One of the loveliest spots in Harford county, Maryland, where I live, is a church originally built in the late 1700’s. My brother, Eric, discovered it in 1972 or ’73 on a bicycle ride and showed it to my father. When Eric was killed in a car accident on August 22, 1973, my father knew Eric would want to be buried there. My mother joined him in in April 2006.
The church is kept alive by services on the first Sundays in June and October and yesterday that coincided with my birthday, so that is what my father and I did for my birthday. My favorite part of the service is when the congregation is allowed to select the hymns to be sung. This used to be a much longer part of the service, but the current pastor is an epic killjoy and hires groups to come in and make it just like all the other evangelical services he does. The male quartet that sang harmonized beautifully, but I wished them on the moon, or in the pews and singing with us.
I think the congregation — or at least the organist — knows by now that if I’m there, they’ll be singing, “Come to the church in the wildwood.” I found a video on YouTube with Dolly Parton singing it. I chose her version because my mamaw — my mother’s mother — was a Parton/Partin (I find it spelled both ways in family records) — from the coal-mining hollers on the border of Tennessee and Kentucky. And because I just love Dolly Parton. And because Julia Roberts told the most wonderful story on “Oprah” about working with Dolly Parton on Steel Magnolias, which was released in 1989. A scene for the movie is set in winter and all the actresses were dressed accordingly, but it was being shot in summer so they were boiling hot and all of them were bitching about it except Dolly Parton. This was early in Roberts’ career and she was watching the behavior of all the more established actresses and noticed only Dolly Parton was not complaining and asked her why.
Roberts said that Ms. Parton answered her, “Because my family was so poor that I swore if I ever got out of those hollers and was successful, I’d never complain about anything again.” Then Roberts made a, “Well, shut my mouth!” expression indicating that Parton, in her sweet and gentle way, had put everything back in its proper perspective and connected Roberts with the vast joy of life available to her once she put her attention where it belonged.