Time passed slowly in the Appalachians. A year seemed too terribly long to judge time; we judged time by seasons and events. This gave us a safety net from the mundane; still, time crept by sluggishly at best. The farthest we planned ahead was the next major event: Easter, Decoration Day, Labor Day, Halloween, Election Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. That took us to a new year, and the cycle started over. This worked best for us.
There was one more major event: the annual revival meeting. Our isolated community missed the cut on the evangelists’ list of preferred churches. Instead, we made the when-you-absolutely-have-no-other-place-to-preach list. That made us more vulnerable to the upstarts and the has-beens, not to mention the charlatans. And they somehow managed to find us.
News of the revival spread like wildfire in a forest carpeted with pine needles. Gossip fanned the flames, some saying that the evangelistic team might be snake handlers. Heated arguments erupted at the post office, with varying opinions as to the sanctity of such in church. But no matter if you were for or against, folks packed out the church house for the service.
The opening Friday night was hot and sticky, the dead-end road to the church was dry and dusty, and the open windows to our unpainted, clapboard church facilitated the mosquitoes that were thick and hungry.
Me and a friend wondered if the evangelistic team was a snake handlers. And if they were, we speculated as to whether the snakes were real or fake rubber snakes like those won at a carnival. Our curiosity stirred, so we decided to have a look. Upon investigation, sure enough, we discovered a wire-mesh cage in the back of the preacher’s beat-up station wagon.
The crowd gathered long before the service started, talkin’ a plenty. The older folks gathered around the evangelistic team, welcoming them top our community. Children played tag, while the teenagers joined in a game of drop the hanky. So, a couple of seven-year olds hanging around the station wagon provoked no undo suspicion. The snakes seemed real enough, but they weren’t moving, so we poked some sticks through the wire mesh. Sure enough, they were real. The more the snakes struck at our sticks, the more we prodded them. They were mighty riled up before we slipped leisurely away to settle on the pew farthest back in the church house, nearest the door, with a window view of the station wagon. We anticipated the service might be a tad more excitin’ than the evangelistic team anticipated.
The women fanned while the children climbed over the slatted, wooden benches. The men wiped sweat, the teenagers passed notes and shy glances, and we two boys were grinnin’ sheepishly. The praise singers finished, and Pastor Charlie took a love offering for the evangelistic team, whose absence, by this time, created a noticeable concern. But I could see the evangelistic team through the open window, huddling at the back of the station wagon like generals deciding a war strategy. They eventually entered the building, absent their snakes, but carrying a guitar, bass fiddle, and some tambourines. Preacher Charlie turned the service to them and they began to sing.