A lesser star in the evangelical orbit, my father didn’t usually have a crew on hand to help set up his tent revival meetings, so we did everything for ourselves. It involved a lot of grunt work, with no guarantees that the crowds would come.
My father painted new signs for each location, hand-lettered without a template. While we cleared debris and smoothed the dirt, he sandpapered the scuffed edges of our portable platform. Pitching the tent was an engineering feat, in and of itself. It also required a lot of strength. My older brothers helped my father position and anchor the tent posts, and then stretch the canvas over top. Sometimes the canvas tore, whether from age or an over-energetic tug. One of the girls, myself included, would stitch the frayed edges together, using a curved needle and stiff thread. On our luckiest days, local church folks would volunteer their time and effort. Working in tandem, they’d help hang speakers from tent posts, string the interior and exterior lights, and sound-check the microphones. (Electricity was typically siphoned from a nearby church or charitable business). We then planted the folding chairs in tidy rows, scattered sawdust on the earthen floor, and plunked a hymnal on every seat.
Drivers slowed, gawked, and rolled on past. Sometimes they’d honk. Other times, they’d jeer. Passers-by would stop to watch our dusty, sweaty routine, would whisper among themselves as we worked. I remember my father’s fervent prayers over dinner, remember him asking God to deliver those spectators to our evening service.
Your reminiscences are transporting–I cannot wait for your book to come out.
Thinking about your father hand painting those signs! And about the strain to put up the tent, and how hard it must have been to sew that thick canvas. What an amazing life.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment! It’s hard to elaborate on every detail within a single blog post. but I enjoy sharing with you these broad stroke memories. I promise to paint a more thorough picture in my memoir! Here’s to dandelion wishes and believing with all my heart that it’ll be published soon. 🙂
Did you resent having to be a part of that? I hated going to church.
That’s a complicated question, Linda, deserving of a longer answer than I could possibly give within one of these tiny comment boxes. Perfectly suited for a memoir-sized bit of writing, though. 🙂
There are pros and cons to a lifestyle where the only constant is change. When I was very young, everything was new and exciting. I was happy to wander the Sawdust Trail, loved standing in the spotlight with my father. But yes, there eventually came a time when I yearned for stability, and would’ve gladly tossed aside my Pentecostal roots for the opportunity to chart my own course.
Interesting glimpse into your past, Melodye. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for coming along for the ride, Carol. It’s fun to glance into the rear view mirror with you.
If “stars in one’s crown” were set according to how hard (labor) one worked for the Kingdom, your father would bow his head from the weight of his. Amazing insights revealed to so few…until we read your book.
I love that line, “built of canvas, faith, and grit.” So beautiful. (whoops, I added an oxford comma in that quote 😉 ) Like others said above, I’m looking forward to the book. There’s so much I want to know about how you felt about these experiences and how they shaped you. Like you said, way too much for blog posts! I will anxiously await.
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