On a cold winter's day we present again a tale evoking memories of a warm and pleasant time of long ago.
The Tin Cup
Seven decades ago we attended camp meeting. Every year.
Camp meeting was held on the camp grounds. The campgrounds had facilities for lodging. It had a dining hall with kitchen. And most importantly, it had a tabernacle. A tabernacle is a huge roof supported by posts such that the effect is an outdoor meeting place, but roofed to keep out the sun and the rain but not the birds and insects. In fact the birds rather liked to nest in the rafters and the mosquitoes rather liked the people which made for some interesting occurrences during service from time to time.
The tabernacle had a gravel floor, but it was tiered such that everyone, more or less, had a good view of the platform which was elevated in the front of the auditorium. Just before one got to the platform, the lowest tier was covered with wood shavings, sawdust, if you will, with the mourner's bench between this level and the platform.
Evangelistic preachers would come to hold the meeting. The workers usually consisted of two preachers who alternated platform duties, and special singers, usually a young man and his wife who were talented in music. Sometimes they were not so young, and had their whole family with them.
Now the routine went like this. The bell-ringer traipsed over the entire grounds, missing none of the lodging places, ringing the rising bell promptly at six in the morning. This gave people time to rise, say a few prayers, and be at the breakfast line by seven. Things happened between breakfast and the first service at ten o'clock, but for us kids it was mostly a time to do stuff without the interference of adult supervision. The grounds were patrolled and mischief was not on the agenda. Ten o'clock: church service, the whole nine yards, and usually out by noon, except when the people that responded to the altar call were still trying to pray through. Then the workers and a few of the faithful had to stay with them, trying to break through to heaven. The rest of us went to lunch.
Church service again at 2:30.
Then supper in the dining hall at five-thirty.
Then the bell-ringer went about, announcing ring meeting. Ring meeting was held outdoors, as if the tabernacle were not sufficiently outdoors. People stood around in a ring on the lawn, sang songs, and gave their testimonies. There was considerable shouting going on. "Glory!" "Hallelujah!"
The evening service began at 7:30. This one was likely to last until well after bedtime for a normal nine-year old boy, because it was in this service that the devil's grip on people's souls must be broken. The more people that could be swayed to come to the altar, the better. Sometimes the "invitation" might require the singing of "Just as I Am," and "Almost Persuaded," with the "Sad, sad that bitter wail, almost, but lost" lines sung over and over, the preacher having long since worked himself into a lather, falls exhausted in front of the altar to pray, even as the singing continues. The fellow-worker and the superintendent then are left to close out the invitation and get the prayer-meeting started for real.
This is the story of the tin cup.
Camp meeting ran for ten full days, actually starting on a Thursday night and ending after the evening service on the second Sunday next. Plenty of time for prayer, praise, preaching, potatoes, and palaver with many from near and far.
Our camp meeting started in mid-June, running, for example from the sixteenth through the twenty-sixth. The days were long, without doubt, and could get hot, more than likely. Thirst, and not speaking here of spiritual thirst, could get intense. But provisions were made! On the south side of the kitchen, on the outside wall, was a standard bib, or faucet, which one could turn on to obtain water. Yet a container for the refreshing elixir was required, so hanging on the bib was a tin cup. A beautiful, standard tin cup was placed there for the convenience of one and all.
Thirsty, we never gave it a second thought. One wonders how so many of us survived, even unto old age. Yet even in that unenlightened (and probably better for it) time, there were one or two who did give it a thought. I am thinking of Mrs. W, wife of one of the pastors on the district, a lady always dressed just a tiny cut above the run-of-the-mill "outfits" worn by most of the women. So Mrs. W gets thirsty, as do we all. She traipses up the walk to the spigot, reaches into her beautiful black calfskin purse and pulls out a ring-like object about two inches in diameter. She grasps the nether portion of the ring in her left hand, the upper part in her right, and pulls. Behold! it becomes a drinking cup! She runs the water, quaffs her refreshment, takes a hankie from the purse and wipes the cup dry, folds it and returns it along with the handkerchief to her purse. She ambles away.
Three of us kids standing nearby watched this little skit play out. Just as she was, we hoped, out of earshot, two of us started snickering. "Some people are too good for their own good," said Wes. "Yeah," I chimed in, "I hope there was snot on her hankie." "No, no. Now stop that," said Andy, who was two years older than we, and therefore presumably wiser in the ways of the world. "You should be grateful that she was considerate enough not to smear her cooties on our cup."
Gleeful laughter as we all skipped off to see what other wonders might appear to further enhance our day!