The tent meeting

The tent meeting

Old time religion

  From the age of nine, I stayed with my grandparents during most of the summer every year as I was growing up. They lived in Irving, Texas, a very small rural community outside of Dallas. They weren’t really farmers, but they had a huge truck garden and chicken house on their property. Much of the produce from the truck garden was meticulously chopped, seasoned, cooked and canned by my grandmother and put away into the canning closet for later consumption.

A good part of it was traded for goods or services between neighbors. The eggs and chickens from the chicken house were traded for fresh churned butter or cuts of pork from a local producer on the edge of town. Of course, we had eggs every morning for breakfast and chicken for dinner at least once or twice a week.

So, over all, summer life in Irving was about as different from that in Dallas as you can imagine. For that reason, I loved it.

One summer when I was eleven years old, my grandpa announced that we were going to take a drive outside of town after supper. I didn’t know why and didn’t ask, but I was pleasantly surprised when we pulled through the gates of a ranch, and after parking along with others in a field, walked over to a corral where a rodeo was in process. Of course, the rodeo was made up of neighboring ranchers who had brought their livestock over to put on a show.

The rodeo drew a huge crowd from around the county and when it was over, I thought it was time to go home. I was surprised when, along with everyone else, we tromped across the field to where a large tent was erected and an endless number of chairs were arranged in rows. Despite this, the chairs filled up quickly and many people crowded into the tent to stand in the back, along the sides and in the aisle.

I didn’t know it then, but the rodeo was the entertainment and part of the draw for the “tent meeting” that followed. The whole universe, as far as I knew, was of the Baptist faith. The traveling tent meeting was from somewhere down around Houston and the show started up immediately.

The music was loud, the hymns were energetic and both were accompanied by foot stomping and shouting worshippers. When everyone was worked up into a frenzy, a tall black-suited man ran out onto a small stage and began gesturing and shouting and thrusting a white-covered bible over his head.

I was caught up in everything going on around me and remember being a little frightened by it all. The fright didn’t last, however, as I quickly tired out and fell asleep with my head in my grandma’s lap.

Neighbors dropped by almost every evening as we sat in the yard or on the porch eating apples, which we sprinkled with salt before every bite.

The conversation for the rest of that summer centered round the “tent meeting” and every evening after I got tired eating apples and chasing lightening bugs, I went to sleep listening to the endless reviews of the “tent meeting.”