When the newspaper reporter called to set up an interview for the story she was writing on my newest book, she said, “We need to shoot a photo, too. Do you have any suggestions for a good location?”
As a matter of fact, I did. Since the newspaper was located in the county where Mama had first laid eyes on Daddy and since that place was a church and since the new book was on faith, it seemed like the perfect place.
I explained. “Mama was the daughter of a preacher. Daddy was the son of a renegade but faith brought them together at a tiny church way up in the mountains called Corinth. Why don’t we shoot it there?”
The afternoon of the photo appointment, I took the long, scenic drive that twists and turns around beautiful rivers and towering, majestic hardwoods as the road climbs up the mountain. I thought back to another afternoon drive several years ago when Mama was traveling with me on a weeklong book tour through Mississippi. Since it was nearing the one-year anniversary of daddy’s death, I asked Mama to join me as a way of keeping her mind off the loss we had all felt so keenly.
It was a sunny autumn day as we drove the Natchez Trace. Mama, somehow, fell into a long, winding story about the day they met. I grabbed a tape recorder, placed it on the console between us and let it run while she talked.
“I had already left home and gone to Gainesville to work in the hosiery mill. Since I was makin’ good money, I always dressed to beat the band. I had on a light blue suit, high heel pumps that matched and the prettiest little hat that was the exact shade of the suit. I was so proud of how dressed up I was and how pretty I looked.”
Mama and my granddaddy were there to attend the church’s baptizing in the nearby river, and as fate would have it, one of the redeemed sinners baptized that day was the man who would be my daddy.
“I’ll never forget it.” She smiled and a dreamy look crossed her eyes. “He was dressed in a dark blue, double-breasted suit. I pointed my finger toward him and said to Daddy, “See that good-lookin’ boy over there? I’m gonna marry him.”
It was two years later before again they met but that good-lookin’ boy hunted down that beautiful girl in the pretty blue hat and set about courtin’ her. A year later, they married and stayed put in those bonds of matrimony until death put it asunder 58 years later.
Sentimentally, I absorbed the details of the countryside, still remote after all these years. I turned off the blacktop road and eased my car over the crunching gravel of the one-car dirt road that went precariously straight up a hill. Perched sweetly on the top of a hill, within spitting distance of where the Appalachian Trail begins, sat a tiny, white clapboard church with a little steeple beside a cemetery filled with ancient markers. I stepped out of the car as Dixie Dew jumped out and ran straight for the front stoop. I followed and sat down on the steps to take a long, appraising look around.
Time, it seems, has forgotten the precious quaint church, which stands so strong in the history of my family. It was where Daddy found the Lord and Mama found Daddy. And the three of them — Daddy, Mama and the Lord — would become quite a trio over the next half century as Daddy announced his calling to preach and Mama followed Daddy wherever Daddy followed the Lord.
The little church, long abandoned by a full-time congregation, may have been forgotten by others. But as for me and my family, we shall always remember.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of the book, “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter here.