Now a days we build churches that are functional and sleek and have good traffic flow. Back when I was little that was not so true. Our church sanctuary was the typical white box with the high steeple. The “Sunday School Building,” however, was a converted ante-bellum mansion with a modern classroom wing that ran across to the sanctuary. The children’s classes were held in the old building. My kindergarten class was in this huge room that once served as a ballroom. The room had twenty-foot ceilings, beautiful trim work and fourteen foot many paned windows. Standing in the sill, my head barely reached the second set of panes…there were probably six sets. It was a surreal feeling standing in those windows looking out on another world…the property of the church was basically a city block which had once been the domain of the home. Huge oak trees were spread across the green grassed square, fingers barely touching. Squirrels ran between them along the trees’ long arms. The front porch of the house was wide and breezy, the rails filigreed ironwork. The front door was massive and oak. I can so vividly remember the feel of the big brass handle in my little hand. The glorious inner stairway came to an end right at the doorway of my kindergarten classroom. It was a long twisted number that I must have slid down hundreds of times, regardless of the little old ladies’ warnings about falling and dresses. I never fell. Can’t be so sure about the immodesty. The majority of the church members were definitely Blue-Hairs. About the only middle-aged folks at Young Harris were the sons or daughters of the old members. We didn’t have many youth, but those who came were faithful and faithfully shepherded by a family with a heart for young people. We, the children, fared better. We were doted on and spoiled by most all of the old people. There were always surprises pulled from purses and sticks of chewing gum that appeared from the coat pockets of the old men. The church calendar was nothing like my church’s today. There was the Fall Bazaar and the Christmas Social and the Spring BBQ and a series of senior citizen trips that carted away most of the membership. Most events centered on food more than spiritual formation, but the fare that they brought was always homemade and always their very best recipe and as such made every gathering a spiritual one. When Laura and I grew older my family changed its membership to the local suburban Methodist church. It had a well-organized youth program for its many young people. There were lots of good things about changing to Tuckston UMC. My mind and spirit flourished in the new environ, but my heart never cleaved from Young Harris. Of course, I married at Young Harris. It was perfect for weddings, the gorgeous grounds, the staircases and windows and beautiful porch. They didn’t have many weddings with their demographics and all so the ladies went all out. There were beautiful homegrown arranged flowers in every room of the great house and of course in the sanctuary compliments of Nana’s Sunday School friends.
When Nana died we sent her off from Young Harris. It was spring. I dressed my girls in bright green and white dotted dresses. We took pictures in the great windows and took a turn down “Nana’s banister.” Finally released, Trent, tied and smartly shod, rambled all over the houses’ tree guarded domain with the five girl cousins tumbling behind. When we had finished hugging necks and hearing sweet tales about Sara, my Nana, we gathered the great-grandchildren at the large cast iron bell now anchored in the churchyard. The bell once hung in the steeple; now new electric chimes graced that space. The bell had been spotted by the great grands on visits before. When Nana died and we told them we were going to Nana’s church for the funeral, their first question was,”Can we ring the bell?” Young Harris didn’t ring out the age of a member at her passing anymore as a matter of practice. But no one took issue with the great grandchildren’s request. They each held the pull and heaved…three long peals rang her home. I have been in Alabama nearly twenty years. When I die, I want to go home. I want my kids to take pictures of their children in the great windows, to let them romp about grass under the canopy of the majestic trees and ring that bell as long as they like.