Finished reading All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who worked his way up from writing sports for a small Alabama paper to the New York Times. It's a true story of his life--of his abusive, alcoholic father and his adored hard-working mother. He grew up dirt poor--his mother picked cotton, ironed clothes, cleaned peoples' houses and lived for 18 years with no new clothes to provide for her 3 boys.
While he doesn't share his kinfolks' faith, and after reading about his growing up, you can see how his heart would be hard, just to survive, he is never, ever condescending toward people of faith. In fact, one of the most moving of the chapters talks about the tiny Baptist church he attended for awhile when he was young:
He saved them one by one, the young ones and the old ones and even the ones who had been saved once or twice already, but had felt their faith weaken some, and needed it shorn up with another visit to the altar. He saved children--he said you were never too young--and caressed their necks as they knelt, weeping, not really understanding what they felt or why they felt it, as their mommas and daddies wept for them, from joy. He kept at it Sunday after Sunday, until he had enough of them to hold a decent baptismal. I saw one, only one. I think it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
They did them only in warm weather, in a fishing lake not too far from the church. First someone threw in a rock to chase the cottonmouths away, then the minister and his deacons walked into the dark green water, in their nicest clothes; nothing in this culture, our culture, was more important. The rest of the congregation lined the banks, singing of the River Jordan. I cannot recall the words, but even now I can hum those songs in my head.
Those about to have their sins washed clean waited, some weeping, some laughing. I remember that the women and the girls always wore white, some with flowers in their hair, and went barefoot into the murky water. I can still see the rapture in their faces as the preacher took them in his arms, then ever so gently leaned them back, back, until the waters closed over them and the thing was done. I remember how the mascara ran down their faces, and how completely, utterly alive they looked. I have never seen a look like that, as if something was racing through their very veins, stronger than heroin.
And I remember how odd it seemed, to see grown men, men who fed pipe shop furnaces, who heaved around 200-pound sticks of pulpwood like firewood, lie like children in the preacher's arms, and go so passively under the water as the congregation silently mouthed the words "Praise God" and "Thank you, Jesus."
Then it was back to the church, back the The Word, back to that old man's quiet faith and his unyielding crusade to save us all.
This book is a keeper, a great book. It IS the South of its time. Pick it up, you'll not be sorry.