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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saints and Sinners

Vintage blacksmith in Bakerville BC.  Bona blacksmith shop is gone.

Over beyond Mattie Whiteside’s store to the south, there once was a blacksmith shop run by the Slagle brothers.  I well remember the ring of the sledge on the anvil and the odor and sound of the forge when they heated horseshoes or plowshares.  The Slagle boys shod horses and mules and repaired the steel rims of the horse drawn wooden-wheeled farm wagon until such wagons were replaced with wagons made from old Model T Ford frames and had rubber tires.  By the early thirties the blacksmith shop was not making a living for them and it was abandoned.  I recall that in the mid-thirties the Slagle brothers for a while operated a small, open air sawmill down by the frog pond west of Grandpa’s store.  It was belt driven from an old, old steam tractor.

I recall one incident involving that old blacksmith shop.  It was 1930 or 1931 when I was nine or ten years old.  We were visiting Grandpa and Grandma one sunny afternoon and I had been at the shop watching Ben Slagle heat some horse shoes in the forge and fit them to a black horse.  There was a group of men in a storeroom at the back of the dilapidated building taking turns sipping out of a quart fruit-jar of moonshine whiskey.

1930s still
Since Bona has sometimes been called “the buckle on the Bible belt” there were not many moonshine stills in the hollows around there except for a couple that us kids stumbled across down in the cane brakes along Maze Creek.  Moonshine was easy to come by during Prohibition, however.  The men who took a nip or three now and then knew where there was an old hallow log down by the Little Sac River where they could leave a dollar bill, go fishing for a while, then come back and that dollar bill would have turned into a quart of “white lightening.”

Well, on this particular day, I do not know who all was back there as we kids were not allowed in the storeroom, but I do know that Eulas Todd was one of them and, with Eulas, one drink led to another.  I had gone back across the road to Grandpa’s store when I heard Maud Todd yelling her head off out in the road.  Now Maud was a small lady with jet black hair and a mighty temper.  She was really on the warpath.

I went outside, along with everyone else in earshot—which was a fair piece when Maud yelled—and she was stomping up and down by a black Model T roadster that had been parked in front of the blacksmith shop, yelling things like, “Look at that drunken bum!  He has passed out right here in front of God and everybody!  Come here, you kids, and just see what drinking that Devil’s brew will do to you!”
She saw me and motioned, “Come on over here, Conrad, and look at this shameful sight.  He has plat passed out!”
I tiptoed rather timorously across the road and looked in the open door of the car.  There was Eulas, all right, sprawled out across the seat dead to the world.  He did not even stir when Maud shook him and beat on his leg with a clenched fist, mad as an old wet hen.  Some spittle was drooling from one corner of his mouth and I would have thought that he was dead except that he kept on snoring.
I don’t reckon Eulas really went to hell because of his drinking, though.  He was really a good and gentle man with his kids when he was sober and I remember he taught Claude to play “Greencorn” on the banjo one time when Claude had broken a foot and was laid up with nothing to do.  Eulas never went near the church in those days, but I heard years later that he had quit carousing around, got religion, and joined the Bona Church.  He never hurt anybody that I know of and I’d reckon he made his peace with the Lord before he died at a ripe old age.
Contemporary picture of the Church at Bona

Bona Church deserves a special mention since it was—and still is—the hub of the community.  It was a white clapboard square building (since then modified by the addition of a brick front) shaded by several large spreading trees—mostly maple, but one was a big mulberry tree.  The church is a very fundamentalist Church of Christ.  The members do not hold with drinking, card playing, dancing, etc, and no musical instruments (except for the song-leader’s tuning fork) are allowed in the church.
There were no regular ministers at the Bona Church.  Services were conducted by the deacons and elders of the church except when traveling ministers came to hold revival meetings.  I would reckon they were latter-day circuit riders although they came in either Model T or Model A Ford cars instead of riding on horses.
I recall two of those traveling ministers in particular because they were so different.  There was one short and stocky red-headed man who was an old-time hellfire and damnation preachers.  When he got going good, he would wave his arms as he paced back and forth behind the lectern and his sonorous voice would fair make the acetylene light fixtures shake.  When he thundered about the sins that would take you straight to hell, he could make you cringe in your seat while you smelled Sulphur fumes and imagined the devil with his pitchfork hot on your trail.
The other preacher I recall was just the reverse.  I do not recall the names but this other fellow was tall and lanky as if he were not eating to regularly and, instead of being bombastic about sinning, he was soft-spoken, kind, and gentle.  He based his sermons on the good things in the Bible and a promise of a good life to come with Jesus—providing, of course, that you led a good life and avoided the well-marked path to perdition.  He was very persuasive, too.  At the end of an evening revival meeting when the invitation hymn was being sung, he made folks sincerely want to come forward and pledge their lives to the Lord.  He was the one that baptized me, but that was later on.
There was no choir at the Bona Church.  The congregation was the choir.  Every Sunday evening many of the congregation gathered for “singing” which served as choir practice as well as a vesper service in praise of the Lord.  It is my regret that tape recorders did not exist then because, in their small way, the Bona congregation could rival the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Led by lanky Elmer Long, as long as they stuck to the old favorites—“The Old Rugged Cross,” “In the Garden,” “Shall We Gather at the River,” “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown,” etc—everyone knew the tenor, bass, alto, and soprano parts and it sounded beautiful.  I shall always remember walking up the road toward Bona on a warm summer Sunday evening and hearing that music pour from the open windows along with the soft golden glow of the acetylene lights.  I do not know if they still sing that well or not since I have not been in the Bona Church for services for more than thirty years.

In 1970 I drove my grandparents home to Greenfield from a winter on Whidbey Island in the 1959 Chevrolet Impala my grandfather had bought.  I hadn’t been in Missouri since I was too young to remember.  My trip happened to coincide with Aunt Ora’s funeral which was at the Church at Bona.  My grandmother explained ahead that there wouldn’t be a piano or organ or a choir, but there were two pews of old folks who may have at one time sounded angelic to my father.  I couldn’t help but think that a piano or organ would have done a lot to keep us all in tune.

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