Instead our lives were centered around the churches, of which there were eighteen within the town limits alone.They went by names like the Fellowship Hall Christian Church, the Church of the Forgiven People, the Church of Sunday Atonement, and then, of course, there were the Baptist churches. Back then, the big event of the year was sponsored by the Baptist church downtown—Southern, if you really want to know—in conjunction with the local high school.It didn't fly too well—not even to the congregation, who sat in the audience staring wide-eyed at the spectacle—and the newspaper said things like "Though it was certainly interesting, it wasn't exactly the play we've all come to know and love. He'd written his own sermons his whole life, and some of them, we had to admit, were actually interesting, especially when he talked about the "wrath of God coming down on the fornicators" and all that good stuff.That really got his blood boiling, I'll tell you, when he talked about the fornicators. When we were younger, my friends and I would hide behind the trees and shout, "Hegbert is a fornicator!So I take the memories as they come, accepting them all, letting them guide me whenever I can. It is April 12, in the last year before the millennium, and as I leave my house, I glance around.The sky is overcast and gray, but as I move down the street, I notice that the dogwoods and azaleas are blooming. The temperature is cool, though I know it's only a matter of weeks before it will settle in to something comfortable and the gray skies give way to the kind of days that make North Carolina one of the most beautiful places in the world. I close my eyes and the years begin to move in reverse, slowly ticking backward, like the hands of a clock rotating in the wrong direction. I am standing outside the Baptist church, and when I stare at the gable, I know exactly who I am.
Certainly the last person he thought he'd fall for was Jamie, the shy, almost ethereal daughter of the town's Baptist minister....Then, like me, the world begins to change: roads narrow and some become gravel, suburban sprawl has been replaced with farmland, downtown streets teem with people, looking in windows as they pass Sweeney's bakery and Palka's meat shop. At the courthouse up the street, the bell tower rings. It was the kind of place where the humidity rose so high in the summer that walking out to get the mail made a person feel as if he needed a shower, and kids walked around barefoot from April through October beneath oak trees draped in Spanish moss.People waved from their cars whenever they saw someone on the street whether they knew him or not, and the air smelled of pine, salt, and sea, a scent unique to the Carolinas.When I was growing up, it was far and away the most popular denomination around, and there were Baptist churches on practically every corner of town, though each considered itself superior to the others. Every year they put on their Christmas pageant at the Beaufort Playhouse, which was actually a play that had been written by Hegbert Sullivan, a minister who'd been with the church since Moses parted the Red Sea.
There were Baptist churches of every type—Freewill Baptists, Southern Baptists, Congregational Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Independent Baptists . Okay, maybe he wasn't that old, but he was old enough that you could almost see through the guy's skin.
I know that there are people who wonder about me when I say this.
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