The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

August Meeting - Dinner on The Grounds or at The Bridge

By Don Howlett © 1984

Issue: August, 1984

Have you ever been to a real old fashioned August meeting? If you haven't, you missed one of the truly fantastic [Blue Ridge] mountain events. I will tell you how I remember it. Many of these type meetings occurred in many different regions of the mountains and you could spend the entire summer going each Sunday to a different one in a different area.

The second Sunday in August every year, people from all over the United States would come back to Big Reed Island for August meeting. Locals used to say, "at the bridge." This is because there was once a wooden covered bridge over Big Reed Island Creek. There still is a bridge there but it is a concrete one now since the covered bridge washed away in a flood. I still have a picture of the old wooden covered bridge. Some would say, "We're going to have dinner on the ground."

To set the scene, there was a large white wood sided two story general store. (I believe it used to be Largent’s but am not sure.) It sat at the foot of a steep bank with laurel and rhododendron, may apples and all the other wonderful mountain plants in the thicket. Adjacent to the store was what probably used to be a brush arbor but had been fashioned into a wooden shed with a roof open on three sides, and it served as a speaker's platform. There were facing it, pieces of logs and planks to set on top of the logs for seats. They were lined up on the steep bank quite a ways. These were seats for the congregation of a Primitive Baptist church who attended a religious service there during August meeting. The congregation's church was right beside the gravel road that ran by the general store. On the other side of the road was Big Reed Island Creek, where they did the baptizing. The church was a beautiful white wooden one large room church. Its foundation was of stacked flat rock from the creek. Inside were regular windows with the sun streaming in and worn wooden benches. Up on the bank were the ever present men's and women's outhouses. (There were lines of people waiting for them at August meeting.)

Up and down the road were plenty of trees and hollows. Up the hollows were hot dog stands, pop stands, monkeys on a stick with an elastic string souvenir stands. There were birds on a string made of crepe paper and two pronged wooden shaving tails that twirled around as you ran into the wind and they would squeak in a way that was supposed to sound like tweeting. And there were windmills of course. Lots of local people had stands to sell things, even my Uncle Andy Howlett who had the Streetcar Diner in Hillsville had a stand. You could buy strawberry, grape, orange, Double Cola and chocolate pop and it tasted especially good, even though it was probably hot. There were trucks parked along the road loaded with muskmelon and watermelon for a hot summer picnic or dinner on the ground. In other words, all of this was a carnival type atmosphere and something to look forward to year after year, by both adults and children.

I am sure the original purpose was for a religious meeting, baptizing in the river, foot washing, all for a religious experience and it was, even though it evolved carnival like - it still was a religious experience to me.

This was a time for family reunions, meeting old friends, people watching, visiting and courting. A time for the "citified" to meet their "country-fied" cousins and friends - both having a learning experience. Common were the greetings, all done with great feeling, such phrases like, "Lord, ain't he (or she) growed," "You've put on a little," or "You've fell off," or "I ain't seen you in years." We children would run around covering and uncovering our ears with our hands. It sounded like thousands of bees swarming when the relatives all got together and all talked at the same time.

It was dinner on the ground time, it was fun time, it was religious time, it was family time, it was more than all of this. Cars and people were lined up on both sides of the road for what seemed like miles, thick as flies. Anyone unfortunate enough to drive down the road during August meeting was destined to drive along at a snail's pace, trying to get through, being spoken to by everyone on the road walking by and having to speak back. You see mountain people are friendly and love to speak to everyone they meet.

You would see all kinds of cars - a joy for kids hoping to have one someday like this or that or that. My cousin would drive up and down in a huge old limousine with a chauffeur's window and flower vases, hoping to impress the girls. Where did he get the car? Of course from a junk yard and fixed it up. Most of the time it would run. He was a treat and a show off.

