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Sandra L. Jones
I often passed the little church on my way to Talladega, telling myself that one day I would take time to turn off the main road onto the winding lane
leading to the rise where the frame chapel sits, half-hidden in the trees.
As I made the same trip one gray November day, in a steady drizzle, an old green car crept cautiously along in front of me on the wet, slippery curves
of Highway 34. So it happened that I was traveling much slower than usual when I approached the turnoff to Bethel. Rounding the curve, I saw the
church in the distance and a voice inside me said, "Just do it."
Turning onto the tree-lined road, I remembered my great-grandmother. At the end of her one hundred and four years, she was buried in the
cemetery there. As I pulled into the churchyard, the image of a faded photograph of her funeral flashed across my mind. I had returned to
Bethel to recapture a moment of my past. But I came unprepared for the memories that awaited me. For the ancestor who met me there was much
closer to my heart than the great-grandmother I scarcely remembered.
Suddenly the drizzle stopped and the sun beat down on the white clapboard church. It was summer, 1964. In my sundress with its fitted
bodice and gathered skirt, I balanced on my first pair of high-heeled shoes,
feeling very grown up.
The front doors of the sanctuary stood ajar as did the side door leading out to the cemetery. But the cross draft offered little relief from the humid
Alabama heat and many of the women fanned themselves with cardboard fans that bore pictures of Jesus and His disciples on the front and
advertisements for Usrey Brown Funeral Home on the back.
From the front stoop, I heard his mellow baritone voice. He stood beside the pulpit holding a dog-eared songbook in one hand, his other hand
swinging to the beat of the lively tune coming from the old upright piano.
He tapped his foot merrily to the rhythm of the gospel song he was directing. I forgot about Grandma Carpenter. I was with my daddy again
at an all-day singing.
He looked at me standing just outside the open doors and smiled radiantly and sang out in a clear voice:
There will be a happy meeting in Heaven, I know
There with all the many loved ones we've known here below
Gathered on that blessed hilltop with hearts all aglow
That will be a glad reunion day.
Recognizing the tune, I started singing along, my own foot tapping in time to the music. Still singing, I turned and looked across the churchyard.
There beneath the huge oak trees stood sawhorse tables, laden with every home-cooked delight imaginable. Near the center of the long row of tables,
my mother spread a feast of barbecued pork chops, green beans, fried okra, banana pudding...
I knew that soon the singing would stop and the congregation would spill from the doors as eager as school children for
Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the past vanished. I was grown up again and still seated behind the steering wheel of my car. I felt my tears
begin to well. "Daddy, Daddy," I whispered "Do you know how much I miss you?"
I know that he heard me. I sensed the peace of his presence all around. Was it not his spirit that had beckoned me there and helped me to spend
some of the grief I kept locked inside me?
A short time later as I drove away, I thought I heard his voice again.
Pulling over onto the shoulder of the road, I stopped my car and turned my
head for one last look. But the doors were closed, the people were gone,
and the little church stood silent in the cold November rain.
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