Very good girls go to church

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

As daughters of the South, my sister, Judy, and I grew up in the church. When we were home in Hixson, Tennessee, we went to daddy’s Methodist Church, and during our frequent stays at my grandmother’s home in Dayton, Tennessee, we went to our mother’s Cumberland, Presbyterian Church.

Both churches were mid-sized, but the Methodist one had a slightly declined floor and contained a feature I’ve never seen since: a Cry Room. Parents whose baby was having a grumpy day would retreat to the back of the sanctuary and enter a soundproofed, glassed-in room. The congregation then couldn’t hear the baby, but because there was a speaker in the room, the parents could still hear the sermon. I’m sure the parents were happy to have a place in which to retreat.

When we were Presbyterians, mother sat with us, but when we were Methodists, our daddy sat in the back in what was known as the Amen Corner. One would think that left us unsupervised, but the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools, Sam McConnell, and his teacher wife, Inez, sang in the choir. Mr. McConnell was a friend of daddy’s, a tall man who could lift one eyebrow and strike fear in the hearts of children everywhere. Whenever we got too wiggly, Mr. McConnell would lift that eyebrow and we would immediately settle down.

Hixson UMC

The Methodist church included several little girls around our age and every Sunday we’d fill up a pew. It was important to spread one’s skirts to their best advantage while not encroaching on your neighbor’s skirts. After we were settled, we’d look at our church bulletins, busily tearing out small corners to mark the place of the hymns to be sung. Besides the 7-8 girls, our pew also contained the McConnells’ four-year-old son, Jack. We girls were expected to keep Jack in line, a task we took seriously. After all, we were very good girls.

A pew of little girls sitting through a sermon that they mostly don’t understand can be boring. Once, near the end of a sermon, I took off a dime store ring I always wore and started rolling it up and down my hymnal. All the girls and Jack were interested. It was a game to see how close to the edge of the hymnal I could get my ring.

Predictively, the ring fell off the hymnal, ping, ping, pinging its way down that slanted floor. All of us immediately dropped to the floor to see where the ring had gone. Simultaneously, the last hymn of the service was being sung and everyone stood. At that moment, my ring launched itself around a spike high heel worn by Mrs. Dyer, a rather formidable fifth-grade teacher. As soon as the service was over, we all ran down the aisle to find my ring. There it was, perfectly fine.

Thankfully, Mrs. Dyer was gone. We all started laughing.

Can you imagine hearing that little ring pinging in the silence of a church, followed by 7-8 children jumping down and looking under the pews? What amusement and entertainment we must have given to those lovely, tolerant church members. Except for Mr. McConnell’s eyebrow, we were never reprimanded. We were allowed to be children who understood church and tried as best we could, and consequently, have wonderful memories of that time. After all, we were very good girls.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell.

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