Planning the Future - chuckrayconner

Church of the Lord Jesus Jolo, West Virginia June 21st, 2008

Planning the Future

As the week unfolded there were several calls to be made to make sure that services were going to be held, make sure lodging was available at the Don & Connie Bed and Breakfast, and to check on Dewey Chafin.

When Don and I connected he told me he would be around and that if he had to leave that I could just use my key to get in and make myself at home. Connie was in Illinois at her mother’s home because she was having an operation. Don said they had made the 8-9 hour trip several times over the past month. I finally connected with Harvey Payne the Minister; I had been dialing the wrong number as Don pointed out. Harvey told me that services were now being held at 1 pm on Saturday’s as it was easier for many to get there instead of at night, especially if they were coming a distance. Harvey has been very open and friendly in all of the time we have known each other and I have always appreciated and respected him for that. It is an honor to be invited into the services and to be given the freedom to photograph what is a very personal experience.

I called Mackie Turner, husband of Blitz, Dewey’s niece. They have taken Dewey in over the past year because of his health. Mackie said that Dewey’s memory is getting worse, it comes and goes and sounds like he has either dementia or the onset of Alzheimer’s. His diabetes is being managed since someone is helping him with medication and he is getting fed much better than he was doing for himself while living in the back of the church. I also called on Saturday morning on my way to see if Dewey would like to come to Jolo for the day but he was asleep when I called. I also imagine since they do not know me (although I had met Blitz many years ago) they probably wouldn’t want to just let Dewey come with me not knowing if he would be watched after properly. Mackie said it would be ok for me to stop in next time.

It was a beautiful June morning when I left around 7:30. I had just gotten my car out of the shop on Friday, it having a timing issue (again) and so there was some minor background anxiety of not knowing if they had actually rectified the problem. There was no hurry so staying at the speed limit was fine as it allowed me to be on the lookout for yard sales on the side of the road on 119….I am forever interested in what people are selling from their lives. I didn’t stop until just past Logan, two hours into the drive. There is a good sized flea market in an old parking lot that I always stop at with about 50 people set up. I did find a large hand pump that the fella said came out of Missouri when he went down to buy a 53 Chevy (you always get stories!). I also found 8 very old felt banners in excellent condition from various places like Hawks Nest, New River Canyon (before it was known as the “Gorge”), Yeager Airport, Marshall University, Wash. DC, Halls Gap (Ky.), Delaware, and Natural Bridge (Va.)……a steal at $1 each, easily worth 20 times that. Although I have not had Mountain Treasures open for well over a year and a half, the “treasures” keeps mounting up!

My first stop to take a photograph was at Horsepen Mountain. When you leave Charleston you begin the drop into Southern WV. When you get to Logan you are in the midst of it but when you drop over Horsepen Mountain into Mingo, Wyoming and McDowell counties you are in the heart of the southern coal fields. Much has been said stereotypically about people in these hills, some of it true because we are our own worst enemies at times. For the most part these are hard working, honest, independent and proud people. If you want to know us you have to “come sit on the porch”, spend time, and allow the mountains to settle their peaceful nature upon you.

I also stopped to take photos of a few of the home-made religious signs that are common in the area. There are many churches in WV and Appalachia. You pass by houses, trailers, and storefronts that have all been used as gathering places at one time or another for worship. Their aging signs give testimony that someone passed this way on their spiritual journey.

When I got to Jolo I stopped to visit Bob Elkin’s gravesite. It had not been tended in a while and was overgrown with weeds and wildflowers, the mountain taking back what once belonged to it. Bob lies next to his wife Barbara who passed in 1999. Bob’s birth and passing dates have yet to be etched in the stone.

There was one car at the church when I arrived and inside was three adults and two children. Pearl Dawson was there with her grandson Glen and his one month old bride Glenda. Glen’s two children Halley and Braden were playing tag and entertaining themselves. I had met Pearl before but it had been a while, the same with Glen but many years ago. Pearl was enjoying having her great grandchildren around her. The church front had been re-designed and it looked much better than the bare white walls from before. The few remaining photographs that I had hanging had all disappeared, Harvey and his congregation were making this their own.

As time passed others began to show and we introduced ourselves as each arrived. By the time the service began there were thirteen adults and five children. Many of those in attendance were in some way related to the Payne family or close friends. Outside of Harvey who has taken the lead in the church, there were none from the former congregation. Most there had been to services at one time or another but none members of the congregation and regular members. Lyndon, married to William Payne’s daughter Jackie was there with their two children. William Payne Jr. and David Payne, brothers to Harvey were there and David played guitar and sang at times. Ray Christian whom I had not met before also played guitar and sang with an incredibly wonderful voice. He was dressed better than any of us in a well-fitting tan suit and white shoes with gold trim. There was Brenda, Harvey’s wife and their daughter Hanna. Brenda is a sweet and friendly woman and made me feel welcome. Hanna was of course a charmer, being under 2 yrs old. From Kentucky there was Gary Sincell and Ted Coleman who I have met many times over the years as they come occasionally. Ruth, Brenda’s mother was there and a young woman named Rachel who sang several songs and also had a wonderful voice.

