Thursday, July 24, 2008
The Preacher’s Corner
Contrary to advertising, Montreat is hot in the summer
This is the time of year when children go off to church camp. Most years several of mine do, and in spite of whatever homesickness may well up at the time, they usually remember the experience positively in their latter days. Yet, while other people get all spiritual thinking about their church camp grounds, I think about “Aunt Lottie’s truck.” Therein lies the tale that I am going to tell.
It was a summer just as hot as this, several years ago, when I went up to Montreat, North Carolina, where the Presbyterians have their summer retreat. Montreat was begun more than a hundred years ago by a group of ministers who wanted a place to take their families for some hot weather respite and to hear some inspirational sermons while they were together. I suppose you could say it was based on the Chautauqua model of New York state. Dr. George L. Bitzer, who was minister of the church here from 1926 to 1934 was one of those men. For a tiny sum — I think it was $5 or $10 — he bought a lot, and from those humble beginnings a thriving vacation city has evolved.
The Presbyterians of each Southern state eventually built a house for their visitors, and these are open to others when space is available. (Mississippi never got around to building one.) So through the gracious consideration certain good people (and a modest fee), my accommodations in Montreat were at the South Carolina House, a wonderful Victorian clapboard affair, operated like a small town boarding house of yesteryear, which was exactly 493 ascending steps above the level of the main assembly hall. One learned to take everything needed for the day down the hill, as a flatlander Delta person such as I, soon found out that extra trips up and down were a real distraction from the rest and inspiration I supposedly went to Montreat to seek.
Life teaches you that not everything advertisers say is true, even when the advertisers are purveyors of religious inspiration. And one of the things about Montreat that I discovered to be “not true” is that it is cool and refreshing in the summer! It may be good to see interesting people and meet up with old friends. But it is not cool. And that particular summer it was hot enough to mirror the subterranean flames with which the preachers of olden times were said to have threatened their hearers.
As it turns out the one air-conditioned public place in the entire village was the Presbyterian Historical Foundation, which for a history buff like me was good news. I “holed up” in the Foundation amid the stacks of old records and pictures, and gathered enough notes to make the book which I am now working on. So bless the Lord for a little heat to stimulate the soul to tasks it might not otherwise pursue.
However, on one particular day when the Historical Foundation — “the old stand” — as aficionados like to call it, was closing about 4:30 p.m., I really did not want to walk up that hill as the sun was still high in the sky and the high humidity and distant thunder signaled that the daily afternoon shower was perhaps on its way. That is when I remembered that my friend Frank Brooks of Corinth was in residence, and that he had brought his wife’s aunt Lottie’s truck with him to Montreat. Frank could give me a ride!
I phoned and Frank was quite willing to pick me up. The only trouble was that having a vehicle he was not used to, Frank had difficulty navigating the narrow driveway by their lovely log cottage that is perched on a steep hillside just up from the Assembly Inn. So in his hurry to get me out of the gathering storm, Frank backed out, putting the rear left wheel off the driveway and turning the entire truck over on its side! A wrecker had to come and put things right.
When they got back to Mississippi, Frank took the truck to Mike Carter in Ripley, Miss., to have the dented fender smoothed out. As if things were not bad enough—having to have major body repairs made on an antique truck that had been borrowed from an elderly relative—Mike’s garage burned down that night with Aunt Lottie’s truck inside!
Of course I felt terrible, for my laziness was the cause of all this. Never do I drive down Highway 15 past the house in Okolona where Aunt Lottie used to live that I do not think about this. So when I think of their church camp grounds, I don’t get all spiritual. I resolve that when the Lord puts 493 stairs in front of me, I’m going to make the effort to climb!
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