I was raised on gospel music.
When I was fifteen my family moved to the cotton mill town of Hogansville, Georgia, a hamlet of three thousand people that had only two traffic lights, and only one of them worked. Most residents either worked at or depended on the mill for their livelihood.
Back then my father was experiencing one of the ‘down” sides of his life. Translation: he’d gone back to taking refuge in the bottle again. Something he did every decade or so.
One day as my father lay drunk in his bed, I heard my mother praying in their room. “Lord, God,” she prayed in a Georgia twang that is indelibly etched in my heart, “please help this good man fight the Devil that’s got hold of him.”
(I’ve always thought that the Baptist definition of ‘back-sliding’ was an apt description of what happened to my father now and then.)
You’re probably thinking: “Get back to the subject of gospel music, Leon.”
Somebody had to put food on the table. So mother got a job working on the first shift at the cotton mill. Every morning at six the living room radio would wake us up. Gospel music was played from six to six-thirty. As mother prepared breakfast before she would walk the dozen blocks to the cotton mill, I’d lay in bed listening to gospel music. I loved just about all of the gospel singers: The Lefevre Trio, Three Blind Brothers From Alabama, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and my favorite, the Chuck Wagon Gang.
As I pen this blog, in my mind’s eye I can still see and hear the unique melodious harmony of this group. (If you’re never heard them, you can check them out on You Tube).
In my house here in Iquitos, Peru, at seven each morning I’m treated to the Peruvian version of gospel music. Though the songs I hear each morning sound much different than the Chuck Wagon Gang, in their own way they capture the joy of praising the Lord. It’s a more pleading sound, as if the singers are clinging tightly to their faith in God. I find it both enjoyable and reassuring.
When I make my transition—hopefully not soon, for I’ve got plenty more work to do down here—I’m looking forward to hearing the Chuck Wagon Gang greeting me at the Pearly Gates as they belt out my favorite gospel song:
“Oh, come to the church in the wildwood,
Come to the church in the vale,
No spot is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale,
Oh, come …”