A few weeks ago I saw an old friend from my childhood whom I had not seen in many, many years. During our time of getting reacquainted and catching up with one another’s lives, I mentioned to Sandy that I was going to write a story about our time of singing together in the choir at church. She said that would be fine, so this particular story is about Sandy and the bygone days when we worked in tobacco together and sang in the choir.
As I said, Sandy and I attended the same church right up until the time I married and started attending a Baptist church with my husband. Even in my early childhood when my family lived in Lumberton, whenever we visited my grandparents, we would go to Jones Methodist Church in the Derby Community of Richmond County. That is the church where all of my father’s family attended after they moved here from Gaston County. During my early childhood years, there were still quite a few of the Rankin families who attended church there and lots of others who visited there whenever they were in the area. Sadly enough, I don’t know of any of my relatives who attend that church today.
For those of you who are not familiar with Jones Springs Methodist Church, it is probably one of the most beautiful country churches you could ever hope to see. It sits on a little knoll among some stately trees and has a little branch of water running along in front of it. It’s made of brick with a steeple on top and an old bell in front of it which is encased in brick. That bell used to always be rung by one of the boys in the church each Sunday morning when it was time for church to begin.
In those days, just as today, there were three Methodist churches that shared the same pastor. The pastor really had his work cut out for him on Sunday because he preached at all three of those churches each and every Sunday morning. Of course, he preached the same sermon at all three of those churches, but he really had to hustle to get from one service to another because it was probably about 20 miles per round trip for him. You can understand why preachers didn’t seem to stay in our area for any extended period of time. Methodist preachers are actually assigned to their churches — but if they are happy in one place, they can usually stay for a while if the congregation is in agreement about him staying on there. However, I could certainly understand why a preacher would rather have just one congregation to try and satisfy, as opposed to three different ones!
I started singing in the choir when I was 11 or 12 years old. I was probably prejudiced, but I always thought we had a good choir at Jones Springs. We had some good strong voices and a lot of faithful members who were always there to sing on Sunday mornings and for special occasions like funerals. Being a member of the choir takes faithful members if you do a special song every Sunday morning like we did back then. We didn’t sing along with canned music like so many do today, mainly because there was no canned music to sing along with! We never had a problem having someone to play the piano, either, because we always seemed to have someone available who did a great job.
We always sang the old hymns that so many churches have gotten away from today. I still dearly love those old hymns and can usually remember most of the words even today. That might sound strange because sometimes I can’t remember people’s names when I meet them on the street. A little while later their name might come to me and then I’ll think, “Maybe I don’t have Alzheimer’s yet since I eventually did remember their name — right?”
The choir section of the church had three short pews. The sopranos usually sat on the front row, the altos on the second row and the tenors and bass on the third. That is except for my friend Sandy, who sat on the third row with the men.
You see, voices are usually classified according to range, grade and somewhat according to their quality. The basic classifications – from high to low – are soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Soprano and alto usually designate high and low female voices and unchanged male (or boy) voices. Tenor and bass designate high and low changed male voices. A good example of unchanged boy voices is the Vienna Boys Choir. I have not had the pleasure of seeing and hearing them on television lately but I always enjoy them immensely whenever I do. Just think about it, though, whenever their boy voices start changing they have to be booted out of the choir. They can’t have them starting out singing those high notes and end up singing bass. Wow, what a disaster that would be.
Anyway, Sandy always sat on the back row with the men – Pappy, Raymond, Lonnie and Richard. I always liked to pick at her about singing bass with the men. Therefore, this is the song that came to mind when I was thinking about Sandy.
“Sandy sang bass.
“Pappy sang tenor.
“Me and all the others would join right in there.
“In the choir, yes, in the choir.”
I hope you have good memories of your childhood church just as I do. If a lot of those church members were also family like mine, that only makes it that much more special. If they were not blood relatives, I hope the members of that church made you feel like family, anyway.
Azalea R. Bolton is a resident of Richmond County, a member of the Story Spinners of Laurinburg, and a member of the Richmond and Anson County Historical Societies.