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My Family and the Savoy Methodist Church

May 19, 2013

“For you, God, have heard my vows, you have given me a heritage of those who fear your name.”  Psalm 61:5

When I was a little girl, my favorite place in the world was my grandmother’s house in Savoy, Texas.  My dad was in the Air Force, so we lived all over the country and even the world, but I always looked forward to going back to Savoy for summer vacation and Christmas.  Savoy was home for my mother, and so it was home for me too.  Sometimes, if I was really lucky, we would go back for Easter or a longer visit.  All of my Blakey cousins would come too, a special treat for me since I was an only child.

We spent our days in the summer fishing for crawdads (never caught one), playing in my grandfather’s garden and on top of the neighbor’s tornado shelter, soaking in a giant kiddie pool, and playing “Annie Over” with my aunts and uncles.  We would sit on the ice cream maker as my dad and the uncles churned, waiting for delicious homemade ice cream.  In the winter, we played in the house, hiding behind my grandmother’s giant overstuffed couch, and waiting for Santa Claus to come.  Christmas morning, we all played together with our toys.

I didn’t think much of it as a child, but my grandparents were a little different than most children’s.  Edith Ferry – “Grandmother” – was actually my mother’s grandmother. Grandmother raised my mother and her brothers and sister after their mother, Grandmother’s daughter, died.  When I was growing up, she lived in a small white clapboard house that shook when we kids ran through it, playing.  Next door lived Earl Blakey  – “Granddaddy”, my mother’s father, who, eighteen years after his wife’s death, remarried, but still lived next door to his former mother-in-law and took care of her.  Granddaddy’s wife, Mary, completed the picture.

So we had two houses to run between, Grandmother’s older house and my grandfather’s newer one with the large, neat garden out back with brick paths between the rows of corn.  Across the street was kindly Mrs. Withrow, who had an excellent porch swing and always had candy or tiny toys, such as water pistols, just in case any children might come to visit.

On Sundays, we went to the Savoy Methodist Church for church and Sunday School.  My most vivid memory of going to church was seeing my grandmother struggle to climb those steep concrete steps.  I remember thinking how hard it was for her to go to church – but she kept going anyway.  Inside, I loved the tiny sanctuary with its sloped floor and old wooden pews.  Behind the altar was a painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

The last Easter I spent in Savoy was around 1970 or 1971.  I had beautiful lavender and white paisley Easter dress with long sleeves, a ruffled skirt and a big lavender sash.  I even had a lavender dog brooch to match.  I remember proudly standing in the pew next to my grandfather and singing “God of Grace and God of Glory” – then looking up at him to realize he was completely off key!

Somehow, even at that young age I understood how special the church was.  I had no idea, though, that it was almost 100 years old, or that we would hold my grandmother’s funeral there in a few years.

Time passed, and in January of 1972, my grandfather died.  Two years later, my grandmother also passed away in January of 1974.  The last service I attended at this church as a child was her funeral.

With both grandparents gone, and Mary in a nursing home, family get-togethers moved to a lake house near Waco and we stopped coming to Savoy.  My parents, cousins, aunts and uncles and I still saw each other three or four times a year, enjoying summer and Christmas together.  Our family grew closer than ever.

Eventually, all of us cousins grew up and got married and had children.   I became a Catholic (that’s another story), but never forgot my family’s legacy of faith at the Savoy Methodist Church.  On my 30th birthday, April 14, 1991, I was at the church for the special service when it received a historical marker.  If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, I also had just found out that I was pregnant with our oldest child, Nicole.

Over the years, as I grew older, I began to listen more closely to my mother’s stories about her family and Savoy.  I learned how Earl Blakey had worked three jobs during the depression to support four children and his sickly father-in-law after losing his wife at the age of 34.  My mom’s brother, O.J., remembered when his mother died – how Earl went outside and cried out to the heavens, “God, why did you take her?”  Less than 10 years later, Earl’s oldest daughter, Billie, would die from diphtheria.

