Carolyn Steele Agosta
The Preacher's Wife - 1830
Updated: Sep 19, 2020
Two Weeks Every Summer; Stories from Camp Meeting is a collection of twenty short stories all inspired by ‘camp meeting’ which is a phenomenon which began in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s during the ‘Second Great Awakening’. It is part religious revival, part family reunion, and a dash of small-town carnival. I have used the Rock Spring camp meeting, held in Denver, North Carolina, as my inspiration. Rock Spring has been holding annual meetings every year since 1830. While my stories are completely fictional, the setting is real.
The following is an excerpt from one of the stories. It tells about the very first gathering at Painters Creek camp meeting and the effects upon the congregation of a circuit rider – a traveling preacher – common in those days in rural areas, and how his presence affected one of the families.
The Preacher’s Wife - 1830
Come evening, they returned home and, since it was Saturday, Henry marched all the boys off to the wash house while Martha corralled the girls in the kitchen. Everyone would get a bath. In the summertime, a cool bath was a pleasant sensation, instead of the shivering experience of winter when water was heated on the stove and went cold by the time the bather got out.
Martha hustled the girls through their baths, towel-dried and braided the younger girls’ hair, and sent them to bed. Dovey, for once, went quickly and quietly to bed after her bath, and Martha enjoyed the all-too-rare experience of a few quiet minutes for herself. She finished bathing, put on her nightdress and dressing gown, and emptied the hip bath.
Henry was already in bed when she came up and she jumped in quickly and put her cold toes on his. “Oof, woman!” he exclaimed, flinching, but he drew her close afterward and placed his feet against hers. “You’re lucky I like you,” he said softly. “What a day!”
She nodded and found the warm place on his shoulder where she liked to rest her head. “You men got so much done. The brush arbor, the log seats…”
“No, I meant the preaching. Edwards is a powerful speaker. And he talks just as Godly when he’s off the pulpit as on.”
Martha knew Henry’s opinion of preachers who spoke one way in public and quite a different way in private. “He does seem a good man.”
“A man of God. He’ll go far in the conference. I suspect they’ll offer him his own pulpit soon, although a speaker of that dimension will always be in demand for revivals and special needs. The Bishop has hinted that he might stay here in the Bennetton district.”
Henry waited for Martha to say something, but when she didn’t, he added, “He should marry soon. A man like that needs a good wife at home.”
“But will he have a home? What if he stays on the circuit?”
“I kept riding circuit after we were married.”
“That was different. I was able to live with my brothers’ families.”
“Dovey could live with us.”
Martha sat up and stared at her husband in the sliver of moonlight that came through the window. “Dovey! Who said anything about her? She’s only seventeen!”
“Same age you were.”
Martha threw herself back on her pillow. “She’s not ready.”
“Why not? You’ve taught her everything about housekeeping. And she’s a minister’s daughter. She’ll know what kind of life to expect.”
Ha! Martha thought. No woman ever really knows what to expect. She sure hadn’t. Not about her wedding night, or her first pregnancy, and certainly not about childbirth. And a minister’s wife was held to a higher standard. She had to be thrifty, but still always have a well-turned-out family, no matter how quickly her children outgrew their clothes. She had to be prepared to serve meals at a moment’s notice to anyone her husband brought home, from a bishop to a tramp to an entire family passing through the area. Sometimes all at once. She was expected to do her own cooking and cleaning without servants, to teach her daughters to read and do sums, to give up her own little vanities and pridefulness, to have unswerving faith through all her own doubts.
Martha remembered the bleak times, after little Nathan’s death when he was six, falling off a wagon and dashing his head against a rock. And when Mary died of the fever, only two years old. Martha was expected to recover from these heartaches, and to be able to sit with any other woman who went through them and needed comforting.
Life as a minister’s wife was not easy. And though Dovey had been a daily witness to her mother’s responsibilities and had learned at least the basics of being a good homemaker, Martha seriously doubted whether she’d ever given thought to tackling those responsibilities on her own. Being a minister’s daughter had not kept her from longing for pretty, fashionable dresses like the visitors to the church sometimes wore, or from glancing at herself a little too often in the mirror. No, Dovey was not ready. And she, Martha, was not ready either.
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