Precious memories|Many a good story from inside Wayside’s walls

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 19, 2009

“What I like about your preaching, Harvey, is that you don’t show your education,” a member of Wayside Baptist Church once told Dr. Harvey Dana many years ago.

He said it as a compliment, for Dr. Dana certainly could have shown his education. He grew up here, one of the Danas on Dana Road. He attended a one-room school through the eighth grade, later passed an entrance exam to Mississippi College, and got his master’s degree from Northwestern and his doctorate in Hebrew and Greek from Heidelberg University in Germany.

He preached his first sermon at Wayside, when it was just a Sunday school and he a teenager. He became a noted theologian, but he always loved to come back to Wayside. That’s where his memories of church began.

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And so do mine.

Going to church was as much a part of growing up as Tuesday was wash day. Sunday school was every Sunday afternoon with preaching twice a month. The pastors of First Baptist in Vicksburg and Utica Baptist served Wayside on a part-time basis, enabling the small country congregation to enjoy the services of such noted ministers as Dr. J.C. Greenoe and Dr. D. Swan Hayworth. In 1947, the congregation called a full-time pastor, Richard Bradford, and services were held in the mornings.

Wayside began as Antioch in 1819, moved to Fisher’s Ferry in 1834, then in the 1920s moved to Jeff Davis Road where a Sunday school, called Wayside, had been organized. It was in 1948 that the church legally changed its name to Wayside, and some former members held services for several years in the old Antioch building.

Visiting preachers usually stayed with us, and I remember some very well — and also some incidents.

He was a student at Mississippi College when William P. Davis pastored Wayside. In later years, he earned his doctorate in theology and held some pretty big posts among the Baptists, but he never forgot his beginnings.

Dr. Davis returned to Wayside in the 1950s to hold a revival, and he reminisced about his youthful pastorate. One story he told was the time he ate dinner with Mrs. Schnetzler, who lived on the old Luckett place. The house was a modest one, and there were no screens on the windows. Dinner was served at the kitchen table, and when Dr. Davis completed the blessing of the food, a hen cackled her approval as she lay an egg in her nest in the corner and flew out the window. Talk about fresh eggs!

Though it was a small country church, Wayside had the advantage over some, for the best-known preachers in the Southern Baptist denomination often stood behind its pulpit. One was Dr. Scotchy McCall from the seminary in Louisville, Ky. He was a stocky man with a shock of white bushy hair, and he could hold the attention of almost everyone.

I remember Dr. McCall illustrating a sermon with a story of a cat chasing a mouse. The chase began slowly, stealthily, but both animals gained momentum as they ran. Dr. McCall’s voice illustrated the story well — low and slow, a little louder and a little faster, and when the cat caught the mouse, the preacher’s voice boomed and he clapped his hands — and the one person asleep in church, Joyce Cogan, fell off the bench.

There were musical moments at Wayside I’ll never forget. During revivals, a Mr. Morgan would come from First Baptist in town to lead the singing. We weren’t used to anyone who could read music. Will Luckett was the leader when I was a child  — about all I recall was he loved to sing “Count Your Blessings.” Later Milton Hullum was the leader, and — bless his heart — every song he knew, which was about half a dozen, had only two tempos — slow and slower. Add to that the fact that his wife, Birdie Jacob Hullum, was the pianist for the morning service. Miss Birdie played with a flourish, covering up the sour notes and occasionally bursting into whistling.

There was no controlling the kids. We didn’t just snicker — we laughed out loud. My daddy always thought that was one of the reasons that, when I grew up, I switched to a church without instrumental music.

The music at Wayside picked up considerably when a few new families moved into the community. They were the Cowarts and the Williamses, and Estus Cowart and Marie Williams were sisters. They were part of the Conrad family, a musically talented bunch. The two ladies sang specials and were often called on to sing at funerals. One Sunday, their brother George was there, and the pianist wasn’t. George played the piano — a little different tempo from what folks were used to, a sound reminiscent of the Blackwood Brothers (a famous quartet of the time). Daddy called the music “skipping along with Jesus.” You could hear a little boogie creeping in. It was so refreshing!

But back to Mr. Morgan, the revival song leader. He pranced back and forth across the room, flinging his arm, trying to get the congregation to sing. One night, he walked right off the rostrum, which was about a foot higher than the rest of the floor. He fell flat on his face. Fortunately, all he hurt was his pride. But we country folks felt a little smug.

One scene I’ll never forget was the arrival of folks at church. Everyone had his/her regular parking spot. We pulled beside the church in my grandmother’s Chevrolet, and Mr. and Mrs. Ansel Jones parked right behind us in a classic Dodge. Both cars were the color of dirt, very appropriate for the unpaved roads. Mr. Charlie Faulk and his wife, Alice (who was a Hullum), usually came in the school bus he drove, and so did Mr. Romey Hullum and his wife, Miss Pearla.

The most unforgettable arrival, was that of Mrs. Mamie Goodrum. You could hear the tractor engine long before it came into view, Miss Mamie at the wheel, wearing her little veiled hat and dress with a lace collar. All knew that her husband, Mr. Bruce Goodrum, was out of sorts — like a horse with its tail over the dashboard, as Aunt Malena would have said. His orneriness didn’t keep his wife from church. She couldn’t drive a car, but she could put that tractor in gear and go! This was a far cry from the Quaker background and Boston environs where she grew up.

Farmer Kelly and Walne Foster built the sanctuary, which was completed in 1931. One end was attached to the old Sunday school rooms, the other stretched out 36 feet with the end under the pulpit high off the ground. One Sunday, it became a haven for the Cogan’s pigs. It was a cold day, and they squealed and rooted as they sought the warmth of the bottom of the pile. They were louder than the preacher (and some of them were pretty loud).

Behind the pulpit were two chairs for the pastor and visiting preacher, and one Sunday when a prospective pastor came for his “trial sermon,” my daddy introduced him, but he just sat there for a few moments — trying to untangle his feet that he had somehow entwined in the rungs of the chair.

I don’t remember a single sermon I ever heard when I was a child, but I vividly recall some of those fine folks at Wayside who had a lasting influence on me.

There was Mrs. Estus Cowart, Mrs. Pauline Sharp, Mrs. Janie Fuller, Mrs. Doris Curtis, Mr. Ansel Jones, Mr. Romeo Hullum, Mr. Charley Luckett — and there were others. They lived their sermons every day.

I’d rather see a sermon anytime than hear one.

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.