Yet somehow through all these tragedies, Earl Blakey kept his faith, and found the strength to take care of his family and just about anyone else who crossed his path.  My mother told me how he would come in late at night from his job at the filling station and toss her in the air, singing, “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and how he would stay home on Saturday nights with her as a little girl, letting her put rollers in his hair and paint his nails with fingernail polish.  He took groceries to the hungry and helped people find work.  He helped nephews go to college and bought one young couple’s marriage license.  My father says he was the best man he ever knew.  My grandmother, Edith Ferry, kept her faith as well, even though she outlived all three of her children and took on four grandchildren to raise at the age of 50.

As the years went by, I saw how my grandfather’s faith continued to inspire and encourage my mother in her own struggles.  She often had vivid dreams about her father as her health grew more frail  – often ending with him telling her, “I want you to come home, but not yet.”

The last few years of my mother’s life were sad and difficult. She was in terrible chronic pain and grew weaker and thinner before my eyes.  She had been unable to attend church regularly for several years, but sometimes came to mass with our family.  Around Thanksgiving, I knew the end was coming.  My two greatest fears were that she would die in the middle of my two daughter’s college finals – so that they would be unable to say goodbye – and that we would have no one she knew to minister to her. I talked to our priest, Fr. Jonathan, about what we would do, and he assured me that he would come at any time we needed him.  I said to him, “They’re Methodist, you know” and he said, “I don’t care, she’s MOM.  I’ll be there, you just call me.” It so happened that he was my mother’s favorite priest – once she said, “I could almost be Catholic if they were all like Fr. Jonathan.”  I was also afraid that we would be left with no place to have her memorial service with any connection to her faith or her home.  I prayed fervently that God would help us through these difficult days and watch over her leaving us.   I had no idea, however, how graciously he would answer my prayers.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, my mom went back in the hospital and her condition continued to deteriorate.  I kept praying.  My daughters made it through their finals and the last one got home on Dec. 21.  Just two days later, on Sunday, Dec. 23, around 4:00 p.m., the doctor told us that she wasn’t going to make it.  I called my husband and he brought our kids to the hospital, and with my dad’s agreement, we called Fr. Jonathan.  Fr. Jonathan had just gotten back to the rectory after a long Sunday.  Even though he had 7 Christmas masses to say the next two days,  he drove from Farmer’s Branch to Allen to pray with us.  Fr. Jonathan (whose own father had been Methodist) “tuned his prayer to the Methodist dial” and prayed with our family, even letting my mom hold a rock from the Sea of Galilee, where he had just returned from a pilgrimage.  My mom was radiant and she smiled at each of my children as they said goodbye to her.  She even laughed at my son Jack’s bald head – he had gotten her permission to shave his head after finals.  The next day, she went home.

As we worked on planning my mom’s memorial service, my dad and I were surprised and thrilled to find out that Nancy Savoy, the widow of a descendant of the town’s founder,  had bought the old church property and that it was being restored.  How much it meant to our family when we got permission to have her “going home” service in her first spiritual home.  One of my cousins commented after her service how much of our family’s life of faith had taken place in this church.  As friends and family huddled in the old church on January 2nd (bundled up in our winter coats, it was freezing!) we rejoiced in my mother’s life and legacy of faith and family.  With her cousin, Don Blakey’s, pastor and my own family’s Fr. Jonathan, we said goodbye to her in the place she loved the most – the Savoy Methodist Church.

Now, months later, we are looking forward to May 27 2013, Memorial Day – when the Savoy Church will be rededicated in a special nondenominational service.  Working on its restoration and rededication has been a tremendous blessing for my dad and me, and a special way to honor my mother.  My prayer is that this little church will thrive once again as a spiritual home for others, just as it did for our family.

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One Comment
  1. Michelle Chadwick permalink

    My cousin Jay Blakey asked me to note that he did, in fact, catch crawdads.

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