The question has been argued for many years, but it became mine when I got the invitation issued to former pastors and their families to return for the 175th anniversary of the Hardy Baptist Church. Except for a brief drive through the village with my youngest son when he was a teenager, I had not been back since I was seven and a half. (Halves were important back then.)
A lifetime between with children and now grandchildren had me speculating on the drive up about whether there would be people who actually remembered my family. Al, who’d probably heard enough about this trip already, commented, “Maybe if you find the old people.” I reminded him that we had become the “old people.”
Given the passage of time, I didn’t expect to recognize anyone, but much to my surprise, I knew the first person I saw at the registration table. Elizabeth, the best friend of my foster sister, had been a pretty teenager the last time I’d seen her. Now she was a beautiful woman with lifelines that had fallen in pleasant places.
The packed house included people who’d returned from California to South Carolina. The main part of the program was a historical Power Point presentation that began in 1840 with a Choctaw woman. The theme of “The Light on the Hill” took its inspiration from the location of the church atop a steep hill straight up from the village and the railroad track. The inspirational account of successes and struggles down through the years had the audience enthralled when an unexpected question popped up on the screen right in the middle of the presentation. “By the way . . . do any of you remember what used to happen on Sunday mornings at Hardy Baptist Church at 11:35 a.m.?” A chorus of “The train” broke the spellbound silence. We all remembered stopping in the middle of the prayer, song, or sermon until the train had passed. The presentation included a blowing train whistle, right on time, with a return to finish the history. It seemed perfectly normal.
On this drizzly day, dinner on the grounds was served in the fellowship hall with all the Southern dishes that traditionally go with such an occasion and a few new ones to boot. As always, enough was left over to have fed another crowd of the same size.
Time after dinner allowed me to find old acquaintances and peruse the hall filled with pictures of days gone by. Elizabeth was the only person I knew without checking a name tag, but that was okay. Everybody from my generation mingled the crowd looking at shoulders for hints they couldn’t find in faces.
I enjoyed the status of a special guest with a corsage and nametag that said, “Virginia Butler; Bro. McGee’s Daughter,” but even more I enjoyed the trip back to this little village that played a strong part in my father’s beginnings as a minister and in some happy days of my childhood.
My conclusion was that you can go home again with some stipulations. Your childhood friends will have gray hair, if they have any at all, and they may be packing pictures of grandchildren.