On Sunday Afternoons
by Peggy Rice Wright
Before the days of television and air conditioning, families visited with neighbors and grandparents and went to church more often. Sunday afternoon singings and summer revivals at country churches were a part of my childhood for more than a dozen years.
Southern gospel music was the delight of my father’s soul, and we spent many evenings after supper singing from the Stamps and Stamps-Baxter song books in preparation for Wednesday night Prayer Meeting, Sunday morning, Sunday evening church and the regular once-a-month Sunday afternoon singings.
Daddy sat in his favorite chair after a bath and his evening meal. He rested his bare slender feet, crossed at his ankles, on the foot rest of his favorite chair. He sang away his worries about grasshoppers, not enough rain, and whether the cotton crop would be a good one. I played the upright piano and sang with him while Mother finished cleaning up the kitchen. She joined in after drying her hands on her apron and spreading the apron to dry.
Sunday afternoon singings were held about two o’clock in the afternoon at a courthouse or at a church in the area, sometimes a community center on designated week-ends. There were no jeans and gimme caps in that crowd. Everyone came in their church clothes, men in suits and ties no matter what the temperature, and women in their finest clothes and highest heels.
The same people were usually there, a few new ones came now and then, but it was always an enthusiastic crowd, eager to sing praises to the Lord. Most of them were Baptists from small churches, and I don’t really remember anyone from other denominations except a Methodist or two ever so often.
When the Stamps Quartet entertained at conventions, Marion Snyder, the epitome of a quartet accompanist, was the headliner with his famous all-over-the-piano-showmanship playing style.
Sunday afternoons consisted primarily of a congenial group of people enjoying a respite from the week’s labor and the companionship with friends who shared their love of singing. Visiting continued long after the last note was sung.
With no air conditioning to relieve us from the unrelenting Texas heat, every window was opened and all available oscillating fans were placed wherever there was a plug or an extension cord long enough to create a welcome relief from the oven-like temperatures. Hand held cardboard funeral home fans with wooden handles and various likenesses of Jesus were a welcome commodity and were in use for the afternoon. In the winter, drafty halls and high ceilings contributed to temperatures as cold as last year’s romance.
One couple with especially strong voices had great passion for Southern Gospel music. They attended music classes to learn to read shaped notes and reminded us regularly they couldn’t sit where there was “a breeze.” They closed nearby windows and turned off fans. This was not good. Not only were we sweltering, but their aromatic diet of onions with the meal they just finished and their ever-present pungent dip of snuff was another passion desperately in need of air kept moving. There were usually several vacant seats near them.
Idiosyncrasies and quirks surfaced as I became more worldly. Being the sheltered child I was, I noted a few of those folks who should be nodding acquaintances were more than just friends. Singing was not the only thing on their minds. Penciled eyebrows with an upturned lilt and red-hot Clara Bow lips with rouge almost to match, long fluttering dime-store eyelashes and painted red fingernails out to there were flaunted for all to see. I soon learned more was in the air than Blue Waltz perfume. It was evident some active competition was going on.
Sunday afternoon singings provided a great deal of enjoyment for my parents, but Daddy and Mother didn’t attend singings as often after I married and moved away. Daddy directed the choir for several more years at the little white church nestled among the massive oak trees we had attended for so long. Their lives changed a lot after I left home.
Peggy Rice Wright put down roots in the small Limestone county town of Mexia, Texas, about one hundred miles south of Dallas, as soon as she married her newspaperman husband Bob. Defecting from the Baptist church as a bride, she is a member of First United Methodist Church and proudly notes that fellow family tree resident Col. Samuel Doak McMahan established Methodism in Texas in September of 1833 amid the pastoral setting of majestic pine trees not far from St. Augustine, near Nacogdoches, Texas. Peggy was Mexia FUMC’s first librarian, served on the charter board to establish a pre-school, directed a children’s choir, was officer and member of the administrative board, taught children’s Sunday School classes and sings in the choir.
She is a longtime employee at Mexia ISD and is currently secretary to the counselors at Mexia High School. She also spends a great deal of time with her Mexia Daily News editor husband.
She is a member of the Jonathan Hardin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a charter member of the Limestone County Republican Women.
Peggy and Bob have two sons, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren and a grandpuppy named Buddy.
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