For almost three years of my life, my parents and I lived 10 miles out of town in beautiful countryside located in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.
I was in the sixth, seventh and part of the eighth grade during those years, going to a little wooden school that was down the road from my house.
I know some bad things must have happened during that period of time, but I only have fond memories of living there.
One thing that made my life so happy was that my cousin Virginia lived a short distance from me.
Ginny, as she was called, was the best cousin any girl could ask for. Together we roamed the woods when we were not in school, building playhouses and damming up little creeks.
We made up stories about creatures living in the woods and searched for arrowheads that had been left by the Indians who had lived there before our ancestors moved in.
It was an idyllic life and what made it even better was living near the small white wooden church that was on the hillside above my house.
It was a joy to attend every service that was held, which included Sunday School, the sermon on Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday evening preaching, and then every year we celebrated homecoming with an all-day singing and dinner on the ground.
It was a family affair at Ranger Baptist Church. The congregation was loaded with members of the Fox family from our mothers’ family and the Akins family that was Ginny’s father’s family.
Her grandfather, Samuel Akins, had donated the land on which the church was built, and on Sunday mornings he led the choir in singing rousing hymns from a paperback hymnal.
I still own one of these hymnals.
From Ginny’s grandfather, I learned to read shaped notes and how to harmonize when singing.
The church door was never locked and I spent many hours there learning to play the piano. Ginny and I would sing together after I started playing by ear and not always hymns.
“Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Sentimental Journey” were two of our favorite songs.
We still sing them when we get together.
My first boyfriend held my hand as he walked me home from church on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
And I came to Jesus there, kneeling on the bare floor in front of a wooden bench and was baptized the next Sunday in a cold lake that was about 10 miles from the church by a preacher who looked like I imagined the prophet Elijah would look.
The church still sits on the hill, its wooden exterior now covered with bricks and the graveyard that surrounds it is now filled with tombstones bearing the names of the Fox and Akins family member who I can remember lifting their voices in four-part harmony in praise on Sunday mornings.
I’m sure heaven is even more glorious with the addition of their sweet voices.