Bowen: Looking life over from Bromide Hill

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, June 29, 2017

A long time ago – way back in the ‘60s – Preacher Miller and Grandma began taking me to the little town of Sulphur, Oklahoma for one of the most inspiring experiences I can remember. We’d leave the red clay of Georgia before the sun showed its face in the morning, head out west, and be in Sulphur, Oklahoma before that sun turned in for the night.

This year marks the 81st year for church people to get together the week of July 4 to have the biggest gospel meeting of the year. It is not as big now, but in the old days over a thousand people — from the orange groves of California all the way to the peach groves of Georgia — would pull into this little town right about the first of July.

You’ll hear more gospel singing and gospel preaching in a week than some folks will hear in a year.

For a whole week, this little Oklahoma town is a “hopping,” demanding the next 51 weeks for the town to recuperate. The sides are raised on the huge building we’ve always called the “tabernacle,” located on several acres right in the middle of Sulphur. Older people who don’t go to church sit out in their porch swings as the gospel hymns from a thousand tongues fill the night air and are carried on the cool breeze that accompanies the eventide.

If you listen really closely, you probably can hear the singing right now.

Then there’s the preaching.

The preaching doesn’t get any better than at Sulphur. The best preachers around pick out their best sermons; and being all fired up because of the nostalgia in the air and all the folks in the mile-long pews, they unleash the message with the vigor of a politician the day before election. There are plenty of issues for the preachers to preach on, too, I can guarantee you.  I imagine I was one of ‘em a time or two myself, back in my younger days — me and some of the fellas I ran around with, and me and a couple of girls I held hands with right there in the middle of the sermon.

This brings me to the part about Sulphur I think you’re going to like the best. Obviously, there’s more going on at Sulphur than the singing and preaching, although those would be enough. Sulphur offers much more, though. Its benefits are especially applicable to the young man who is still a little wet behind the ears and finding himself slap in the middle of his dating years. He’s the one who benefits the most, for sure.

After the night service, a mad scramble will take place outside that grand old tabernacle. You’ll see young fellas – not quite men, yet – running here and there, climbing or jumping a pew if it stands between them and a chance to converse with a lady in a flowery dress and pretty ribbons. Why, it will get so spirited at times that a stranger passing by might think it was a holy-roller revival if he didn’t see the church sign out front!

Now, I know about those boys jumping the pews and all, because I stood back and watched them do it. But that doesn’t mean I was one of them. No sir, I never was caught doing that. For once in my life, I did the smart thing. I’d get to the tabernacle early — all spruced up with my English Leather cologne and patent leather shoes — and watch as the girls arrived. Then about ten minutes before the singing and preaching would get started, I’d decide which one looked the prettiest; and I’d go over to her and ask her if she’d like to go out later that night.

The advantage of that strategy was that I could get a lottery pick that night if not the number one draft choice. Then the other guys would have to fight it out after the service over the rest of the girls still available in the first round.

There were other advantages, too, such as sitting by the pretty young lady all through the two-hour service, and by the third song you might be holding her hand and feeling mighty comfortable, seven or eight rows from the back. Ah, I can’t wait to describe those details next week in “living color,” then take you to one of the best places in the world: Up to Bromide Hill.

Steve Bowen is a former Granger who lives in Red Oak Texas.