Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly. George MacDonald
Back in the day there would be no visible sympathy for the new kid in town. This was a practical lesson for the future. New to town was a good-for-you sorta prescription for children and as a rising fifth grader, I was to grin and bear another round of settling into a new neighborhood, new school, new church.
Some things about the 1960s were oh so simple to be wholly unconscious. Religious relocation in our family as far as we knew it amounted to a simple formula – Presbyterian or Episcopalian?
The box my parents chose was Presbyterian and to this day, I’m not sure why. Still, there would be no discussion: 801 South High Street, Columbia, Tennessee was to be our center of ceremony. Bravely we would wedge ourselves into a scene where most participants had been for generations.
First attendance was enough to make a small person tremble in their Mary Jane shoes. Imposing and formal, the wide steps lead still to an entrance which opens into a dark and serious sanctuary and quakes with ancestral strains of the organ embroidered by a practiced choir.
Still there was something familiar in the doing as we presented ourselves to the congregation that late summer Sunday in1966. We must have intuited that the site and its shifting community would buoy our lives with hospitality through marriage, old age and events beyond our imagination.
I was escorted by the Sunday School Superintendent to the age appropriate room consisting of all boys. Rowdy boys. Scanning the room I looked for feminine relief only to be introduced to a football player like Sunday School teacher.
When the bell rang, classrooms of neophytes scuffled down the narrow halls and staircases until we slid into the home plate made up of a giant swinging door that separated us from the adult lecture hall/church basement. Inside waited rows of chairs and occupants dressed to the nines, a lectern manned by the town intellectual and thank you, Jesus, fresh donuts for the social interlude before the 11:00 service.
As the well attended fellowship swelled, parents snatched their children for introductions. Observations were mentally recorded by all.
Distinctions would be later stressed at lunch as in the day my mother said, “Johnny Satterwhite is a fine young man”. And so he was. Redheaded and friendly. Seersucker-suited and thoughtful, a product of unflappable genes. Old soul came to mind even as we made our way through the hazy world of youth group.
During the first social event of the church season, we loaded up onto the wagon that Johnny expertly pulled by tractor to a high point on his family farm where we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows. I came to expect his father-like hosting abilities which I now can see began that night.
This is where as Kierkegaard says life can only be understood backwards though it must be lived forwards. At some point, Johnny became a point of contact in my grown up reality (children and husband included) which was without match; a church-like place so subtle yet so thoroughly uplifting and enlightened that I can only define it as a fount of pure love.
Because for a lifetime of Sundays, as an usher at the First Presbyterian Church, he was right there at the entrance doors during both days of celebration and days of sorrow. He pulled people inside the sanctuary with the effervescence of a saint.
Brightly calling you by name with a how are you and a personal comment to bring you back to your higher self, he delivered heaven to those on the fringe – all who passed through, teetering some days more than others.
Johnny committed himself to the significance of a mighty exchange. A life changing tiny something for me and my family that will sustain us, as long as we endeavor this odyssey.
He fathered the task with unfailing humor day after day, year after year and endured the inconveniences when most humans would say enough.
For each day forward, I’ll count the memories of the steady way he set his course and delivered by way of devotion, not only to the duties of a church narthex, but to family, farming and Christmas tree joy. He was the best of teachers.
Come on in here, he’d say. I think I will.
Milky Way Cake
Johnny Satterwhite was a confirmed chocolate lover. If I knew how short life really was I would have baked this 1960’s cake recipe and presented it to him, a special delivery snack for all the fine Satterwhites whose customer service makes the the Satterwhite Christmas Tree Sale a centerpiece of our community holiday.
It is direct from my mother’s small but well documented favorites. She made it often probably because it freezes well. As an added tip, I can say that it is even better on the second day and can serve up to 12 chocolate lovers at one gathering.
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup pecans (4 ounces), finely chopped
14 ounces Milky Way bars (about 6 1/2 individual size ), cut up
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
Heat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease a 10 inch fluted tube pan with the 2 tablespoons butter.
Add chopped nuts; tilt and rotate pan to cover bottom and sides. Leave any loose nuts in bottom of pan.
Heat candy bars and 1/2 cup butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring often until melted and smooth. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
Mix flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl beat remaining 1 cup butter and the sugar with electric mixer until fluffy.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Beat in vanilla and candy mixture. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk until well blended.
Scrape into prepared pan.
Bake about 1 hour or until pick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool in pan on rack 30 minutes.
Invert on rack; remove pan and cool completely.