Friday, October 19, 2007

Memories 35 Years Old

We will start this little walk down memory lane with a picture taken inside the First Baptist Church of Smiley, Texas, while we were preparing for my father's memorial service last Saturday. This is the church of my childhood. It has been recently refurbished with carpeting, a new ceiling and new lights, but the basic elements are just as they were back in 1964 when we moved to Smiley from Victoria.

I was told that the Hammond organ on the front right is seldom used anymore. It was the instrument of choice back when I was a regular musician for the church. If there was only one musician available for a service, it was accepted that the one musician would play the organ. Let's just say that I put in plenty of time on both instruments during my 7 or so years as church musician in Smiley.

I'm always a little amazed when I experience physical memory. That is, your body remembers actions that you have not consciously thought of for many years. For instance, I really don't know what my password is to my office computer. My fingers know it, but if I try to consciously recall it, I have no idea what it is. If I think too hard about it, my fingers will even give up.

After the service, when most folks had departed, I could not resist going in and sitting at the organ for a few minutes. Without thinking, I opened the bench and reached inside to where my fingers knew the key would be waiting. I automatically folded the lid back and flipped the switches in the correct order to begin the warm up. These were all actions I have not performed in more than 35 years, but my fingers knew exactly what they were doing. I set the stops and the tone settings and played a couple of songs. It was like I had been playing it regularly for all those years.

The organ was donated to the church in 1949 by Mrs. O. R. Culpepper in memory of her husband. Mrs. Culpepper was a very old lady when I knew her and died shortly after we moved away. She was one of those sweet little ladies you sometimes have the fortune to count as a friend. She liked me and I liked her. She would pay me out of her pocket to work part-time in the Smiley Public Library during summers, a job I would have been happy to do for free.

Awhile after we had moved to Smiley, Mrs. Culpepper approached my father and told him that she had had a dedication plaque made for the organ several years before and wondered what he thought about her having it mounted on the organ. It was a dark metal, like aged bronze, and tastefully unobtrusive. He told her to go ahead.

If you've ever been a member of a small country church, you can probably guess what happened next. The family that had donated the pulpit immediately had a plaque engraved to be mounted on it. It was metal, but hardly unobtrusive. Large, shiny brass and they had it mounted it on the front of the pulpit where it could hardly be missed. There was no way to tell them they couldn't put it there, since a precedent had been set.

Sooo, someone went and bought an artificial plant to place in front of it to block the glare. (Let the war begin.)

Nothing happened for a few weeks, but then one Sunday morning we all arrived to find that some mysterious visitor had slipped into the church and cut the plant off at mid-height. (Those were the days when it was not necessary to lock the church day or night). There was a lot of speculation over who had felt moved to perform such a thing and I was questioned as a material witness, since I spent a good portion of my free time over in the church practicing the piano or the organ. Everyone knew that if I heard someone come in, I generally slipped quietly back into my father's office and out the side door. That particular day I had not been around to see the culprit arrive and so was fortunately not required to testify against one of the church members.

You know, if I had a dollar for every song I ever played in that church auditorium, I would be set for retirement. To return to that auditorium after so many years was familiar, yet strange. Home is where your heart, and your memories, live.


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