The service began with offerings of prayer for family and friends and then individual prayer as each knelt to offer their own prayer. Most of the service was full of song and music. Those that sang were Harvey, David, Ray, Rachel, Lyndon, Ruth and Pearl. About half-way thru the service William Payne Sr. showed up and stopped by to say hello. We had spoken several times by phone when I was trying to connect with Harvey.

A sampling of the songs (I forgot my recorder!!): Ain’t Got Tired Yet,   Have You Got It,   Pay Day, That Same Spirit,   Got Everything You Need,  I’m Getting ready To Go, Jesus is on the Main Line,  Come on in the House of the Lord, Flow through Me, Jesus Knows Your Name,  I’m a Child of the King, and  While I Have a Chance.

The Payne family are guitar players. Harvey, David and William Sr. all played and sang. I really enjoy gospel songs. They are full of messages that no matter your faith, you can hear a message for yourself or they will stimulate things to reflect on. What is most striking are the cries for salvation inherent in many of them. This is what most see as the fatalism in mountain people and their faith but in essence they are simply turning their lives over to Christ, acknowledging in their own way the higher power of the universe and all that exists.

At one point William Sr., got up and played several songs, did a little ministering and then asked to be blessed as others came to him and laid their hands on him for healing and prayer.

Harvey then ministered to the church for about thirty minutes. His message was that God will provide; God has been good to him (us); we will all receive a reward some day; and that he wants to be one who “makes it in”. His father William gathered us in a circle for an ending prayer.

I had not known this but there was a dinner after the service in the back room. Brenda invited me to stay and eat and I certainly couldn’t refuse. There was potato salad, pasta salad, green beans, cornbread, a nice tomato and cucumber salad, coleslaw and of course chicken and other meat based dishes. Brenda was surprised when I told her that I was vegetarian and that I didn’t eat meat, fish or birds (not typical of mountain families). There was a lot of food and cheesecake and whipped cream desserts! We all ate heartily and everyone was encouraged to take food home.

Just after we began to eat, two other men stopped in, one a young man, dressed in slacks and a Jesus tie and when I introduced myself he said he was Reverend Prophet. He had been out with a family who had just lost someone. The older man stayed in the back and didn’t eat but was known by most as they cut up and shared stories.

As the meal wound down, I excused myself to head on up the road. I thanked everyone for their hospitality and told them I would be back next month with a friend from Florida who is studying the faith and wants to attend a service.

I was headed to Roderfield to see my friend Don Reed. It is about a 45 minute drive back up to Iager and then south towards Welch. Don and Connie live up a holler on the side of the mountain as do most folks around the county. He wasn’t home when I arrived but the dogs greeted me and I let myself in and relaxed for a bit. It was about 1 ½ hours before he showed up, just close to when I was going to head back home if he hadn’t. We caught up on each others lives, snacked and then went onto EBay to look at a VW Camper that I was bidding on. His computer was very slow so I cleaned it up and defragged it and that improved its speed a lot. It had not been tuned since my last visit seven months ago. Don spent some time on-line catching up on the local news sites while I watched a little of “Caddyshack” on TV. He did have one visitor, a young man, one of his renters who recently moved form Michigan with his wife and three children. He works for a pipeline outfit and his wife manages a low-income housing project. He said he like the area, his wife is still settling in. We talked motorcycles a little.

By 10 pm I had been up since 5 am and was pretty tired. I told Don that I would be up at five and on my way. He said if I woke him he would get up and head on to Illinois to get Connie. I slept soundly and woke at 5:15, brushed my teeth, dressed and woke up Don and told him I was off. He got up and was going to ease into the day before he left. We said our goodbyes and told him when I would be back. Mountain hospitality….you have to experience it.

A heavy fog was hanging in the hollers as I wound my way back up and out of the southern coalfields. I was hoping to catch some color from the sun on the hills but it never materialized, but it was still beautiful. The sun broke through by the time I hit Logan and I almost stopped for another tour through the flea market but had to get home to work my bees, tie up the tomatoes, place netting over the blueberries and plant squash. That afternoon I had a County Bee Keepers meeting.

So another visit to my wonderful friends in McDowell County was done. For those wanting to hear tales of poisonous serpents being taken up…..didn’t happen…(that’s why it’s called “Beyond the Serpents”!), just good people worshiping in their own way, trying to do the best they can.

Peace