An Octogenarian Fondly Recalls the Church of Her Childhood

An Octogenarian Fondly Recalls the Church of Her Childhood
By Mrs. Eleanor Erhardt

Going to church in the three seater was an occasion not to be forgotten, six of us and the three aunts but then one person always stayed home to "keep house", so there must have been only eight in the three seater. We passed the Everett Davis', the only brick house and the Sam Davis home, said to be the oldest house in Coram, over "the bridge". On the left was an old well and the milestone, " 18 miles to Riverhead" it said, then the Windfield Davis home and nearby the old Hulse place. Then came Minnie's grand parents, the Steens; not far on was the Will Norton place, where Mrs. Elam Smith lived with her daughter Sarah. Next came the first house on the south side by the street - Ike Smiths with Walter Overtons close by, -across -the way was the John Swezey home - the field next was covered with lovely blue violets in season. Then came the wooded area at the approach to Middle Island, Danzes setting back from the road and a bit behind the Stuart place with the large rock near it, down a little incline to the church first -passing the lovely old King place. On the way we sometimes passed Capt. Henry Smith who preferred to walk. At church we stepped out of the three seater to the horseblock as we had gotten in and papa drove around to the horse sheds. Ours was the second from the east. Church began at 10:30, the year around without changing the hour as it is done at present.

There was not soft music as we entered the church and went to our seats. The first sound from the organ was when the minister announced the first hymn. My first faint memory of a minister was Mr. Bassett a retired venerable missionary from Persia with a sweet faced wife and a number of children; Abby, Winifred, Mary Jamie and Ruth, the last of whom married a missionary from Africa. I am not certain whether the Doxology was sung at the beginning or during the collection, but sung it was, Aunt Alice ground out the hymns led by Mr. Bayles who sat some distance from, the choir. The choir had certain stand-bys, Wall Rulland and his wife Martha Lee and Uncle Will in wing collar; his sons Willy and Harold looked rather lonely sitting at side of the aisle. Seats were not rented or assigned but we all knew just where to go. As I think of the seating later I wonder how it happened that those who lived to the east of the church sat on the east side and visa versa.

The sermon was based on a biblical text and as far as I can re-member wars and politics were not discussed. We were told to be of good cheer - and we were. Two elders took up the collection, Uncle Joe, Mr. Bayles, Mr. Pfeiffer or Grandpa Randall. Blanche heard one of the boys say, "Grandpa collects the money and papa takes it home." Quite true for papa was the treasurer, following his father who had been treasurer for over 50 years. There was no system of pledges or envelopes, however, the stand-bys made definite contributions to the minister's salary - which papa recorded in the ledger at his desk - we learned to count on church collections - piles of 5 pennies, etc. and to multiply as well - 5 nickels made a quarter, etc. After the counting it was dated and recorded and put in the moneybag in the desk.

The minister during our childhood and adolescence was Mr. Norris, a cultured gentleman with a fine sense of humor, much loved and fondly remembered. He lived alone in the manse, the greater part of the year his wife and family only coming during the summer. Never did he complain of being lonely, in fact he said that he had a book open in every room.

The Longwood Smiths sat in the amen corner as they attended the Episcopal Church in Yaphank, they arrived a bit late. Mrs. Smith was dignified and impressive - the children Helen and Sidney were round and rosy, occasionally, petite little Mrs. Holmes, nee Smith, widow of a minister was with them and often family guests. Miss Amelia was a religious leader in the Presbyterian. Guests in the choir added -special interest especially when lovely Irmengard Freeman from the lake was there. Later on, Lottie Parker with stage connections -added to the scene with her bouncy curls.

Grandpa Randall until he moved to Woodhaven and Blanche sat just back of us with the Davis aunts in the row in front. Across the divider, Mr. Pfeiffer (hoarse voiced and friendly) with his wife, also Uncle Josie Hurtin, not a relative but just an honorary uncle with his fine white beard. One of the boys discovered uncle Josie didn't wear a tie for his beard was a screen - then were was uncle Joe Randall and the historian Richard M. Bayles with his smiling lovely wife, the VanHorn sisters, Cassie, Sarah and Alice, precise and immaculate were always there having walked from the lake. He lived before the days of the automobile and although all members 6f the parish had horses, he walked everywhere. In our home he was a frequent and welcome visitor a truly delightful individual - later on he was to return to perform the marriage ceremony when I was married in 1920.

After church, there was a great deal of handshaking in "the entry" as we called, later it was the narthex - everyone inquired for everyone else, and we wondered what the men were discussing at the horse shed. I remember being kissed by each of the VanHorn sisters and my relatives and having a very hearty handshake from Mr. Bayles, again to the horse block and to the three seater.

In those days, "uncle Azel" Swezey took care of the church and seated strangers and visitors if they were in doubt.

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