Memories of Shingleroof

Paul “Smitty” Phillips

Guest Columnist

Editor’s note: Paul Phillips of McDonough submitted this as a letter to the editor and it was originally published in the July 29, 2009 edition of the Times.

My Grandfather, Papa, helped us move to the Campground. We always went a week early, allowing everyone time to visit and finding out all the happenings of the previous year - babies born, who died, where so-and-so cousin had moved, and the condition of Aunt May’s thyroid.

For those of you who are uneducated in the ways of Camp Meeting, it is a time of tranquility, adventure for children, and renewing the spirit for oldsters.

With the exception of the church-sponsored tents (really long sheds with dirt floors covered with sawdust or wood shavings), almost everyone was, in one way or another, kin. A few of the tenters were outsiders, but even those people were friends and people of longstanding in the community. People smiled and laughed; happiness was in the air, and joy moved you. At dinner (lunch for those of you born in towns), wherever you were you ate. Mama did not worry that you weren’t there to eat.

The Tabernacle called everybody three times a day - morning, afternoon, and evening. This was accomplished by the blowing of an old horn by this ancient and dignified lady of indeterminable age. I thought her to be at least 100 years old.

In order for me to play afternoon softball and go to the store under the hotel, I had to attend all three services - a truly small price to pay for the joys gained. The game was always us kids and Si Elliott, who was home from far and exotic lands. Si had not turned Republican yet, so he still understood a kid’s heart. He would change sides every inning, pitching for both sides; and he wore something never seen on a male person in the South - sandals. Si could perform a feat that for us kids was unattainable - he could hit a softball over the Tabernacle. Si was also the only adult I knew who would talk to us as people. I could not understand how he could be an adult and still play. Si, I wish I had followed your example.

The preachers were fed by the families in each tent. For us, the Smith tent, it was always Saturday morning breakfast. Those preachers still living will, I am sure, remember “Moody’s country-cured ham,” fresh farm eggs, and Mama Lois’ biscuits and home-churned butter. We children had to wait for them to finish, and we were always ­afraid they would eat everything in sight. Methodist ministers back then could really, really eat. None of us ever went hungry or ate cold cereal, but only because Mama Lois would save some back. Those preachers probably gained 8 or 10 pounds during Camp Meeting and saw their cholesterol count go skyrocketing up (except no one was watching then), but boy was it good eatin.’

With the close of the Thursday night service, I knew my summer was at an end. School would start the day after Labor Day, and the fun was over for another year.