Good morning, y’all. Gorgeous weather yet again. I’ve noticed a little parching of the bedding plants, but not enough to get alarmed about. If we don’t get a rain in the next few days I’ll need to turn the sprinkler on, but until then, we’ll just thank our lucky stars for the wonderful weather. We have been so much more fortunate this Spring than folks to the West or South of us. I can’t imagine the amount of rain that they’ve had in Houston this year. Calling all of the animals together two by two would be considered a good idea if you lived in the Houston area.
Biblical floods are a good way to segue back into our telling of the history of the Little Church in the Valley. When we left off, Danile Hoakum, Little Daniel, as he was known, took over the mantle of the church from his daddy in 1964. He was the first Hoakum to attend seminary, The Pentecostal Theological Seminary over in Cleveland, Tennessee. Daniel was also the first Hoakum ordained, and therefore entitled to the title Reverend. Reverend Daniel took over the church in one of the most turbulent times of American history. There was a war in Southeast Asia that was dividing the country in two. Even though Daniel was immune to the draft, being an ordained minister, he was not immune to the feelings of the young people he tried to minister to.
Since World War II, the population had been shifting from the rural areas to the cities. “How are you going to keep them down on the farm, once they’ve seen gay Paree”, was playing out all over the country. Young people were going away to college and not coming back. Farming was becoming more industrialized and less labor intensive. The good paying jobs were in the cities. Reverend Daniel had gone away himself. His interest in coming back to the Little Church in the Valley was more from the tradition of the Hoakum family than the opportunities it afforded.
Reverend Daniel was looking at an aging congregation, and he believed that he would be the last Pastor of the little church. Then the counterculture movement began in the late ’60’s, and young people started buying farms in the surrounding mountains and valleys. Several communes popped up in the area. Some of the newcomers wanted to get back to their “roots”, some wanted to escape the rat race, all of them wanted to live according to their own value systems. Reverend Daniel was challenged with trying to rebuild his congregation with people who were more likely to believe in Krishna than Jesus. It was a trying time.
Making the challenge more untenable, was the acceptance, or the lack thereof, of the newcomers by the existing congregation. While dress codes were relaxed at the “Little Church in the Family”, torn jeans, tie dyed shirts and bare feet were a little too relaxed. Reverend Daniel was at risk of losing his remaining followers back to the “foot-washing” Baptists when providence interceded. During the Testament of Faith, the entire clan from the “Happy Dale Farm” walked to the front of the altar and began passing the serpents about like they were licorice whips. Rather than utilizing the typical “tap dance for Jesus”, the Happy Dalers moved in the fashion of a Grateful Dead follower dancing at a Dead concert. Their slow gyrations and almost Tai Chi like moves provided a tremendous contrast between the two sets of acolytes.
What happened next spawned a legend that has never been disputed. One of the elder “hippies” laid on the floor and invited his fellow communers to place the serpents on his body; burying him in venomous snakes. Old Ben, as he was known to his friends, laid supine for a minute or so before winding his way back to standing. As he rose, he passed the snakes off to his mates, being careful to not lose track of any of the ophidians. When Old Ben returned to his feet, he continued his dance until the end of the hymn. The snakes were returned to their sacks and the followers returned to their pews.
The ice was broken, the bridge between the old and the new had been built. In spite of their “long filthy hair” and their “stinky dirty feet”, the newcomers were accepted into the church and the community. As the newcomers developed their arts and crafts market they brought needed tourist dollars into the area. Tourists from all over the surrounding area came to the assorted communes in search of pottery, blown glass, wicker furniture and wooden bowls. In truth, they came to look at the hippies, too, but that faded over time.
The tourists were almost obligated to buy gas at the Hoakum grocery. Not many people could drive by without purchasing the fruits and vegetables from the various truck stands setup by the valley residents. Boiled peanuts were a hot commodity, even though the peanuts were imported from South Georgia. Who could doubt, “God moves in a mysterious way: His wonders to perform.”? Certainly not the members of the Little Church in the Valley.
Years later, Old Ben, who in real life was known as Ben Weisman, revealed in an interview to the North Georgia News that the group had really been on a quest that serendipitous Sunday. The commune had been reading Carlos Castaneda’s “Teachings of Don Juan”. To begin their journey of self enlightenment, the group had ingested peyote together, along with, what they were sure, were magical mushrooms. The group was not conscious that they had wandered into a church, or that they had disrupted the service. They were vaguely aware of music and dancing, but don’t remember in what context.
Ben recalls that various members of the church came visiting the farm the following week. Some made small purchases, others brought items. There were jams and jellies and something called chow chow. One nice lady brought a brick of homemade soap. The group felt a great karma to become a positive force in the little church and threw themselves into every project they could. Before long a synergy was formed, and as the “hippies” aged, the differences between the old members and the newcomers were less apparent.