November 5, 2012 11:02:14 AM
Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]
At 90 years old, Ms. Fannie declared, "This is my best day at church yet!"
'Tis the season for homecomings and that Sunday was homecoming at Shaeffer's Chapel. People who have never been to Shaeffer's Chapel come to the reunion, but Ms. Fannie Gerhart has never been anywhere else.
Ms Fannie says the small country church once dwindled down to a couple of "Looneys" and herself. The Looneys were a Prairie family from over on Looney Road and they, along with Ms. Fannie and her family, continued church meetings at the chapel.
It is said that Shaeffer's is the oldest continuously-meeting congregation in Lowndes County, having celebrated its 193rd year. That celebration can certainly, in part, be attributed to Ms. Fannie's faithful attendance.
Ms. Fannie shared remembrances of winter meetings at the chapel and the potbelly stove that sat where the organist does now. "If someone remembered to get to the church early that morning and start the fire we were warm, but if they didn't, we remained bundled up."
In the summer the stained glass windows were raised and cool air circulated, with the help of paper fans provided by Gunter Funeral Home.
One Sunday Ms. Fannie's sister joined the church unexpectedly and wanted to be baptized. The sister had to wait a week because no one had thought to bring any water. The only bathroom was a "two-holer" where the fellowship hall now stands.
Although the chapel was only one room, the group managed to separate into Sunday School classes by meeting in cars. The children piled in the back seat; the teacher taught leaning over the front seat.
Once, Ms. Fannie was teaching class in the car when she and the children heard a thump, then another thump. She and the children looked around and under the car and finally opened the trunk -- where they found Mr. Gerhart's hunting dog. The dog escaped Sunday School, high-tailed it home and never came back.
The Gerharts used to live at the corner of Shaeffer's Chapel Road and Highway 45 Alternate, and across the highway was the old Gerhart homestead. For years the big two story white house with a large black "G" at the roofline sat abandoned and in disrepair. I've heard tell of many people who report having lived there at one time or another.
Then the highway expansion came. The Gerhart homes were taken and Ms. Fannie never blinked an eye; she simply built a new home and barn on the east side of the expanded highway.
Inside her new house the walls are painted a bright sunshine yellow, which seems fitting for Ms. Fannie.
There she spends her days quilting and remembering, and every Sunday she puts on her Sunday best, grabs her walking cane and drives herself across the new highway to the church she's gone to her whole life -- and where each Sunday is the best she's ever had.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.