Student Union in Warrensburg left a late Saturday night worship service as part of a weekend youth conference. Instead of heading back to our cabins – men and women had separate quarters, of course – we instead hung out on the grounds, somehow staying in the shadows and avoiding the slow, sweeping beam of a night watchman’s flashlight.

We were under direct orders – both from conference staff and our BSU director – that anyone not in bed with lights out at the stroke of midnight wouldn’t be allowed on future trips.

There were other, non-specific consequences, the type that 18- and 19-year-old Baptists flatly ignored.

There were about 15 in the group I was in, so we must have felt braver en masse. Just after midnight we dashed from the cover of a shadow into the cave. I wouldn’t say I was the ring-leader, but I was in front with one of our two flashlights. Someone in the back had the other flashlight.

I don’t remember the cave having much length, and as I recall it had a shallow spring that seeped from under a dead-end wall. When we reached that point, I switched off my flashlight. The girls screamed. (And probably some of the guys, too). Then the flashlight in the back went off.

I started the praise chorus, “Alleluia.” That was the first verse. Just “alleluia,” sung to very simple, harmonious chords. Second verse was “I will praise him, repeated eight times, following the same simple chords. Third verse was “He’s my Savior.”

Back in Warrensburg, I’d auditioned and was selected for “Testimony,” the BSU’s touring music group. I never was sure whether to sing bass or tenor – or just carry the melody. One of my group-mates, Elaine Black, had one of the most effortless soprano voices I’ve ever heard. She was somewhere in the group of singing Christian rebels that bathed the limestone cave walls and ceiling with rich harmony.

Gently powerful.

We finished the song, I think someone probably prayed – we’d have lost our Baptist cards if someone hadn’t prayed – and just as I flipped my flashlight back on, the applause of one person approached from the entrance.

The night watchman.

As he wiped tears from his eyes, he whispered, “You kids get to your bunks.” He thanked each of us as we walked past him, following his quiet order.

“Testimony” was a musical experience I had from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1982, maybe eight or nine months. We sang in all corners of the state, visited every group member’s home church (mine was Faith Baptist in Belle, Mo.), and sang at every nursing home or veterans home in the western half of the state.

My hands-down, favorite piece we sang was a chorale, “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All”  — a capella, of course. It was the most challenging piece in our repertoire, so naturally we worked on it the most. And we performed it exceptionally well. I loved the bass line and even though I haven’t sung that song in almost 30 years, the memory is crystal clear. We had quite a few upbeat songs and my group-mates teased me – kind-heartedly, of course – about my preference for more sacred, slower pieces, such as “Jesus My Lord …”

We sang at a nursing home – in Clinton, I think – and the scene, as it is in most nursing homes, was just sad and depressing. That particular performance was especially uncomfortable and awkward. You could say we just weren’t “feelin’ it.”

That changed when we sang “Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.” As we sang the final measures, one old woman with a walker slowly made her way to the front. She stood in front of us, stepped away from her walker, and motioned to our director, Jon, to have all 10 of us kneel in a circle. In complete silence, she shuffled from person to person, placing her hands on each of our heads. Jon said she was praying. I didn’t hear it.

But I could feel it.

So I leave you with a treasure I found early this morning on YouTube: Jesus My Lord, My Life, My All.

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Filed under Inspiration, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

A three-piece suit and wavy hair

Countdown to Kianna

10, 9, 8 … Kianna, please don’t be late. 7, 6, 5, 4 … Four more days — and no more?

Kishia and Darnell so carefully planned our first grandbaby’s addition into their lives, timing this grand event to meet career, school and financial goals. With that regard, it’s “mission accomplished.” In more than one way, increasing the size of the Brown family was practically scripted.

Until now.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Kianna might not be following the script. She’s due on Sunday – four days from now. She’s in position, mom-to-be Kishia is beyond ready to be un-pregnant, and daddy Darnell needs his daughter to keep him company in that rocker.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

October 1981: Vocalist Jodie, organist Mrs. Irene Grossenheider.

Mrs. Irene Grossenheider was old even to the old people at Faith Baptist Church in Belle, Mo., when I was in high school. She taught piano to hundreds and multiple generations of children. And as the church organist, she knew only one tempo: Hers.

On the rare occasion that I was the worship service song leader, I followed her, even though I used one arm to “conduct” and keep the beat, matching my arm and hand motions to the meter of the song. Mrs. Grossenheider told me she appreciated the way I led, but I think she mostly appreciated that I was really matching my arm movement to her organ-playing.

