(This is the eighth in a series of articles about growing up in Lewisburg, West Virginia, perhaps the greatest town and in the best time to grow up that a young man could ever ask for.)
The first Easter Sunday after I moved from Beckley to Lewisburg, it snowed. Our family entered Old Stone Church in our summer best, having to knock off the snow from our shoes. I wore a blue seersucker suit with a white button down shirt, a bow tie and white buck shoes. My little sister had a pink dress of with a full crinoline and my mother wore her Easter parade outfit complete with white gloves and a fancy hat. All the Lewisburg ladies, in fact, wore hats. And gloves. And some had parasols in case the sun came out. It didn’t of course. It was snowing.
Dressing for church was not optional in Lewisburg. It was mandatory. There was no such thing as wearing blue jeans and a sport shirt to church. It was your Sunday best or nothing. All the young men wore ties and all the girls wore fancy dresses. The men folk wore suits and most wore hats, which they hung on the pegs in the narthex.
The Church Ladies in Lewisburg were special. Not only did they dress to the nines, they were among the best cooks in America. I have a cookbook from the recipes of the Old Stone Church ladies that I treasure to this day. The church picnics were like an episode out of Iron Chef. It was deep fried chicken, meatloaf, country ham biscuits, homemade breads and pies, garden raised vegetables and there was never a shortage.
It may have been the men of the church who were elders and deacons, but without the Church Ladies, Old Stone would have ground to a quick halt. The Church Ladies tended the nurseries, taught Sunday School classes, led the choir in song, made the flower arrangements, had numerous weekly circles, prepared all the special dinners and events and they did it with little or no fanfare.
Churches in Lewisburg also played an important role in the social lives of young people. Dancing was a big thing in the 50’s. We all did the jitterbug or a close variation, and we often had church dances. The Methodists would have a social about once a month as did Old Stone Presbyterian. The Episcopalians never had dances. I suppose all that kneeling hurt their legs.
The Methodist Church had a renowned preacher named Stacey Grosscup, who was not only great with young people, he was a cracker jack archer. He could hit an aspirin tablet with his bow and arrow if you tossed one in the air. Really. He was phenomenal. We were in awe of his skills and were deeply disappointed when his five-year term ended. Methodists rarely let a pastor stay on more than five years. Presbyterians pastors were there for life as long as the membership and pledges held steady.
Churches played an important role in the lives of young and old alike in the 1950’s. And for the most part, it was the Church Ladies who made it happen.