Lest I return to the lyrics well once too often, I resist the urge to quote Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” in describing my spiritual roots.
But I mean to tell ya, when that little Boswell, Pa., Church of God was a-rockin’, you didn’t want to come a-knockin’. It was Brother Charlton’s Salvation Show.
I don’t recall an adult ever addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” It was always “Brother and Sister Fleagle,” etc., and don’t even get me started on Sister Bittner, who got so filled with the spirit one Sunday night she dropped at the altar like she’d been harpooned.
As she moaned and writhed, no one rushed to her side or even missed a beat. The divinely inspired tongue-speaking mayhem continued well into the night. Just a typical service.
Before you think our little Pentecostal church a bunch of dangerous fruitcakes, let me clarify that never once did anyone try to handle a snake. However, Dave Beemer sure looked snake-bit after his first night service when he returned to Pa. with me when we were 19 and lived with us. I glanced into his eyes at about the two-hour mark and saw pure terror living there.
I always say, “Beemer couldn’t speak for days after that service.” For someone accustomed to talking for days without even taking a breath, you know what he witnessed during his coming-of-age months in my turf had rocked his world. But what he saw was what I’d seen hundreds of times, barely even drawing a yawn anymore.
Brother and Sister Blough packed us off to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night and Tuesday night, and during frequent “revival weeks,” I’d be stuck there pretty much every night.
This congregation, usually numbering around 50 worshipers, was a simple, uneducated bunch – probably not a college education and few high school diplomas among them. That was common in those days and culture, though. Dad lorded it over Mom that he finished ninth grade to her eighth before quitting school for jobs. These weren’t all simple-minded crazies, but there was no shortage either. Mom and Dad weren’t among the screamers and rollers, thankfully.
Crazy Sister Bittner wasn’t a handsome woman, and I’m guessing her gentle, gigantic, slow-witted son George never married. The homely Bittner daughter Winnie likely had to sneak up on a glass of water, and the Godins, the “money of the church” which Dad resented, were an odd collection. She’d stomp her feet and speed-shake her head during Holy Spirit sessions, and I swear the one son was still sitting on Dad’s lap through puberty. Ah, but the youngest daughter, Sandy, friend of my older sister Wanda, came out of that mess with one hellacious figure.
The Charlton’s flirty daughter Sherry also was a hormonal little brother’s dream. When one or both came home from early service with Wanda to spend the day, there was so much good-natured wrestling, I’d have to go to the altar and get “saved” all over again at Sunday night service.
I knew from Brother Charlton’s many brimstone sermons, my fire down below leadeth directly to the fire down below.