The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Red Hot Religion

By Inga Lycan Kimple © 1985

Issue: October, 1985

Folks up the holler here are still talkin' about the night Shoutin' Ed Willis and the three lady Holy Rollers came to town and like to set the church house on fire. I recollect it real well 'cause Lizzie, Grace, and I were at the meetin’. Oh, it warn't a real church house, 'cause the Holy Rollers were travelin' preachers. Usually, they'd hold their revivals outadoors, but it bein' January, they decided to use the empty room over Cranshaw's Dry Goods Emporium. There was a coal burnin' stove up there and benches brought over from the school house. Even a pulpit from somewheres.

We got there early so's to git a good seat in the back. Lizzie was watchin' all the young fellers come in, while Grace and I practiced prayin' in case the preacher called on us. I had this idea that the preacher would call on me and say, "Sister Maude, would you lead us in prayer?" Then in an inspired sorta way I'd give thanks for awhile, then pause real dramatic like before askin' forgiveness for a 'poor wretch like me.' I still didn't have it down pat, but I liked the part about the poor wretch, and was hoping Bill Jim Baker would be moved enough by my humility to ask me to walk home from school.

Lizzie was flashin' her toothy grin at Bill Jim and although she's my first cousin one removed, I couldn't help hissin’, "Jezebel!" She was one reason I was practicin' my prayer. Ma says she has natural grace, purty black hair, and eyelashes to boot. But, I'm sure thin yaller hair and goodness must count for somethin’.

Grace is my sister, two years behind me. She's goin' through an everlastin' awkward stage, but at least she's loyal. She was flippin' through her Bible, lookin' for big words to put in her prayer. As usual she started, "Brethern, we are gathered in a multitude in this here synagogue."

Last year, when she berried all our doll babies she had a real good prayer for the funeralizin'. She used our old Sears catalogue for the Bible and prayed a good ten minutes. But, she didn't write it down and fergot it. She also fergot where she berried Carrie Nation, Ida Sue, and the Least-Un. We must have dug up half the garden lookin' for them youngins. When she berries, she berries.

More people were comin' in now, so I tried to sit up straight. It was hard to look citified in my homemade calico dress, but I smoothed out the puckers and pulled on my braids. We were studyin' symmetry in eighth grade and I was tryin' hard to achieve it.

"Evenin' girls."

"Evenin' Miz Wilcox!"

"Oh Maude, ain't she got the purtiest dress?" Grace whispered.

Amelia Wilcox was the teacher at our one room school house. We didn't see her at church doin's much, her bein' Methodist and us Baptist. She wore store bought clothes and owned three pairs of shoes. We loved her citified ways.

More and more folks crowded in, steamin' up the windows. Elvira Atterby squeezed her fat body next to Lizzie, crampin' the three of us. We nodded without lookin', as usual, as she planted her specs on that long nose of hers. Well, at least I knew Lizzie couldn't see Bill Jim because she began thumbin' through Second Timothy.

Finally, all the benches were taken and a few latecomers leaned on the walls. There were only a few Holy Rollers in the congregation. When travelin' preachers came to town they usually drew crowds from all the churches, new faces bein' scarce up the holler here.

People began heshin' up each other as the evangelists appeared at the doorway and began marchin' up to the pulpit. Shoutin' Ed Willis, the preacher, was a regular breathin' broomstick, tall and thin with a head crowned by a perfect bald circle. Around this circle grew a whole lotta bushy white hair like a shaggy wreath. And he had these dark beady little falcon eyes that held the 'tention of that whole room. Behind him stood three lady Holy Rollers in long purple gowns trimmed with gold ribbons, each lady holdin' two tambourines trimmed with more gold ribbons. Them outfits were fancy enough for Judgment Day, but I swear those ladies were right scary lookin' with their hair all piled up high. I reckon they coulda shook the meanness right outa ye, iffen they had a mind to.

Under Shoutin' Ed's steady gaze the room got very still. He raised those long skinny arms so high they almost touched the ceilin'. Forcefully shakin' the Bible in his right hand, Shoutin' Ed looked all around the room, then directly at us, "Praise the Lord!"

Shoutin' Ed shouted, "Praise the Lord!"

