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Possumhaw: That old-time religion


Shannon Bardwell



The little church in the Prairie, Shaeffer's Chapel, had their annual Seniors Appreciation Banquet -- not seniors like high-schoolers, but seniors like seniors. The preacher shared with the crowd, "Honor your father and mother so that your days on the earth may be long." 


Though one might describe us hosting the banquet as seniors ourselves, we were honoring those "fathers and mothers" who contributed to getting us where we are now. By being there we hoped that our days on this earth would be at least as long as theirs. 


Extraordinary banquet fare was served then Kenny Gardner took the microphone and held it close. His sister, Merita Miller, stood slightly behind him. Her eyes looked heavenward as they sang out the old-time hymns in crystal clear voices, his strong, hers lilting. 


The music took me back to another time, a style I hadn't heard in decades. Way back when there was a concert in Columbus, I went with Momma and Dad. It was a Blackwood Brothers concert somewhere downtown. 


I wasn't a big fan of Southern Gospel and can't say that I am now, but when you hear it, there's something there, and this duo had that something. 


Kenny and Merita sang a few songs but not nearly enough. Snow flurries and ice pellets were circling around outside, so the banquet drew to a premature close.  


After the concert I had chance to talk to Kenny. Merita definitely seemed the more shy of the two. 


"You have a style something like the Blackwood Brothers," I said to Kenny. 


He grinned, "Yeah, I guess that's in there somewhere. You know I sang with a group and got to sing on stage with them. It was sometime in the '70s." 


I confessed to my fascination with Cheryl Prewitt, later Cheryl Prewitt Blackwood. 


Kenny continued, "I got to meet her once. Back then I had a radio show in Columbus on WJWF. It was on Saturday mornings from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. During the week I sold advertising for the radio station. But that day I went to the airport to interview Cheryl. She was so down to earth." 


I agreed. "Pretty amazing story for a little girl from Choctaw county. Remember when she told about having a short leg and going to a healing service? She said the preacher prayed over her and her leg grew two inches in seconds. Amazing a girl like that could be Miss America." 


"I call that a God-thing," Kenny said. 


"So Kenny," I continued, "did you and Merita sing when you were little?" 


"Oh yes, the whole family did. Daddy was a preacher. Still is. He's been preacher about 60 years now I guess. We all sang together as a family." 


Driving home in the snow flurries, I hummed a little Tennessee Ernie Ford. Momma used to play his records on the console stereo. "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses ... "


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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