A lesser star in the evangelical orbit, my father didn’t usually have a crew on hand to help set up his tent revival meetings, so we did everything for ourselves. It involved a lot of grunt work, with no guarantees that the crowds would come.
My father painted new signs for each location, hand-lettered without a template. While we cleared debris and smoothed the dirt, he sandpapered the scuffed edges of our portable platform. Pitching the tent was an engineering feat, in and of itself. It also required a lot of strength. My older brothers helped my father position and anchor the tent posts, and then stretch the canvas over top. Sometimes the canvas tore, whether from age or an over-energetic tug. One of the girls, myself included, would stitch the frayed edges together, using a curved needle and stiff thread. On our luckiest days, local church folks would volunteer their time and effort. Working in tandem, they’d help hang speakers from tent posts, string the interior and exterior lights, and sound-check the microphones. (Electricity was typically siphoned from a nearby church or charitable business). We then planted the folding chairs in tidy rows, scattered sawdust on the earthen floor, and plunked a hymnal on every seat.
Drivers slowed, gawked, and rolled on past. Sometimes they’d honk. Other times, they’d jeer. Passers-by would stop to watch our dusty, sweaty routine, would whisper among themselves as we worked. I remember my father’s fervent prayers over dinner, remember him asking God to deliver those spectators to our evening service.