At the bridge, both sides were lined up with boys and girls on the rails, watching each other pass, hoping to make contact so you could walk up and down holding hands as if you were dating. You wanted to walk across the bridge for all to see. Even in the days of the old wooden covered bridge, I'm sure I saw some kisses stolen in that darkened bridge. It was an excellent way to meet people. You also had your cousins that you didn't see often, and you'd walk along with them meeting friends of theirs and introducing them to friends of yours. Those were good times, then.

You could gain 100 pounds at August meeting and we children would see how much pie we could eat and sometimes get sick. We deserved to get sick. We would walk down the road and everyplace you stopped, which would be about every ten feet, there would be another dinner on the ground. You would see a friend or relative and as the good mountain southern hospitality goes - you have to have something to eat. They insist, "Aw, just have a piece of Aunt ?'s chicken, she makes the best," or Aunt ?'s apple butter molasses cake. These were all side events but the main happenings were around the church and the Creek.

First of all, you need to know Primitive Baptists (read The Man Who Moved a Mountain and The Mountain Laurel). They talk a lot and they as preachers, can and do preach all day. At the outside speaker's stand I described earlier one after the other preacher would get up and preach or lead singing, all day long, from start to finish. There was hardly room to squeeze a person in on the plank seats that lined the hillside. It was informal and people would come and go from the benches, hoping to hear their favorite preacher or song leader. While all of this was going on outside the church, inside there was also preaching and foot washing. The foot washing was done between the faithful - the elders. They went through the ceremony using graniteware or tin wash pans, wash rags and white towels. The church was filled with the faithful and those others of us who were of different beliefs or were children - we were outside looking in the doors or through the windows, watching this ritual that was strange to us. Do you know that to this day, I know they humbled themselves and served each other and that was a great lesson to be learned by any child. They were truly believers there in that small white one room church.

Outside the church, one thing that impressed me was the flat bed trucks, loaded with farm families, and an awful lot of them had, sitting very regally on that flat bed, their Granny (usually very old). They lovingly had lifted her up on the bed of that truck in her rocking chair or at least a mule eared chair. When I say regally, they loved her and brought her to the meeting and she sat up very straight, enjoying the respect shown her by her family, as if she were on a throne - and she was.

Across that truck lined road was the Creek. There was a flat rock leading down into the water to the baptizing spot. The spot was deep enough to immerse the person being baptized. There were ladies, usually in white dresses and men with at least a white shirt (white as the driven snow) and probably in their regular dress pants. They would march down to the water holding on to each other making a chain. Sometimes they would be singing, sometimes praying as they walked down into the water. The preacher Elder would take each one separately, say a few words, hold his hand over their nose and mouth and immerse them backwards into, in fact, under the water. Some more saved sinners for the Lord.

August meeting was an all day event. It was a loving, learning experience. To those of us who were privileged to go and kept an open mind, learned all kinds of wondrous things we could not have known anywhere else in the whole world except there in the Blue Ridge.

Speaking of learning, it was not always perfect. For example, sometimes back in the hollows, some people did a little gambling betting and the boys even tried out chewing, smoking and snuff. Some would even try out a few cuss words.

In any event, as the sun starts to go down, the trucks start to pull out on the way home with the Grannies still regally seated in their chairs - sometimes rocking, the rest of us, very tired, walk back up the road saying our goodbyes. Some of the older folks are crying and saying, "I probably won't see you next year." It was a sad departure, a tired one, and a happy one all at the same time. Just think, we'll do it again next year. Let's see now, I ate seven pieces of pie: Apple, 3 pieces of Aunt Berties; Butterscotch, 2 pieces of Aunt Flora's; Coconut, 1 piece of Aunt Sara Sue's; Chocolate, 1 piece of Aunt Eddie's. Oh my gosh, there were also 2 pieces of watermelon, 1 piece of muskmelon, 1 piece of chocolate sour cream cake with a dill pickle (always best that way for my sister Doris) and 2 pieces of apple butter molasses cake,... I think I'm going to be sick!

It was the best August Meeting I've ever been to.