In 1958, Beaufort, North Carolina, which is located on the coast near Morehead
City, was a place like many other small southern towns. It was the kind of
place where the humidity rose so high in the summer that walking out to get the
mail made a person feel as if he needed a shower, and kids walked around
barefoot from April through October beneath oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
People waved from their cars whenever they saw someone on the street
whether they knew him or not, and the air smelled of pine, salt, and sea, a scent
unique to the Carolinas. For many of the people there, fishing in the Pamlico
Sound or crabbing in the Neuse River was a way of life, and boats were
moored wherever you saw the Intracoastal Waterway. Only three channels
came in on the television, though television was never important to those of us
who grew up there. Instead our lives were centered around the churches, of
which there were eighteen within the town limits alone. They went by names
like the Fellowship Hall Christian Church, the Church of the Forgiven People,
the Church of Sunday Atonement, and then, of course, there were the Baptist
churches. When I was growing up, it was far and away the most popular
denomination around, and there were Baptist churches on practically every
corner of town, though each considered itself superior to the others. There were
Baptist churches of every type—Freewill Baptists, Southern Baptists,
Congregational Baptists, Missionary Baptists, Independent Baptists . . . well,
you get the picture.
Back then, the big event of the year was sponsored by the Baptist church
downtown—Southern, if you really want to know —in conjunction with the
local high school. Every year they put on their Christmas pageant at the
Beaufort Playhouse, which was actually a play that had been written by
Hegbert Sullivan, a minister who’d been with the church since Moses parted
the Red Sea. Okay,... [continues]
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