Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

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Nineteen Years Reflecting Upon A New Bride, Spring & Church

 For years I have written about my love for the Northern Neck during the last days of April. Often, I have remarked about the beauty of the dogwoods as folks traveled to and fro about the area, dodging the pollen. In fact, I have gauged my perception of spring beautiful by what stage the dogwoods were in. Also, I have measured the colors and depths of beauty at the azaleas in the Corrotoman River shore garden of my late parents.

On April 23, 1999, my forever view of spring changed. Hazel Ione Shelton became my bride. Oh, what a special day, what a special spring—there’ll be no other like it. It will forever remain the standard by which I measure spring. I am in love. More importantly I am loved.

I received my bride off the arm of her handsome son for whom I am more proud the older he grows. He was our toy soldier who made the perfect escort for his mom. Rob’s Fork Union Military Academy uniform provided just the right contrast for her beaded gown. His big sister Jennifer’s beauty surpassed that of the roses she bore.

Alas he is grown, married and a dad of two himself these days. His older sister is now a professional psychiatric nurse-practitioner. And goodness knows it all happened in a minute’s time.

On our rainy wedding day, we’d summoned trumpets galore to accompany both organ and piano. The music was grand, majestic, powerful. The congregation rose to new heights of spirit as musicians four marked the pace we all followed. The combination of instruments and voice alike gave me goose bumps. Almost as many as when Hazel took my hand.

Son Lee stood with his dad. He stood to sing where once his mother’s casket reigned. I rather doubt that congregation nor ministers could have measured what it meant to him, to us, for him to stand there and now sing a second time, “We are standing on Holy Ground.”

A day or two later we stopped off at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C. Then, later still, we arrived in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, at what used to be our home away from home.

That Sunday night I introduced my bride to the Roaring Fork Baptist Church, just off the nature trail behind our condo. As I had hoped, the preacher announced the fare. Then the quartet ambled down the aisle to fetch the bass fiddle, guitar, banjo and mandolin from beneath the front pew. They picked and sang. Our ears agreed that the contrast (home to hills) was divine, the message too. We were reminded of how precious our religious diversity, how oddly dissimilar our wedding/honeymoon music to this offering of “Hills” music. And how God had blessed us.

The balance of the week found us at walks, falls and mountain views. We picnicked in the Cades Cove Historical loop. There we visited one of my all-time favorite sanctuaries, the Primitive Baptist Church. A trio of Alabama tourists already there sang Pentecostal hymns. The walls reverberated with joy. Rain pelted the tin roof.

Hand-in-hand bride and groom continued to the Cove’s Methodist and Missionary Baptist churches. At each location, we held umbrella high to read names from stones in the memorial gardens where children, spouses and parents of the 130 families, or more, who once wove themselves into one, lay orderly by. I tearfully inventoried how I felt about my blended family, how I love my children, how I love Hazel and her children.

Rain neither dampened love nor spirit. God has been so good to us. Oh, how I hope you’ve felt that love too.


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