A dozen years or more in residential care, his mind still possesses a light-footed agility long gone from his body. Through the long hours of enforced inactivity, he has sorted and filed his memories carefully; a single prompt can produce an abundance of related recollections. Of a strong evangelical inclination, he remembers with enthusiasm missions and conventions, in churches, in halls, in tents, in barns, in the homes of the faithful.
In the quietness of a hospital ward on an August afternoon, he smiled at memories of preachers, of hearty singing, of people whose lives were never the same. “There was a convention in the mission hall every Whitmonday. They would come from far and wide, even from the North. There would be standing room only at the hall; people crowded in at the back”.
He paused to remember the words of a song from the conventions and tilted back his head.
I have riches up there.
I’m a rare millionaire.
I’m going to be poor no more . . .
“I remember Sam singing that when I was young”.
It was a baffling comment, the Sam whom I knew was at least ten years younger than the man who now recalled a Gospel singer from the 1950s. Upon query, he explained that Sam the singer was the grandfather of the present Sam. Sam the singer had died in 1957.
A quick calculation. Sam was dead fifty-seven years. How long ago had it been since he had stood at the front of a mission hall and sung of treasures in heaven? How long had it been since a young man had heard the words he now sang? Sixty years?
An internet search produces no results for the lyrics, nothing remotely like them. A pen and paper must be taken on the next visit, or perhaps the song will be lost forever. How many hundred songs sung at meetings, missions and conventions are now gone beyond recall?
Driving from the hospital, two thoughts occurred.
The first was that there was an entire religious movement, albeit a small one, a religious culture, that has gone mostly unnoticed and undocumented. How were the gatherings at mission halls regarded by the main churches? What was the attitude of university educated clergy to the “unlearned” preachers who spoke to crowds on occasions like the Whitmonday convention?
The second was that Sam the singer probably had not the slightest inkling that words he sang in the 1950s would mean much to an incapacitated man in 2014. The good men do sometimes lives after them.