It was her beat – possibly multiple beats, especially if the hymn was written with a 6/8 time signature. She’d speed up, she’d slow down. She was in command. My youngest sis, Kathy, and I still share a chuckle about Mrs. Grossenheider’s style. It’s not a disrespectful chuckle, but something we remember with incredible fondness. And when you added my mother to the mix, the musical dynamics really ramped up – and not in the hymn notations.

Mom is a classical-trained vocalist and director. SHE would determine the beat and meter. Mix that attention to technical detail with an elderly organist who thought that SHE was setting the beat, and what resulted was Mom practically stomping a foot, looking Mrs. Grossenheider’s way to signal, “Follow ME.” But Mrs. Grossenheider followed herself. Where there was no retard (pronounced “ruh-tard,” meaning slowing or slackening in tempo), Mrs. Grossenheider threw one in, typically in the last few measures of the last stanza.

Those memories and nostalgic laughter came rushing back recently when I found a photo of me with Mrs. Grossenheider. Sure, my three-piece suit and permed hair are worth a laugh, but often it’s what we see on the periphery that gives any scene the most context. The photo shows the attendance and hymn boards. See? Proof of what I’ve said a few times in Jackson’s Journal about Sunday night attendance dropping off dramatically from Sunday morning. The Wednesday night crowd was even smaller.

Then my eye caught the board listing the hymns. I knew that hymn 41 was “To God be the Glory.” I’ll know that forever in the same way I’ll never forget the words to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song; the same way that “The Beverly Hillbillies” theme sometimes randomly turns on in my head. I pulled my Baptist Hymnal off the shelf to see the other hymns, and it was only fitting that hymn No. 434, “Serve the Lord with Gladness,” has a 6/8 time signature. I suddenly heard Mrs. Grossenheider play the final line of the chorus: “Wonderful is His name,” (slower) “We gladly serve Him,” (even slower) “His great” (verrrry slow) “love proclaim.”

I’m laughing, but please don’t misinterpret my emotion. I’m not poking fun, no more than I was making fun last Wednesday when I recounted Brother Keithley’s drawn-out prayer-starter, “Our Heavenly Father …” The hymns, the prayers, the strong if not rigid examples of faith and practice set by the elderly men and women helped keep me grounded. I am eternally grateful.

When I was 16, 17 years old, few parts of my life were predictable, but I found reliable structure inside the walls of Faith Baptist Church. Mrs. Grossenheider’s organ-playing and Bro. Keithley’s prayers were constant, consistent and predictable. I mean that in the most positive way possible.

Incidentally, the other hymns listed were #330, “Teach Me to Pray,” and #232, “I Am Praying For You.”

I had no idea why I had a picture taken with Mrs. Grossenheider until I turned the photo over to place it on the scanner. This is what’s written on the back:

“To Jodie who sang beautifully

Toleda and Terry Jett’s wedding

Oct. 25, 1981

Mrs. Irene Grossenheider, organist

Miss Kathy Jackson, pianist”

Sorry, but I have no recollection of singing or what I sang. I’m even more baffled that I sang at all, considering my sister was the pianist. She was Toleda (Backues) Jett’s classmate and her vocal skills were far superior to mine. But I was asked to sing?

Here’s our music for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting: an oldie and a more contemporary tune. “To God be the Glory” and Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei.” The latter is a 10-minute video. Even a Southern Baptist might find himself raising his hands by about the three-minute mark.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #33

I haven’t been on my “A” game this week. Gee, I can’t think of anything that would steal my focus and keep me kinda anxious.

Oh, yeah: You.

Your Grammy said last night, “I can’t wait to see her little face!” Kianna, you have already brought infinite joy to your parents and grandparents.

Now hurry up and get here. Grandpa’s got some spoiling to do.

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Filed under Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

“And bless this service we’re about to endure”

Countdown to Kianna

Darnell and Kishia (Jackson) Brown’s tiny little human girl is due to arrive in 15, 14, 13, 12 … 11 days.

