Though time has mostly forgotten it because all the people who knew it and lived it have died, it’s hard to deny — mainly due to the effect it had on Daddy throughout his life.
Times were hard in those Appalachian mountains of Daddy’s upbringing. The Depression loomed large. The hard, nutrient-starved, red dirt grew little. There was no electricity and little warmth during the icy winters. Newspapers were stuffed in the holes of the walls of shacks that could barely withstand the winds.
Many a man drank, partaking of a brew that had been cooked from corn mash and fresh spring waters. When my granddaddy drank, he drank plenty — trying to forget the desperation of a life that held little hope. And when he drank enough to take him away from his normal good senses, he was mean and unbearable. My Maw-Maw left and took their two girls. Daddy stayed until he could take it no more, then he ran away and lived, secretly, in the barns of various farmers for three weeks.
“I know that Ralph had a hard time as a boy,” Mama said. “But when Mr. Satterfield found the Lord after me and Ralph got married, there was no finer man anywhere. I thought the world of him.”
On one hand, I can count the people that Mama thought the world of, so that says a lot right there.
In 1933, though, he was not a righteous man of the Lord. Daddy’s Uncle Oscar Cannon found out that Daddy had “runned off,” as saith my mountain people. He searched until he found him and offered him a home. Aunt Fairy welcomed Daddy with a warm hug and a cast iron skillet of cornbread. He had had little to eat in days so he hungrily stuffed it into his mouth, washing it down with fresh buttermilk from the Cannon’s cow.
Cornbread and buttermilk would become his favorite meal. Mama often cooked him a small skillet of bread which he crumbled into a bowl and pour buttermilk over.
“Now, that’s some fine eatin’,” he said more than once. “I’ll never forget how good it tasted when I was half-starved to death.”
Uncle Oscar and Aunt Fairy were faithful members of Corinth Baptist Church, a 25-minute wagon ride away from their farm at Turner’s Corner, Georgia. In 1934, a new road was put in that would require the small clapboard church to be moved about a mile away. Uncle Oscar, a mountain legend of almost mythic proportion, did what he always did best: He put his common sense to work and figured out how to disassemble the church and move it, by wagon, to the spot where it sits today.
I do not know this for a fact but I suspect that Daddy, along with his first cousins, helped Uncle Oscar move the church. Daddy was living with the Cannons — he was 14 — and Daddy always took, unflinchingly, to hard work.
Corinth Baptist Church and the kindly Cannons were the reason that Daddy was launched into a good and decent life. He gave his heart to the Lord at Corinth and on the day he was baptized in the nearby Chestatee River, he met Mama in the churchyard.
“I’m going to marry that boy one day,” she announced to her Daddy, Rev. Ance Miller.
It’s hard to say why it happened but, over the decades that followed, people began to fall away from Corinth. The nearby Mt. Pisgah (pronounced Pis-gee) became a more popular church and even Uncle Oscar and Aunt Fairy are buried in the scenic Mt. Pleasant Methodist Cemetery down the way. Eventually the church was closed down and locked up.
That is, until two country preachers got it in their heads that the church should be dusted off and revival sought.
What followed was simply astounding to watch.
Catch the conclusion to this column next Saturday in The Times.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.