Monday, February 12, 2018

Joy Comes in the Morning

 In March, 1982, First Baptist Church was going to put on a musical with drama called "Joy Comes in the Morning".  It was timed around Easter.  I worked with the drama portion, and our choirs did the music.  I also played the part of the disciple James.
 We wanted to do it in a venue that was bigger than our church's sanctuary, so we settled on  Township Auditorium, which had a seating capacity of around 3000.  It was the largest venue that I had ever worked in, so the drama had to be bigger than a normal theatre.  It was also the first time I had used a wireless microphone.  We were told that they would use the same frequency that truckers would use, and that there was a chance that a trucker's voice might bleed over our voices.  The chance of that happening was remote, since there was a distance factor.
 The auditorium's dressing rooms were pretty small.  The green room wasn't much bigger.  We had to improvise some with changing costumes.  Our entrance was in the back of the auditorium, and we entered through the audience.  I particularly liked that, because most of the Biblical monologues of mine involved the audience.
 We did it for two nights, and we had a great response both nights.  Sure enough though, we did have a trucker's voice come through on one of our wireless mics.  Thankfully, no profanity was involved.  The highlight of our show was that the author of the musical, David Danner, came to see it.  He said it was good.  So, we passed the harshest critic of all--the author.  As a writer, I know how important that is to please the author.  As an actor, I did okay.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Microphone

 My last story about my work at White Oak Baptist Conference Center involves an unfortunate event that ultimately cost me my job.  When I worked there, we had four conference rooms that were in the same building as the dining room.  There were moveable partitions that could turn one big area into four smaller ones.  The partitions were designed to be sound-proof, so that one group could meet in one, and another one "next-door" and no one would be bothered by noise.  There was one drawback to this arrangement.  If someone wanted to use sound equipment, we couldn't cut the ceiling speakers to the other rooms.  So, we never used microphones, unless it was one open room like for a youth camp assembly.
 On this particular weekend, we had two groups.  One was a choir that wanted to rehearse some special music.  The other was a conference headed by a special speaker.  The speaker was from Nashville, TN and worked for the Baptist Sunday School Board.  For those who don't know, the BSSB was the place where the big honchos in the Southern Baptist Convention  worked.  These people made the decisions involving how state Baptist Conventions were to operate.  I had grown up with many of these people, and they all seemed very nice.  To work at the BSSB in Nashville was to say you had made it in the denomination.  I do not mean to suggest that it was an ego trip for most workers.  Most workers were there to serve God and to do His work.  However, this particular special speaker had not learned the lesson on humility.
 As it was my job to set up the meeting spaces, I put the choir at one end of the meeting area, and the other meeting at the other end.  There were two empty rooms between them.  I wanted to make sure that neither one would disturb the other.  As both meetings started, I got word that the special speaker wanted a microphone.  The room they were meeting in was approx.  10'x10'.  Unless the speaker had a serious throat problem, he didn't need a microphone.  He demanded to have a microphone.  I tried to explain to him that the choir would hear his talk, and they couldn't rehearse.  He then told me he didn't care about the choir.  He wanted a microphone.  So, my boss made me hook up the microphone.
 I was monitoring the sound to try and not get it too loud.  The man noticed what I was doing and demanded that I turn it up.  Then, the choir director complained.  They could hear this man over the speakers, and they couldn't hear themselves sing.  So, I went back to the sound system and unplugged the microphone.  That speaker went ballistic.  He told me that I was deliberately trying to sabotage his meeting.  I tried to explain to him that the choir had paid money to be there, and he was there for free.  That did not sit well with this man.  He went to my boss and demanded he fire me.
 I was not fired that day, but soon thereafter I was told that my job was being phased out.  I know I was right, but my boss was more concerned about what this man might tell his buddies in Nashville, and White Oak might lose some contributions.  Despite all the fun I had at White Oak, this incident was not one of them.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Freezer

