Just three tenths of a mile from the bustle of Dixie Highway, sits Rockford Lane Baptist Church, a stately structure with a white-columned portico and a green steeple, which is adorned with a cross. While there are indications of the church’s current 21st-century setting (e. g. a computer repair shop immediately across the street), the place-of-worship well predates the age of the personal computer. Last year, in fact, marked the 50th anniversary of the erection of the church in the mid-1960s. A stone tablet set in the building’s brick façade serves as a record of the event: ROCKFORD LANE BAPTIST CHURCH 1965, it reads.
Though while its half-century existence is notable, my connection to the church as a historic place has more to do with personal history in that Rockford Lane Baptist Church was the church home of my paternal grandparents, Edwin and Ovaleta. “Pops” and “Ova” (as my siblings and I called them) passed away, respectively, in 2002 and 2004, but certain experiences inevitably bring them to mind. Driving past their former place-of-worship is one such experience.
Most recently, however, Ova & Pops, as well as Rockford Lane Baptist, came to mind as I was listening to John Prine’s song, “Grandpa was a Carpenter.” In the song –which is a recollection of Prine’s memories of his own grandparents– Prine recalls this about his grandfather: He’d drive to church on Sunday, / and he’d take me with him, too. / Stained-glass in every window, / hearing-aids in every pew. Those lyrics immediately took me back to Sunday mornings spent with my own grandparents.
For Ova & Pops, attending church on Sunday morning (during my childhood, at least) was never a discussion. Rather, we grandchildren knew that if we spent the weekend at their house, we could plan on being at Rockford Lane Baptist on Sunday morning. Ova & Pops, no less, not only attended the Sunday morning worship-service, but arrived early so as to participate in Sunday school. I can also recall returning to the church on at least one Sunday evening (a foreign idea to me as a seven- or eight-year-old) to view a slide-show about a mission trip in which some church-members had participated.
Now, my memories of attending church with my grandparents come back to me like the snapshots from “Grandpa was a Carpenter.” For one, Ova & Pops’s church also had colored-glass windows, which were opaque enough that one could not make out the sky or trees outside, but transparent enough that the sun could still light up the sanctuary. Also like Prine’s song, I, too, recall certain pews at Rockford Lane Baptist having hearing-aids wired into them, with which –to our dismay– Ova & Pops would never let us grandchildren play.
Other memories likewise come to mind: the various ribbons and other bookmarks tucked in my grandmother’s Bible (which she faithfully took with her to church each Sunday); a Fathers’ Day service at the church during which my grandfather (along with the other fathers in attendance) was honored with the gift of a screwdriver; and –as a child would be apt to remember– eating cookies & drinking Kool-Aid at snack-time while participating in Vacation Bible School at the church one summer.
While these recollections come to me, I am reminded of another line from a different John Prine song: Ain’t it funny how an old broken bottle / looks just like a diamond ring? As I recall the time I spent with my grandparents at Rockford Lane Baptist Church, this thought comes to mind: Ain’t it funny how an old Baptist church can bring back so many memories?▪
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