Porterdale Mill on the Yellow River
NAMED for: Oliver S. Porter, Mill Owner

 

 

Julia A. Porter Methodist is 100 years young
Darrell Huckaby
 

I knew the occasion was special when I had to park at Ray Moore’s Gulf Station.
I know the sign says “Little Henry’s” above the boarded-up windows of the now-closed convenience store, but the location will always be Ray Moore’s Gulf Station to me.

I parked there Sunday morning and walked past what had once been White’s Department Store, Standard Pharmacy and the grocery store before climbing the stairs leading up to Julia A. Porter Memorial United Methodist Church. I was there to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of that sacred congregation.

Being raised in that church helped me become the person I am. The good parts at least. The bad stuff is my own fault. A flood of precious memories overwhelmed me as I walked past the fountain in front of the church that honors Matt Allen. God has yet to create a more loving person than Matt, and he left us far too soon.

As I glanced at the welcoming committee at the top of the stairs, I almost expected to see Spunk Ivey standing there, cigar in hand. Instead, I was greeted by Bill Edge and Bill Norton. Bill Norton was the one with the hat; Bill Edge the one with the hair. They are both good folk.

The church was so full that I had to sit down front, which wasn’t so bad because I had the distinct privilege of sharing a pew with the Rev. Harold Lyda, who was my preacher when I was in high school. The Bill Cosby comedy tapes were popular in those days, and they featured a character named “Old Weird Harold.” Naturally, we teens called our pastor that, although he was neither old nor weird. He was, however, a true man of God and if he knew of our indiscretions he loved us anyway and never held them against us.

Gayle Norton led the singing. We sang a lot of the old familiar hymns. Yes, “Amazing Grace” was among them. There were lots of special recognitions. Many members of the Porter family, for whom both the town and the church were named, were on hand.

Jonathon Holston was also on hand. He delivered the sermon. Jonathon is a district superintendent. He is also an African-American. I bet the 35 charter members of the Methodist Church at Porterdale who first met on Jan. 17, 1904, never imagined a black man delivering the sermon on the church’s 100th anniversary, but if any of them had been there Sunday they would have certainly been impressed. I have heard thousands of sermons in my life. I’ve never heard a better one than Jonathon preached Sunday morning – or known a finer man. And he finished on time, too, which was important, because we were having dinner on the grounds after the service. Fried chicken waits for no man.

The food was spectacular! I’ve been to a few church dinners in my day, but I have never in my entire life seen as much food as the people brought to church last Sunday. I jumped in line behind Pastor Emeritus John Ozley, who is an old Alabama boy. I trusted him implicitly to point me toward the very best deviled eggs, black-eyed peas and potato salad. He didn’t disappoint, either, although I couldn’t find his famous banana pudding on the dessert table.

The preaching and the food were great, but getting to see so many old friends was even better. There were people there I was raised up with and went to school with – and people who were much, much older than me 40 years ago with whom I have just about caught up in age. There were a few I have even passed, I think. Kay Shaw and Retter Price were both in attendance. They were two of the prettiest girls ever to call Porterdale home, and both are still beautiful.

I think my favorite part of the day was sitting around listening to folks talk about old times. I heard Neil Wheeler’s name mentioned once or twice. Ellis Adams told me that Neil was a heck of a tennis player. See. You learn something new every day. And I heard several people talking about Miss Annie Lee Day and her ability to fall asleep while floating on top of the water in the Porterdale swimming pool – a feat I witnessed first hand as a child.

I heard people talking about former pastors and members of the church who have gone on to Glory. I heard folks swapping lots of yarns and tall tales, and honesty compels me to admit that I questioned the truth of some of the stories I heard.

I also heard folks talking about lives that were changed forever because of the lessons learned and the love shared at that old Methodist church. I know for a solid gold fact those stories were true. Mine is one of the lives touched by the love of Julia A. Porter Memorial United Methodist Church.

I am proud to claim it as my own. I hope the church will always be proud to claim me, too.

Darrell Huckaby is a Rockdale County author and educator. E-mail him at dHuck08@aol.com.