 Not everything at White Oak was fun and games.  We did some serious stuff, too.  One afternoon, we were entertaining some missionaries who had come back from their foreign assignments to spend a year back home.  One of those people was a doctor from Hong Kong who had treated Bruce Lee right before he died.
 The reception was going well.  We needed to get more ice for the punch, and I volunteered to go back to the walk-in freezer in the kitchen to get more ice.  I was wearing a short sleeve shirt and long pants.  When I got to the freezer, I swung open the steel door and went in to get the ice, which was toward the back.  The door swung back and shut with me still inside.  There is a steel rod on the inside of the door that one can press, which will open the door.  I pressed it, but nothing happened.
 I didn't know what to do.  There was a vent at the upper left of the door.  I yelled for help, but the vent had iced over.  I banged on the door with my fist, but no one heard.  I started kicking the steel rod, and I kicked so hard that the rod bent, but the door still didn't open.  I was getting pretty cold at this point.  I saw two fans at the back of the freezer, and I thought that they were blowing out cold air, so I unplugged them both.  I didn't know that they were on to circulate the air.
 The reception was no more than 50 feet away from where I was, but no one knew of what was happening to me.  The oxygen was being used up fast, so I began to slow my breathing down.  I remembered from Boy Scouts that the air at the floor is the last to breathe, so I got down on the floor trying to breathe.  By now, I had been in the freezer for about six minutes, and I thought I was going to die.  I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen.  I managed to sit on a box of produce, and I prayed.
 I asked God to deliver me from this situation, because I didn't want Mamie (our cook at White Oak) to find me the next morning dead, because she would go crazy and run out on I-77.  I mustered up enough energy to try the door one more time, and it opened.  I fell out onto the floor of the kitchen, gasping for air.  Once I could walk, I stumbled out to the reception and told them what happened.  One of our staff workers was also an EMT, and she realized I was suffering from Hypothermia.  Her name was Amelia.  She took me to the first aid room and began working on me.  When I asked her why they hadn't come to check on me, she said everyone just thought I had been in the bathroom.  They didn't think I would be too stupid to lock myself in the freezer.
 For about three months after this incident, I felt light-headed.  I also had a problem with my vocal chords from screaming so much, and I had a bruise on my hand from pounding on the door.  As time went on, most of those problems slowly went away, although my vocal chords were damaged somewhat, and remain so.  A few months later, I was talking to a building contractor about what happened to me.  He said that when a door shuts like that, it creates a vacuum seal.  No matter how hard one tries, the seal can't be broken.  Then after six minutes, the seal gradually starts to release.  He also told me that most freezers have about five minutes of oxygen in them.  Prayer works.  I am living proof.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


 As I have stated earlier, there was some downtime at White Oak.  The staff had to be on call in case something was needed, but we also had to pass the time to avoid total boredom.  So, we did a lot of things.  Two of them involved tournaments.
 During the summer, there were at least three or four staff people that hung around at night to handle things, while the director and his wife slept.  One of the things we did was to have Scrabble tournaments.  We would usually do two-person games, and the winner would play someone else, until we had a Scrabble champion for that night.  Some of the staff would try and cheat by making up words to get higher scores.  This practice bothered me, so I bought a Scrabble dictionary.  It came in very handy, although some of the staff didn't like the idea.  For them, cheating was more fun.
 The other tournament was one we invented.  The administration building had several rooms.  There was the main area; a first aid room; a canteen; a bookstore; the director's office; and a storage room.  We got bats and whiffle balls, and we put together an 18-hole golf course inside the administration building.  18 spots within that building.  Each spot was a hole.  Some of them were more challenging than others.  For example, one hole was in the sink in the first aid room.  You had to loft your ball into the sink.  However, you could hit your ball against a wall and get it to bounce into the sink.  That was the easier way to play that hole.  The golf game had to be nixed after one night, when the director's wife came up to the canteen to get something to drink.  We had not expected her.  She saw us playing the game, and she hit the roof.  She found dark spots on the walls, where our balls had hit.  Let's just say that the golf game ended that night.  Thanks to White Oak being a Christian assembly, no cuss words were spoken by her, but the look on her face said quite enough.
 So, we went back to playing Scrabble.  Golf was more fun.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sherman's Road

 One summer night at White Oak, John (the Eagle Scout) said he wanted to show us Sherman's Road.  Apparently, when General Sherman's Army left Columbia, they moved north past Winnsboro toward Chester.  Highway 321 had not been built yet, but this road sort of paralleled what is now 321.  It was a dirt road that had mostly disappeared over time, but there was still a portion left intact, which ran from White Oak to Blackstock.  It was history and some of us wanted to see it.
 Suzanne, Angela and I piled into the front seat of John's pickup truck with him behind the wheel, and off we went to Sherman's Road.  It was night, because it was the only free time we had from work.  We started out down this dirt road with no lighting other that the truck's headlights.  We came to a ravine that had two boards across it.  John lined up his truck to the boards and drove across.  A pretty easy task, except for one major problem.  The two girls and I were SCREAMING!  The boards sagged, as we drove across, and the ravine was deep.  What is the truck slid off?  We would all be killed.  John thought our fright was funny.  We got over the ravine and continued on our way.  Until we came to another ravine and another two boards.  We begged John to turn around.  The truck got over the ravine, and we kept going.
 It was getting darker, and we were afraid that John didn't really know where he was going.  After some choice words said to John, he finally agreed to turn around.  There was a house along the road, where we could turn around.  It was also obvious that the home owner did not expect anyone turning around in his front yard.  After all, there was probably a reason why he wanted to live way back from the main highway with no neighbors around.  As John was turning around, the man came out of his house holding a rifle.  If we hadn't been freaking out about the boards over the ravines, we were now.  This man was going to shoot us trespassers.  John sped off in the other direction .  We didn't care about him lining up the wheels to the boards.  We shot over the ravines.  I had never been in a flying pickup truck before, and hopefully will never again.
 My suggestion to anyone interested in going down Sherman's Road is:  DON'T.  Maybe look at it on an old map, or better yet--take Hwy 321 and imagine just off in the woods is where Sherman's Army was.  You don't want to be mistaken for a revenuer.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


