A trip home brings back old familiar memories

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, May 24, 2006

DeKALB – The Spring Hill Methodist Church and cemetery north ofDeKalb on Miss. 39 in north central Kemper County is a place thatbrings me back to childhood memories fleeting and precious to menow.

It’s a tiny, white, one-room clapboard circuit church. As achild, I remember the church’s old wood stove – later replaced by abutane heater – that had a flue through the roof.

My mother’s father’s people are buried here. My mother was bornin the Bay Springs community in Kemper County in 1922 and some ofher mother’s people – the Cherrys – still live there.

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The Spring Hill church might hold 75 people. The wood floor isclean and creaks a little, but the old church remains solid andwell-kept.

When I was a boy, the “facilities” were outhouses. Now, thereare modern “facilities” in a small outbuilding to the north of thechurch.

As my daughter and I stepped into the empty church late Sundayafternoon, the circuit church service programs for the day were onthe brown pews – they had held their services that morning.

Other than the almost inaudible flights of a few busy dirtdaubers, the church was as still and silent as, well, a church whenKate and I took a seat on the front pew.

No air was stirring and the sun pouring through the two rearwindows made the church warm, the kind of heat I can still close myeyes and remember on Mississippi spring days back when virtually nostructures in Mississippi had air conditioning – particularly tinyrural churches.

We were on the way home from Macon where we had gone to churchwith my wife’s family and then celebrated my mother-in-law’s 83rdbirthday. Kate had been to the Macon cemetery with her Uncle Gusand later with me visiting the graves of her kin there.

The trip to Macon had been planned. The side trip to DeKalb wasa lark.

But after my daughter saw the graves of her great-great-greatgrandparents, great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents, weventured into the old church.

There, memories of my childhood rolled back to me, memories ofSunday dinners on the ground, of family cemetery work days and oftrips with my parents to tend the old Haskins graves.

I remembered attending church services at Spring Hill andfuneral services for my kin folks. This little church is in the redclay hills of east central Mississippi and the change in topographydriving Miss. 39 from Meridian north to DeKalb and beyond isstartling in spots.

The church is near Sciples Mill, the old water mill that remainsa small tourist attraction in that part of the state and on somedays where fresh-ground corn meal is still for sale to those whowant it.

My daughter listened to my rambling memories of the old church,of the lives of my people in Kemper County that I remember fondlyfrom 40 years back and of who is buried in which grave, all withher characteristic good humor.

As I creep ever closer to the age of 50, these memoriesinexorably become more important to me and I feel the need to sharethem with Kate so that she will not forget the Haskins, theCherrys, the Pooles, the Batemans and the rest of our Kemper Countyancestors.

Aunt Pearl and Uncle Ernest Bateman had a lake and a camphousejust a few miles south of the church off Miss. 39. The oldcamphouse extended out over the lake on stilts.

Aunt Pearl taught me and my sisters to fish for bream and whiteperch in that lake and it was the site of our annual Haskinsreunions.

Almost all the people I cared about who ventured to that lakefor those gatherings are either old or dead. Only a few of myaunts, uncles and cousins remain to share those memories.

My late twin sister hooked me in the backside with a treble hookat that lake when I was about six. Daddy had to cut it with wirepliers.

Sitting on that old church pew, I thought of my sister and couldstill feel that fish hook just a little.

Write to Sid Salter at 201 Dogwood Drive, Forest MS39074.