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Old-timey church meetings

One of my favorite boyhood experiences was attending the all-day meetings that took place in small rural churches in our area.

Church calendars were sprinkled with themed events such as homecomings, revival meetings and fifth Sunday singings during the months of July, August and September. Although small in number and short on resources, members went the extra mile to give their visitors something worthy of remembering.

The order of the day consisted of Sunday school, morning worship, dinner on the grounds and a gospel singing in the afternoon. It was not unusual for such events to attract an overflow crowd and leave some attendees standing on the outside waiting for the dinner break. The booking of two or three widely-known out-of-state gospel quartets added to their popularity.

Planning such events on late summer dates was a guarantee for success since farm families were awaiting the harvest of their cotton and corn crops. They would travel long distances to hear their favorite gospel singers perform. Kids would ride in the beds of pickup trucks and breathe the dust from dirt roads until they reached their destination.  

My family’s love of gospel music came naturally. 

My maternal grandfather, Daniel Perry, a widower during World War II, was a skilled harpist and singer. He served as a chairman for gospel singings throughout Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee for many years. His eldest son Horace, a career barber, and his wife Alma performed as members of a well-known gospel-singing quartet at one time. 

My mother, Ruby Perry Knight, was one of 13 children and a talented musician and singer in her own right. Most of her siblings were also music talents and could be heard blending their voices to music anytime they were together in groups of two or more. 

Their rendition of favorite gospel songs was always a highlight at Perry family reunions. 

These all-day get-togethers were also famous for their dinners on the ground. Churches of that day were equipped with long, handcrafted wooden tables that stood underneath huge shade trees. Families cooked their Sunday dinners and packed them in baskets and boxes for mealtime on those special events.

Food was spread on the table and covered with cloths until hungry attendees were gathered and a blessing was spoken. In the meantime, us kids surveyed the food in search of our favorite delicacy: banana sandwiches. We’d position ourselves close by and grab a couple of them before looking anywhere else. At the same time, adults were filling their paper plates with fried chicken, creamed field corn, fried okra, fried fruit pies, blackberry cobbler pie and coconut cake.