Wintergreen Certs mints and the scent of Wind Song Cologne for Women bring me back to a very special place: the tiny country church that, on my mother’s side, our family has attended for five generations.
Three generations of Van Slykes and Goodbrands were married here: my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle. After rounding the globe while serving the U.S. Navy for 20 years, my grandparents settled back into their home town and remained members of the congregation for more than 50 years. So many precious memories.
I see my grandfather in his suede western jacket and bolo tie. He’s 88 now, and at 6-foot-4 with a strong build, a deep booming voice and hands that have always reminded me of boxing gloves, he could have easily doubled for John Wayne while in his prime. And though my grandfather has always had a beautiful, rich bass singing voice, he would always jokingly threaten to join the church choir as if he couldn’t sing. The silly antic was ongoing between grandpa and the small handful of choir members for decades.
Throughout their span as congregants, my grandparents were dedicated and integral members. Grandpa did the majority of the lawn mowing, the snow removal and the building maintenance. For 25 years my grandmother organized the annual fall bazaar. This was the church’s biggest fundraiser and required a great deal of her time and dedication. She was fortunate to have had a lot of really wonderful help over the years. The church always smelled so good on bazaar day, roast beef or ham. Members baked delicious homemade treats: fruit pies, cakes, danishes, cookies and crusty bread. Handmade crafts were sold, things knitted and sewed by sweet grandmotherly types.
My sister tells a funny story regarding the one and only time grandpa ever gave her a spanking, which I’m certain was more of a little pat on the bottom knowing my gentle giant of a grandfather. She and my cousin, dressed in their Sunday best, were waiting outside one wet spring day for my grandparents. My grandfather told her: “I know you love to roll down this hill, but wait until after church so you don’t ruin that pretty dress.” Well, she went ahead and rolled anyway and was completely covered in mud and grass stains from her patent leather shoes to her white tights and her pale blue dress! We were country kids and that was an awfully big temptation for a 4 year old! We all laugh about it now.
It pains me to say that last month, this classic New England looking church with its white steeple, its double red door, and its loving purpose, closed its doors forever. There just weren’t enough members to support it any longer.
I wonder what will become of the building that holds all of these memories. The roll of mints that I’d dig around for in grandma’s purse, where three generations of my family were wed and where five generations shared faith and love. I wonder if other people share similar sentiments in regard to the prolific number of small country churches that have been folding over the past few decades? These modest places brimming with simple elegance where young couples begin their life’s journey, where babies are baptized, where messages of kindness and hope are shared on Sundays and where, when life comes full circle, we gather to say goodbye.
I feel a strange but very real pull to purchase the church when it is put on to the real estate market, but in reality I know this would be a foolish for many reasons. What would my family do with a church? I realize that these precious memories reside in my heart and not in the building itself, still, I feel such a strong, tangible connection to it. It is as much a part of my family’s history as a family farm is to the generations that have farmed it.
What to do in a situation like this? When your heart and soul are compelling you to do one thing, and your logical brain is yelling “Danger, Will Robinson! This makes no sense!”
In his novel, “The Alchemist,” Paulo Coelho writes “You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”
If only it were that simple! What would you do?