Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Religion in the Institution


(This is part of a series. For Table of Contents go here)
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Vineland Baptist Church, Magengo County, Ala
(Wikimedia Commons)
Dorothy had mentioned in our conversations about Partlow State School that there was a building she called the Community House that served as school, auditorium, movie theater, and was also a place for church.  I couldn’t quite tell if church in the institution was part of the official program or if  it was a volunteer effort organized by churches outside the institution. At any rate it was fascinating to hear about Sunday activities and to hear about the resident’s attitudes toward those in charge, knowing that it was not that different from what was happening elsewhere throughout the South.

Church on Sunday

“We had church every Sunday. They let whoever wanted to go to church, and sometimes they would make some of them go. There were different preachers there. There was this one preacher, he’s dead now, Rev, George Butte, and he used to preach in the chapel [at Partlow] and his brother goes to Glen Iris Baptist Church where I go now. I sang in the choir when he was there. Then that preacher left and we got another preacher. We had one old man, we called him “Fairy Tales.” I never will forget his name, it was Dubose Murphy. I don’t know whatever happened to him. Then we got another preacher, it was Brother Clyde E. Brazelle, one day I was talking to somebody and I said, ‘That old nosey Brother Brazelle, he’s always nosing in on something,’ and him a-standin’ right there.  Another lady said, ‘Dorothy Faye, he heard you – he’s standing right over there.’ I said, ‘I can’t help it if he heard me, I meant for him to anyway,’ Whether he did or didn’t. And then I happened to think, ‘Oh mercy! Forgive me Jesus, I’m talking about a preacher.’

“He would always come in we would be a-talking and he would be standing there listening and everything. It just hit me that he was nosey.”

“The one we called “Fairy Tale”, he was tall and skinny, and wore glasses. He’d come out, I think every fourth Sunday. We didn’t much care for him – he never would get to the point of the Bible, hardly, he was always talking about something else. We began to call him Fairy Tales. I thought that name up for him.”

“There was a little ol’ bitty girl [at Partlow who] told me all about Jesus. I didn’t know she knew so much about it. She was the one that told me. Then another lady told me. If it weren’t for them, I probably never would have known about him. I’d go to church or Sunday School, I didn’t hardly pay no mind, what they were talking about, until somebody told me.  My legal guardian tried to tell me. I didn’t understand what she meant when she was talking about the mark of the beast. I thought it was some big old ugly something coming up out of the bottom of the sea.”

Seeing with the Eye of the Heart

On a few occasions, Dorothy described moments that she realized were not “real” in the sense of being  part of the normal physical world, yet had some reality and meaning to her.  One can see how her understanding of religion played a role in some of the things Dorothy “saw” with the eye of her heart.

 “When I was a little girl, I really did believe that I could see Jesus sittin’ on the side of my cot. I was looking up at him talking to him and he was looking down at me smiling. In my mind, I believe I really saw Jesus as a little girl.  I think I was about 12 or 13 years old.”
“Then one night I saw my mother coming down the ward, She wore an orange coat, the coat she always wore when she went to work. She didn’t have no regular job, she had to clean off the grave yards. Anyway, I could see her, and I told her I wanted to go with her. She told me I couldn’t go with her right now. I asked her why. She said they’re not ready for you yet. And she seemed to have on a long white robe, and then she vanished. It really made me feel real good. I thought, she’s come back to get me. She had a pretty color in her face and looked so natural and she was so pretty, I could just see her.”

Another time, Dorothy told about a staff person who had been important to her and whose influence obviously continued after she died:

“The most important people in my life were some of the attendants, and the most important one of them, her name was Aunt Lily Wilson. I remember one Saturday morning at breakfast she was fixin’ to eat a bowl of corn flakes, and she had a heart attack and fell out of the chair. She died that instant. The night after she died, I could just see her with that pale blue sweater on.  I thought about her and I thought, ‘She’s with Jesus.’  I don’t remember how old I was, but that’s what I was thinking.  When I went to sleep, I dreamed that I could see her. She was really good to us. I called her Aunt Lily because she was so sweet. She would always talk to me about Jesus.  She really taught me to love Jesus.”

On the subject of seeing things that are more “spiritual” than “physical,” Dorothy shared some more recent events in her life. As I heard her recount a moment while she was in the hospital in Birmingham, I realized that this was a time when she was alone and facing uncertainty.  In that uncertainty, she saw and heard things that gave her hope and comfort:

“I used to stand in the window in the bathroom and I’d hear them having a revival. I didn’t know where they were. I would just think, ‘I wish I was down there.’ I could hear them having a revival. And when I was in the hospital, I could hear them having a revival. I could see people; they were going to be saved. They were singing and the preacher was preaching. It was really real – it wasn’t no radio or nothing, I could just hear them…it went on of a couple of hours. I thought. God’s gonna do something. I really thought it was a revival going on. That was when I was in the hospital the first time. The second time, I lost my breath and they took me down to the hospital and I thought that I could see Jesus. He was there by my bed side. He was looking at me and I reached out and took his hand. I said, ‘I love you.’ And he said ‘I love you too – I died for you.’  I really thought that I could see Jesus. It really made me feel good. 


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