The three lady Holy Rollers shook their tambourines and echoed, "Praise the Lord!"

"Praise the Lord!" the crowd cried a little louder. Then Shoutin' Ed looked at us real hard this time and shouted, "Praise the Lord!"

The crowd, gettin' real het up now, shouted back, "Praise the Lord!"

Elvira Atterby jumped up and shouted, "Amen, Brother!"

Elvira, bein' one of the few local Holy Rollers in the congregation, wanted to make sure the Baptists, Methodists, and Campbellites knew what real religion was - not to mention the backsliders. So every time the preacher shouted something she liked, which was purty often, she shouted back, "Amen, Brother!" Then the three lady Holy Rollers, not to be outdone by Elvira, would shake their tambourines real hard.

The meetin' was jest gettin' started, two songs and three prayers, when ol' Tate Wheeler began rollin' his eyes back in their sockets and lookin' plumb crazy. Lizzie smirked and poked Grace.

That was the signal ol' Tate always gave as he started his revivin'. An old moonshinin' backslider, Tate was always the first to repent. He had been revived three times last year, but we reckoned his flesh was weak.

Then he got that hangdog look he always got and began heavin' and startin' to roll down the aisle. In fact, he was nearly somersaultin', the aisle bein' so narrow.

Whispers of "There goes ol' Tate" went round the room. His kinfolk, certain Tate's salvation would take this time, kept him goin' with "Amens" and their prayin' shot through the room like a bolt of lightnin'.

Holy Rollers began goin' forward to join Tate and Shoutin' Ed. Then they began goin' back into the congregation, pullin' on others to join the redeemed.

Tate lay at Shoutin' Ed's feet. He began murmurin' and shakin' his legs and takin' on somethin' awful. He was stealin' the show from Shoutin' Ed and we wondered what he would do next.

Shoutin' Ed must have wondered too, because he really began shakin' his Bible and tryin' to shout louder than Tate's noises.

But ol' Tate began speakin' in tongues. Then leapin' to his feet and lookin' straight at Shoutin' Ed and the three lady Holy Rollers, he jumped right on top of that blazin' hot coal stove! I swear the look of the devil was on his face and his eyes glowed like red coals. Grace says they couldn't of, but I swear I seen it. Then his clothes began to smoke and smell, jest like the time I ironed my red Sunday meetin' dress too long.

Shoutin' Ed's spell was broken The whole meetin', includin' the three lady Holy Rollers, began movin' towards the closed doors. Nath Johnson and Bill Jim pulled them open as folks began jammin' through three at a time.

Wild-eyed grown men pushed old women outa the way to git through. Tim Preston, a little ol' tewbaccy drummer from up around Wells Creek, skinned right up Elvira's back and rode her all the ways down to the bottom jes' like a leech, her a screamin' and fit to be tied.

Someone was pullin' on my braids; I think it was Grace, but she don't own up to it.

"My arm's caught in the banister!" Bill Jim screeched.

"Ow. You're a tearin' my dress," Lizzie yelled.

The lady Holy Rollers were abeatin' on everyone with their tambourines. The scariest one, about six feet tall with all thet hair, broke her tambourine over Nath Johnson's head. Lawsy mercy, you never seen such a sight in all your life!

We finally made it outside and sat down on the frozen ground. Lizzie was still fussin' about her dress when Grace yelled, "Shoutin' Ed jest jumped outa the window!" Sure 'nough he had jumped and kept on runnin' and shoutin' all the way to the woods. The three lady Holy Rollers, not knowin' what to do, began shoutin' and runnin' after him, ribbons a flyin' ever which ways.

Everyone was lookin' up to the windows for fire, when someone asked, "Where's ol man Wheeler?" A few of the braver ones started to go back upstairs, when out he stumbled. He warn't hurt much though the back of his overalls were burnt clean away.

Lookin' around, he spied a broken tambourine on the ground. Pickin' it up he shook it real soft like, then harder, as he said, "Praise the Lord!"

And the funny thing is, Tate's salvation did take that time; that night he went and chopped up all his moonshine stills. Folks said that the burnin' coal was a taste of hell that would scare the devil hisself. And Shoutin' Ed and the three lady Holy Rollers didn't even have time to pass the collection plate.