Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Preacher’s Corner
By Rev. Dr. Milton Winter

Where were you when you first heard Elvis?

The house pictured with this article is as plain and ordinary a house as you can have. It is located in Fulton, Kentucky, and for many years was the home of my cousin Mary Met Arrington. It was also the house where I first heard Elvis.

Most of us can remember where we were when great national events occurred. Certainly Elvis was (and is) a national and international phenomenon. I was so little that I am sure I would have paid no attention if it were not for the obvious excitement displayed by Cousin Mary’s teen-age daughter Linda, whom I adored.

I do not remember which song it was, but there on Fulton’s AM radio station, the old “45” was playing and Linda in her bobby-sox was letting the world know that Elvis was “the thing!” And so I became aware of rock ‘n’ roll!

Cousin Mary Met was called Mary Met to distinguish her from the other Marys in the family. Her husband ‘Met’ Arrington, who was Daddy’s first cousin, had died before I came along. On the fateful day I remember we had just stopped by on one of our many trips through Fulton to see Daddy’s relatives enroute to Illinois where the relatives on Mother’s side of the family still reside.

Cousin Mary ran a beauty parlor in a little building out behind the big house. We were sitting in the living room waiting for her to come inside and visit between appointments. That’s when the sounds of the radio came wafting in and Cousin Linda came down the stairs full of teen-aged exuberance. Small boys idolize their teen-aged cousins, and so it was a memorable day.

Now, playing the radio was frowned upon in my household, where I was the only child of older parents. ‘Good music’ was the sort that came from old WREC-AM, on programs such as Everett Flagg’s ‘Music till Midnight,’ which always featured a segment broadcast live from the ‘Skyway’ atop Hotel Peabody, where the station’s broadcast studios were then located. Mother and Daddy had courted at the Skyway, so, understandably, that was the music of choice in our house.

Dr. Bolling, our minister back home in Cleveland, Mississippi preached against Elvis. That I can say. Little children remember much more of the ambiance and ethos of worship than the specific content of sermons, but I did wake up and listen when I heard the words about Elvis, and they were not complimentary.

Preachers have always moralized against the pleasures of the young, and my upbringing was nothing if not orthodox.

Dr. Bolling said that rock ‘n’ roll music tended “to excite instincts and impulses that were better kept in check.” I am not sure his remarks were politic or heeded, but now that I am older I am also not sure he was wrong.

Now in these days of hip-hop, we are nostalgic for good ole “rock ‘n’ roll,” and despite what the Reagans said, the Beach Boys are now considered tame enough for the Muzak at the supermarket.

The church has always meandered back and forth between calling the culture to task and supporting the institutions of life in the world where people live. The lines are not always clear, for after all, Elvis was himself a professing Christian and arranged many hymns for recording.

So I listened to rock ‘n’ roll, but I also loved the music led in our church by Mary Laura Barbour and Lacy Langford, who directed our choir and played the organ. Their music helped me love God, but it was not the music of romance.

I think the most important thing I learned was not to confuse the difference.

Alas, Cousins Mary Met and Linda are both gone, for in this life some pass away too soon. But I will never forget that noonday visit to their home in the long ago. Life has its many moods and God in great wisdom inspired talented people to make music for all these occasions.

I am glad for Elvis, but I am also glad for Mrs. Barbour and Mrs. Langford.

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