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Now & Then: Remembering dinner on the grounds

“Sunday go to meetin’ ” was accurate terminology for my family when I was a young lad.


I would hear others talk about going to church or to worship service or to Sunday school. But my family, up until I was about 6 years old, actually went to meetin’ on Sunday mornings. Except we called it First Day since “Sunday” was a pagan word.


My mother grew up as a member of the Society of Friends. When she was 2 and a half years old, her parents, Horace and Anna, believed they were called to move from Ohio to North Carolina.


With several other families, they founded Friendsville Meeting south of Ramseur. They built a plain white frame meetinghouse that doubled as a school for their children. It was divided into two large rooms with sliding panels in the center wall to open it up into one room when the situation called for it.


Mama talked about going to school there and learning lessons that the older kids were being taught. On First Days, the group met in the room on the north side, sitting on wooden benches facing elders seated at the front behind a rail.


Walter Macon, an old bachelor whose farm was across the road, would come in early to either raise the windows in warm weather or start a fire in the wood stove in the winter. Walter was an oddity to us kids since one of his hands was missing two or three fingers, lost in some kind of farm accident.


I recall sitting on the bench next to Mama, waiting in the quiet for the hour to pass by. Occasionally, someone would stand as the spirit moved them and speak a few enlightened words. But, being an unenlightened youngster, the words passed right over my head.


Speaking of over my head, I could look up and see the light bulb hanging by a cord from the ceiling. I would watch carefully as a wasp buzzed around the light, apparently seeking its own enlightenment.


But sitting quietly for an hour was, for a 5-year-old, like standing upside down at the bottom of a swimming pool. After a short while, somethin’s gotta give.


I must have been moving around too much because I plainly remember Mama whispering, “You’re a wiggle worm.” 


Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the lead elder rose and said what I’d been waiting for, “The hour is up. We’re dismissed.”


But there were certain Sundays — pardon, I meant First Days — when I looked forward to going to meetin’. Those days came four times a year and were called quarterly meetings. 


Except we youngins called them courtly meetin’ since we had yet to learn about quarters other than what we wanted as allowances. 


Courtly meetin’ was different because we usually had visitors from other meetinghouses, some even from out of state. But mostly, we boys looked forward to courtly meetin’ because that’s when we had dinner on the grounds.


Friendsville had a long wooden table just outside the meetinghouse and on courtly meetin’ it was covered with fried chicken, pot roast, a host of casseroles, and more desserts than you could shake a fork at.


But first we had to give thanks. Being Orthodox Quakers, we would bow our heads and silently pray. Then the elder would give the word and a line would form at the buffet.


One year, while waiting in the food line, a visiting man was introduced. He was a bit past middle age, portly and wearing a three-piece suit. I’m not sure but there may have been a watch attached to a fob in his vest pocket.


The introduction indicated that this man, from up north somewhere, was highly educated and could speak 37 languages. Fortunately, he didn’t feel the need to go about proving it to any doubters, but instead smiled and shook hands.


My family continued going to courtly meetin’, even after we started attending a Baptist church. I was glad to see some of my old buddies, but mostly I looked forward to dinner on the grounds.


Friendsville Meeting probably didn’t last much more than a couple of decades after that as the old members died off. I was told that Walter Macon continued going to the meetin’ house until his death, faithfully lighting a fire in the wood stove. 


Now the building is unused, although nearby Holly Spring Friends Meeting has restored it to its former glory.


Well, except for the boys and girls outhouses in back. But they didn’t hold any outstanding memories for me.


Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.