 Each summer, we would have youth camps at White Oak.  Those weeks were the busiest of the whole year.  There were always more to do.  As one of the jobs I had was washing dishes, it became increasingly challenging to separate the trays from the dishes, cups and silverware, especially if all 250 kids decided to return their trays all at once.  It took a real skill.  There was also a lot of bad words said under one's breath.  You had to put yourself in a zone and not think about the gross stuff you saw on their trays, but one guy left his retainer.  We had to clean it and return it to the owner.  That was pretty gross.
 Another job I had was running the canteen.  Usually, I had two or three helping me.  I shudder to think how many kids got sodas that sprayed in their faces, when they opened the cans.  Things moved pretty fast in there during youth weeks.
 During one week, John and I were asked to build a bonfire near the lake.  John was the Eagle Scout, so he knew more than I did about how to build a good fire.  We also had these large water containers that we carried on our backs to put the fire out, once the kids finished their fun.  So, we built the fire and were ready for the kids.  We waited quite a while.  The camp's director came down to where we were and told us that the kids had decided they didn't want to the bonfire after all.  More bad words under our breaths, and we proceeded to put out the fire.  Unfortunately for us, it was burning pretty good.  Had the kids gone with the bonfire, we wouldn't have had so much fire to put out.  Our backpacks full of water were not sufficient to put out the blaze.  We had to go to the lake and fill up the tanks to continue putting out the fire.  This went on for almost an hour.  Moral of the story is don't let an Eagle Scout make your bonfire.  It was too perfect.
 One job I had was great.  I had helpers as we would change the sheets and towels during youth camp.  The kids would be in meetings, as we would go to their rooms and make everything nice for them.  A lot of the kids would bring their cameras with them to take pictures of the woods and other stuff as memories of their time there.  Their cameras were left in their rooms, while they were away.  We would go into their rooms and take pictures of our feet, the ceilings, the floor, and anything else that folks wouldn't normally take pictures of.  The reason was that when they got home, they would show their friends the pictures they took, and their friends would ask, "Why did you take a picture of the ceiling?"  I know that was rude, but we had to find fun where we could.  I am sorry if the kids didn't share in our humor.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Bull

 The next several stories will be about things we did while working at White Oak Baptist Conference Center.  The staff did some creative things to pass the time, when we had free time.
 As I wrote in the last story, we had a guy named John who worked on the staff with us.  He was a senior in high school and an Eagle Scout.  John was younger than the rest of us, but he also had some great ideas for things to do.  He, Jeff and Mike got an idea to throw cafeteria trays in the air and take pictures of them.  We were going to send them into the National Enquirer and say they were UFO's.  Somebody suggested that we wrap the trays in tin foil to make them more shiny.  I also chimed in and said we should do this at night, since most UFO sightings had been at night.  John said that we needed to propel the trays into the air, so he suggested building a cannon.  So, we did.  The planning and execution took a couple of hours.  In hindsight, we should have planned it out a little more.
 It was around 10pm, and we set out to find a place that had no street lights.  We wanted to find a place where the only light was the flash of the camera.  John had the "cannon".  It was a tube filled with gunpowder.  I don't know where the gunpowder came from, and I don't want to know.  We brought a couple of trays wrapped in tin foil.  We set one of the trays on top of the cannon, and lit the fuse.  The tray went up about six feet and fell quickly.  It really wasn't enough time to snap the picture.  So, John "modified" the cannon to get a bigger explosion.  This time, the tray flew farther up, and I took the picture.  We wanted to get several good pictures, so we did this procedure over and over again.
 To do this event, we had chosen a large cow pasture that was far enough away from the farm house that we didn't think anyone would mind.  Unbeknownst to us, it wasn't far enough away from the cows.  A bull heard the explosions and decided to investigate.  He was not pleased that we had woken him up from his dreams of cows.  When the bull came over toward us, he was pretty mad and charged us.  We ran with the trays, but we left the cannon out there.  We barely outran the bull.  The next day, the farmer contacted the director of the conference center.  We had apparently woke him up too, and he found the cannon in the pasture, and put two and two together.  After all, the White Oak staff was known in the community for being pranksters.  We got into trouble and had to apologize to the farmer.  We didn't send the pictures into the National Enquirer.  They just weren't good enough.