Sunday mornings consisted of getting up, eating the wonderful breakfast that my Nanny had made which 99% of the time included pork (sausage, streaked meat, backbones or bacon), eggs, gravy and homemade biscuits. (Side note: Streak-ed (two syllables) meat or fatback was our own version of bacon. It was salted and cured, and when fried crispy, was to die for!)
After breakfast it was time to get ready for church. The pretty brick church we attended was only about a mile-and-a-half from our house. It had a tall white steeple and you could hear the church bell ringing across the valley on Sunday mornings and special occasions.
As kids, that bell always intrigued us! It hung in the base of our church steeple and was attached to a thick, scratchy brown rope that came down through a small hole in the church porch ceiling. If you were small and lucky enough to get to hold on to the big rope and help ring it on Sundays it would actually lift you off the ground as it retracted back into the ceiling for the next ring. Because this was such fun for us, the grown-ups had to put the rope high on a nail that we little ones couldn’t reach. This prevented the random ringing of the bell during church pot lucks or any other time we were “set free” to roam. (Hint: If you got a long stick, and were ready to face the repercussions, you could reach up and coax the rope off the nail and swing up and down on that rope with the bell ringing to your hearts content. Or, until the grown-ups came to stop you.)
Church clothes (for me a dress, scratchy, itchy tights that never seemed to come up far enough and nice shoes) were always a must for Sunday morning except when we had hay rides in the Fall. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing to get to wear jeans to church on hayride Sundays! You definitely didn’t want to get hay in those tights!
Then there were those Sundays where you were expected to take a little extra care with your clothes and appearance. Those were Easter (yep we wore new hats with our Easter dresses), Christmas, and Homecoming or Decoration.
The third Sunday in June was our church’s Homecoming. People came from “away” to pay tribute to their relatives and friends that are buried in our community cemetery. Most of them would attend church and then eat a huge, scrumptious pot luck meal prepared by the church members afterwards. I remember long tables full of meats, casseroles (LOTS of casseroles), salads and desserts. Oh my, the desserts! I can still taste Mrs. Hildred Sutherland’s coconut cream pie!
Again, being little, I just knew that we had to be on our best behavior during the special church service. No whispering, giggling, wiggling or sighs of pure boredom were allowed or you would certainly pay for it when you got home!
It was usually hot and the church was full. All the windows were open and the women fanned with their church bulletins. The choir would practice extra hard on a special song and the preacher always had a relevant sermon of remembrance and honor that didn’t last past noon because people knew what was waiting on them and were ready to eat!
The Comers Rock Cemetery would be decorated with flowers on every grave put there by family and friends. This is where the alternate name “Decoration” came from. I remember it made the cemetery look very pretty AND it gave my friend Marcia and I a good excuse to play in the cemetery while the adults talked, visited, and walked around viewing the graves.
Marcia and I loved looking at the gravestones that were so old the dates and names were almost worn off by the wind and weather. And then there was the line of graves marked with small white stones that had no lettering. Those always made us very curious.
We were careful to never step on a grave or play on a stone because that was disrespectful. But there was a small round grassy space surrounded by shrubs in the middle of the cemetery that was a great place to play, hide and stay out of the way. I don’t remember what we played or what all we pretended to be while we were in there…maybe I’ll ask Marcia one day.
Later that afternoon, after lunch had been served, the dishes cleaned up and quite a few naps had been taken, many locals would gather back at the cemetery to pick up the flowers they had left on the graves while enjoying the cooler mountain air that evening would bring.
Until next year, on the third Sunday of June, when friends and family would gather once more at Homecoming to honor their dead.
And just like my memories of “Sitting Up With The Dead” this tradition exemplifies the tremendous respect and honor the church and community bestowed on those who had gone on before.