Part One: The Selma Methodist Church
Gonna take a sentimental journey,
Gonna set my heart at ease.
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories.
—Song “Sentimental Journey,” written in 1944,
about the time I started school in Selma, Arkansas
In March 2010 as the Photo of the Week in his Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind site, my friend and 1960 Ouachita Baptist College classmate Joe Dempsey featured the restoration process of the historic 1872 Selma Methodist church. It so happens that that church was the first I ever attended since I was born in a farmhouse just across the “branch” from that iconic edifice.
Needless to say, he had my full and immediate attention.
He told me he was there to photograph the old church during its restoration and to write an article on that subject. I was able to direct him to Dorris Groom Watson, the director of the restoration committee and the wife of my Selma childhood buddy John Doyle Watson (both of whom I had also not seen in at least forty years), who could serve as an authoritative source of information. (To learn more about the restoration project contact Dorris at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com.)
I also took advantage of the opportunity to direct Joe’s attention to my 1938 place of birth, which was still without benefit of electricity or running water at the time of my arrival on this earth.
Later, after his return to Pine Bluff, Joe sent me a report on his trip with photos of the church. (To see those photos of the storm-damaged church before restoration and read about the beginning of the restoration process, visit Joe’s Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind.) He also sent me a photo of my birthplace as it looks now, seventy-two years later, and another of Mount Tabor Methodist church and cemetery, a few miles up the road toward Florence, Arkansas, my wife’s place of origin.
Just this past weekend (May 21, 2011), Joe returned to Selma to photograph and chronicle the fundraiser to restore and preserve the Selma Methodist Church. To see his report and to view the photos he made of the event, click here. While on the site be sure to click on the other links to get the full story of the church, the event, and the participants. A couple of those photos in the gallery are of me. I am easy to spot since I am the distinguished white-haired gentleman wearing glasses, a red Razorback cap, and an equally red pull-over shirt with the word “Boompa” on it, both the shirt and the name being gifts from my two grandsons: Levi and Ben.
While at the fundraiser I was able to visit with relatives and friends (including a couple of classmates who went to school with me at Selma), some of whom I had not seen in decades. I also purchased a watercolor painting of the church, an old hand fan from it, and a basket for Mari. I was also able to pull the rope and ring the church bell for the first time since I was a child, more than sixty years ago. That bell is said to be lined with melted-down silver dollars to re-enforce it and to enhance its tone. Unfortunately, due to my physical condition and the condition of the building I was not able to climb up in the steeple to view the bell, just as I was forbidden to do so by my mother when I was a child. Then I was too young and now I’m too old!
But since Mari and I were able to visit with so many friends and family; enjoy the delicious catfish and barbeque meal; listen to live gospel music; participate in a fundraiser auction; and take photos of the church, my birthplace, and the Mount Tabor church and cemetery, it was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime, “bucket-list” opportunity to “renew old memories.”
Next week I will continue that “sentimental journey” by heading to the Arkansas Delta, a few miles to the east, where my family moved me when I was ten years old to begin a new chapter in my life—a move that would leave an indelible mark on both me and my life forever.
PS For a recent cover-page photo and article on the Selma Methodist Church from Rural Arkansas magazine with great views of the interior as well as the exterior before the storm damage, click here. (It may take a minute or so to appear. You can also access it through Joe’s latest post.) For a great history of the Selma Methodist Church and of Selma itself, click here. To purchase a copy of the watercolor painting of the church or one of the hand fans from it, contact my former high school classmate Pat Scavo (known to us as Patsy Mc) who owns an art gallery in Hot Springs at firstname.lastname@example.org.