After my husband and I started filling in the blanks about his noteworthy memories of the Fa So La note singing that took place on the fifth Sunday in May at New Hope Baptist Church in Cave Spring, he directed me to other community people who were older than he. He was hoping that they experienced more and therefore would have more to share. But just as with us all, time can erode the memory. And as sure as night follows day it had happened, time had eroded the memory of most of them. They started out speaking with excitement on their faces, and glee in their voices after I stated the topic. They were very eager to share. However, as I spoke with them for a while asking particular questions they began to come up with blank spaces as well.
One interviewee, Charles Sams, talked for a while, then said, “I do not have any more to share with you. You have been given all that I can remember.” When Charles says he has finished, one can take him at his word. He tried to recall someone older just as my husband did, thinking that that individual would remember more. They had forgotten what time does to the mind. We all can recall saying, “Oh I will never forget this or that,” but if birthdays have visited a few times over 20 or 30, we find ourselves saying “I don’t remember.” Sometime later that day, or maybe the next week or so, the answer will surface after the mind has traveled many miles from that point. How time can erode memory, but memories are made to share.
When I sat with Uncle Willie and Mary, they shared how they enjoyed Fa So La Day in the community, but did not participate in the singing. As for the thinking of the children, there were other fun walks to make and much conversation to have with family and friends. There was too much ice cream, lemonade and barbecue sandwiches to eat. It was not every day that a family of 8 or 10 could just hang out in the street near town, where ice cold Nehi Orange Crush sodas could be had. There was just too much to do outside of the church for the young people. Mary said by the sound that they could hear coming from the inside through the open doors and windows, they knew that the adults were having a Hallelujah good time.
I was very eager to interview 89-year-old Wesley “Gabby” Jones, a friend of my husband. I figured anyone who is 89 and had the nickname Gabby must love talking and sharing his memories. Since Gabby is legally blind, I sat with him at his home where he was most comfortable. I told him I wanted him to share everything he remembered about the note singing in the Cave Spring community as he was growing up. He started out with two important pieces of information. The creative juices were flowing with excitement, thinking, “Oh, at last I have someone who can share a little note singing with me.” He stated that his Mom was a part of the Fa So La note singers group. My next question was, “Do you note sing?” He seemed to have gotten an attitude and quickly said, “No. I never learned that. At the time it made no sense to me.” He said his mom taught him how to line Baptist hymns, but never how to note sing. He kept trying to get me to understand his work history, where he worked and what an outstanding worker he was back during the day. Each time he wandered away from me mentally, I had to call him back on the task. When he went back in his memory bank, he would go down the memory lane of things that he cherished. I promised I would return and let him share his work history at Georgia Power for another report. My last question was, “Do you know how old the celebration was?” He said he did not remember that, but he assumed over 150 years ago when it started in this area. He said he remembered when some young preacher came along and put a stop to it. I am now realizing that time is an eraser, and I decided that he had given me all that he was willing to recall for one day.
The above individuals were a part of an important historical moment and no one who is alive recorded it. The individuals to whom I am speaking are 80-plus years old and were mere children at the height of the note singing era locally. Most of the participating adults are no longer around. Note singing began at different times in different areas. In some areas it started as early as the early 18th century. If you are interested in knowing more about this New Hope Baptist Church experience, just ask Anne Johnson, Bernice Howell and any other locals. They will start laughing as my husband did and begin pouring out how much fun it was to be a part. You can also check out the national history of shape note singing and its beginning by going to YouTube and pulling up “What a Happy Time,” “Shape Note Singing” and “Sacred Harp Singing.” There is no record of any recordings of the note singing in New Hope Baptist Church, but listening to the Old Field Singers gives an idea of what the fifth Sunday celebration was like in Cave Spring for possibly 100-plus years.