The Great Summer Trip – Local Celebrity

By the end of Day Two I had accomplished my only firm plan for this trip, which was to get to Mom and Dad’s house in South Carolina.  Since Day Three was a Sunday and Mom is the Music Director for her church, I decided to take a hiatus from riding for a day.  As it were, Mom had told me several stories about how the members of her church had been anticipating my arrival, and that some of them were even reading my website.  I’d never been to a small town southern church before, and it seemed like a nice highlight to the trip.

One thing that the “Bible Belt” south has that you don’t really find anywhere else is a powerful sense of what “small town church” should feel like.  I had never seen Union Baptist before, but it turns out that it was very much like I imagined it.

 

Union Baptist Church, Laurens, SC

 

Pictures don’t do it justice.  This church is so picturesque that it’ll almost make you cry.  The sidewalks are perfectly edged, there’s not a cracked brick anywhere, the bushes are trimmed, the campus is free of litter… it’s a living, breathing testament to the fact that small town southern churches are populated by people whose lives are centered by God and their church involvement.  Compare this with images you’ve seen of life in the inner city, where decay is common and people are more interested in self-preservation.  I think it’s not coincidental that when you care for only yourself, things fall apart.  When you care about something else more than you care for yourself, things come together.  Draw your own conclusions.

Mom introduced me to the pastor straight away, a large man with a firm handshake who looks you straight in the eye.  When he shakes your hand, you know it’s been shaken.  That’s a trait I respect in a man.

 

Mom on the left, Pastor Chris on the right

 

Of course, Mom took advantage of her bully pulpit (can you use that phrase in a church?  Maybe “captive audience” is better) to introduce me to the congregation during the service and make a big fuss over how glad she was to have me there.  I’ve learned to accept this in the same way that Yorkshire Terriers accept having sweaters put on them by their doting owners.  It just comes with the territory.

After the morning service, I was told that I needed to get to the door so that I could have a “proper” greeting from the church members.  When 100+ people want to shake your hand, it’s easier if you do it in a nice, orderly fashion.

 

 

I even met a lady from the church named Betty who told me that she rides motorcycles.  She had a Harley-Davidson for a number of years until her son wrecked it (dang kids), so now she’s “between bikes”.  I told her “Come stand here with me and get your picture taken.”  Never pass up an opportunity to get your picture taken with a woman who rides motorcycles.  I plan to get my picture taken with Leslie Porterfield under this same reasoning.

 

 

After church, I walked around the campus for a bit while Mom finished up her duties.  I noticed another trait common to southern churches that you don’t see in most other places – the church cemetery.  Union Baptist (like most churches in this area) has a well-maintained, visually pleasant cemetery.  The church culture in this area is that people are born into a church, are raised in that church, get married in that church, raise families in that church, and eventually die and are buried at that church… a whole circle of life revolving around the church.  Regardless of whatever religious affiliation you profess, there’s a beauty in that kind of anchor in a person’s life.  We’ve become such a culture of mobility that the thought of spending a lifetime around a single church seems archaic to some, but I’m convinced that as individuals we’d be wise to strive for deeper roots.

 

The circle of life, all on one church campus

 

The most interesting part of the campus was off to the side, in the wooded area adjacent to the main cemetery.  Within the church’s property line there was an old cemetery with graves dating back to the Civil War.  Many of the markers were so worn by time as to be unreadable, but there were clearly indications that people were buried here.  I found one grave marker that was still readable.  It read “Willis Rexter, died 1874, age 26 yrs”.  That means that in the year that Willis Rexter died:

  • New York City annexed the Bronx
  • Baseball was played in England for the first time
  • Levi Strauss marketed the first blue jeans with copper rivets
  • The first U.S. zoo opened in Philadelphia
  • Child labor laws took 12-year olds out of the work force
  • Barbed wire was invented
  • President Grant hosted the first reigning king to visit the U.S.

And during all of this, what would become Union Baptist church maintained a cemetery in modern day Laurens, SC.

 

Willis Rexter, we hardly knew ye

 

I even found evidence of small, unmarked gravestones.  I was told that these stones signified slave graves.  I stood near those markers and wondered who those people were.  Who missed them when they were gone?  Did they have families that they knew?  What were their lives like?  Were they treated well, or simply discarded and forgotten?

 

Arrows indicate the unmarked gravestones

 

After church, my parents and I went out for lunch at one of the Mexican restaurants in Simpsonville.  Along the way, I had Dad stop at an interesting little building that we had passed on the way to church:

 

Mmmmm… Moon Pies for $.05

 

What struck me about this was that it was near nothing.  It was empty, obviously old, not near anything of consequence, and yet someone had taken the time to recently replace the shingles.  There’s a story there, and I wish I knew what it was.

When we got to Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant in Simpsonville, we met a family that was coming out of the restaurant.  As I stopped to take a picture, the girl asked me what I was doing.  I told her “Smile for me, and I’ll put you on my website.  You’ll be seen by tens of people!”  So she smiled and struck a pose.

This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your picture on a website – that makes people.  She’d better remember me when she becomes famous.

 

 

After lunch, we went back home, where I promptly sat down in a chair and fell asleep while Mom and Dad watched a NASCAR race.  Mom’s a big Jeff Gordon fan, and I couldn’t care less about NASCAR if you paid me for apathy.

Beautiful weather, good traveling, warm reception from the locals, a nice lunch, and a good nap.  This trip was going very well.

 

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