New mom Kishia reported yesterday that Kianna Allene Brown has run out of room to stretch. But, my daughter told me, “It’s not happening today. I just don’t ‘feel it.’ ”

So the countdown continues …

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

Have you ever known a prayer warrior? You know, the kind of spiritual giant who seemed to have a gift of prayer? My lifetime list of prayer warriors is headed by spiritual giants who were women, usually older and sometimes frail. I’m thinking of Faith Baptist Church prayer warriors Mary Peters, Viola Terwilliger and Jewel Smith. I’m not sure it’s right to think this way, but when they prayed, God shushed the heavenly host, leaned with his ear toward the prayer warrior, and listened a little more closely.

My mom has described her mother that way, and I count my mom, my wife and my daughters as prayer warriors. They have unleashed Light during the times when my life was most dark.

I’m thinking of Jewel Smith, wife of Virgil, both of them long since entered into Gloryland. One of the tasks of a preacher was to call on someone to pray to open the service, to bless the offering, to end the service. (The Manual of Proper Baptist Etiquette called for a minimum of three prayers). Sometimes the Sunday morning bulletin had those prayer duties already assigned, which inevitably led to awkward silence when the designated pray-er played hooky from church.

Hold on … sorry. We’ve gone too far in without a song. What was I thinking?

First up is a contemporary worship song, Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.” (For reasons I can’t explain, I sing “I Will Rise” to Bella, our Brussels griffon, when I give her a bath. The song lasts just long enough for a little dog’s bath).

Now for an oldie, an incredible arrangement of “At the Cross,” performed by the Gaither Vocal Band.

Amen.

Wednesday night prayer meeting was different. There was no quota of prayers, but instead a “season of prayer,” where anyone who wanted to pray would simply take one person’s “Amen” as a cue to begin the next prayer. (Everybody knows I’m kidding about the Manual that I mentioned, right?) And there was no set lineup, as it were, for the many prayers that would be said, some with Shakespeare-esque quality and a liberal application of thees, thines and thous, and Brother Rufus Keathley’s legendary prayer starter, “Our Heavenly Father,” drawn out in a way that said, “There’s about to be some serious prayin’ so stop what you’re doing and pay attention.”

As I remember, you had to pay attention longer than at any other time when Bro. Keathley prayed. (What I would give to hear one of those prayers now.)

Sometimes the pastor got the round of prayers going; at other times he’d call on someone. If you were keeping track — and I always was, apparently, because I remember this stuff 40 years later — everyone knew that Virgil Smith didn’t pray out loud very often. If he was called on to pray, with something like, “Brother Virgil, would you please open us in prayer?,” he’d quietly clear his throat and say, “Jewel.”

And Jewel Smith didn’t pray gentle, little old lady prayers. Her prayers often had a storm-the-gates-of-hell edge to them, as if demons and angels were sparring at that very moment.

You never knew how someone would react when they were called on to pray. After all, you might catch them off guard, as if they’re expecting to bat clean-up or hit ninth, but suddenly they’re told, “You’re leading off.”

From 1987 to 1991 I was pastor of New Salem Baptist Church in Gasconade County. Ours was a small congregation – 25 was a crowd — and it’s the church where everyone except my bride Kelly brought beanie-weanies for a carry-in dinner one Sunday.

Some things you never forget.

Rosemary Howard was one of those people you never forget. Quiet, unassuming, dutifully doting on her husband, Daniel, and son, Dale. She didn’t look like a prayer warrior and had an otherwise passive demeanor. But, man, could she pray!

But she rarely led off. One Sunday morning as we prepared to begin worship, I requested that Sister Rosemary open in prayer. The look on her face, though, relayed complete bewilderment. I’d caught her off-guard. She took a breath and quickly uttered: “Lord, please bless this service we’re about to endure. Amen.”

Endure?

After the service I kidded her about her choice of words, and she didn’t realize what she’d said. It was a sweet moment … One of those moments you never forget.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #26

The time is getting so close, Little Princess. I should probably be using this time to tell you a little bit about the people you’re going to meet. What? You want to know a little about Grandpa? Well …

I’m sort of weird. Sometimes. For instance, I’m a really picky eater, and I often smell my food before eating it. I mean up-close smell. Grab a cupcake from co-worker Catherine Martin. Smell it. Pour a bowl of cereal. Smell it. Mmmm! French fries! Smell ’em.

Yeah, weird.

I am also known to laugh out loud at the most random moments, sometimes in non-laughing circumstances. Maybe I’ll remember a “Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy” as I’m going through the check-out at the grocery store, and I’ll laugh. And not just a little bit or a little chuckle. I might lose it.

What do you know? I’m laughing now. I’m just so excited, so happy. So anxious to see you.

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion