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Tent Revivals

 

Being a preacher’s kid was not always an easy thing to be. Some people believed that because our Dad was a minister, that we should be held to a higher standard than our peers. Many things were expected of us. We didn’t wear shorts and our dresses had to be longer than the fashion at the time (but they were still above the knee). Those things were ok, we didn’t suffer much from that other than hot legs in the summer; But I have to say, my parents were good at compromise and not taking it to the extreme, after all, they did let us girls wear pants. They still allowed us to be kids and that is what mattered.

There were times, and I have to admit it wasn’t much fun at the time, that we did things for the church that I’m not so sure anyone else wanted to do. For instance when we had revivals, about once every six months, Dad would actively invited everyone he came in contact with. He would have “hand bills” printed up with the guest speakers picture, dates, times and special events of the week. This usually involved us singing as well. But, it didn’t stop there. He would gather us up and take us out in the community to knock on doors and invite people. We would smile and invite them to our revival as we placed a hand bill in their hands. Most people thought that was sweet, but we really just wanted to go home and play.

Once per year, usually in July, the Mission in Blytheville would sponsor a tent revival. I can’t tell you how my siblings felt about going to the tent revival, but I almost (almost) looked forward to it. It had a whole different feeling with being outside and it usually drew larger crowds than the regular “at church” revivals. Dad would round us kids up the week before, and we would go out like a little army, inviting people to the tent revival, and we mostly attended every night. There was lots of singing and they would take up offerings in Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, and at least once during the week, our family would sing a couple of songs for the service. Looking back now, it has a very nostalgic feeling. It’s something that is not often done now like it used to be done in the South. People would lift their hands toward heaven and pray, and many souls were saved. I can’t say that any of that was directly related to our participation, but I like to think that maybe… just maybe, all our hard work was not totally in vain.

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The Sound of Screaming

The VonTrapp Family SingersSwirling around like a mental patient!

In about 1966 we lived in Blytheville Arkansas on Cherry Street in a house with pink siding which we to this day call “the pepto bismol house”. It was during this time that I learned to ride a bicycle and enjoyed playing with our neighborhood friends. I was very young, only four years old. Our neighbors were the Glasscocks and we played with their children quite a bit. Debra Glasscock was a couple of years older than me and was closer to Lisa’s age. Debra and I got into a fight one day and she ended up at the Dr’s office getting stitches because I had bitten a plug out of her arm! But as children go, we didn’t play together for a while, and we got over it much quicker than our parents did.

One of the best things about living next to the Glasscocks was that their Dad was the manager at the Ritz Theatre downtown, so every once in a while on Saturday afternoons we would get to go to the movies with them for free. I saw the Jungle Book and several others, but the most amazing movie I saw was The Sound of Music. The image of Julie Andrews swirling around on the mountain top was larger than life. The singing children were amazing to me. I wanted to be a VonTrapp family singer just like them. I sat in the front row and watched every moment of the movie without missing a beat. I was smitten by the scenery and the music. I was too young to really understand what the whole movie was about politically, but it didn’t matter, I was in love with the music. I loved it so much, as a matter of fact, that I remained in my seat after the movie ended so I could watch it again. Just as the camera was zooming in on “Maria” swirling on the mountain, Lisa grabbed my arm and pulled me kicking and screaming out of the theatre to go home. I didn’t care that people were watching,  I screamed and yelled “NO” all the way out the door. To this day, The Sound Music has remained my favorite musical. I fell in love with it then, and I secretly love it still. (Shhhh… don’t tell!)

Daddy Sang Bass, Momma Sang Tenor

 

I was about 6 years old when we stared singing together as a family. That means that my two younger brothers, Kevin and Tracy were preschoolers. Kevin would have been about 5 years old and Tracy would have only been around 4. We sang full length versions of songs, and they never missed a word…. not once! I remember vividly how Tracy would sit in the living room and sing along with the theme song to Gilligan’s Island. He knew every word.

Dad bought a PA sound system and we each had our own microphone. He color coded them with different colors of tape so we each knew exactly which one was ours. We also had regular rehearsals at home and he would record us on reel to reel and sometimes cassettes and play it back for us to hear. He also instructed us on singing courtesy. When someone sang a solo, and yes, both Kevin and Tracy sang solos as well and Lisa and I, we were to turn and give them our full attention. That way, Dad told us, the congregation members would give them their attention as well. He took the time to copy the words for each song into a folder and put them in order so that we had a complete program to perform. I remember using these folders once. We might have used them twice, but after that it was evident that we didn’t need them at all. We were well rehearsed and ready to go.

I have the reel to reel tapes at my house. The Panasonic player I have still works, but the quality of the tapes are fuzzy and distorted in places. The very first song on one of the tapes is the whole family singing “Turn Your Radio On”. We couldn’t have been much older than when we first started singing. If I remember correctly, this was one of the first songs we ever did. I listened to it for the first time in 40 years just about a year or so ago. We twanged out the song in true southern style, complete with thick accents and little voices mixed with Mom and Dad. It was the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

Little Ducky Duddles (Quack Quack!)

I loved first grade. I played in the playground, I made lots of messes in art class and occasionally came out with some art as well. I did my homework and beamed proudly when I would show it to Mom. I simply loved it. Little did I know how one small decision made on a whim would impact the rest of my life, not to mention my family’s life, in such a dramatic way.

Mrs. Brown, the greatest first grade teacher ever, called four of us children to the side one day and asked us to sing a song for her. Honestly, I don’t remember what song we sang, but I’m sure it was something we had learned in our music class. She asked us then if we wanted to be in the talent show, and we all did, so that was that. We chose a song and rehearsed. When we were done, I told her that I wanted to sing a song by myself in the show. She thought that was a good idea and told me to talk to my mother about it.

The show was about two weeks away, and I marched home and announced to my parents that I was going to sing. I had already picked out my song and was ready to go. I remember Mom asking, “Well, what are you going to sing?” and I quickly replied “Little Ducky Duddles”. She said she’s never heard of that song so I sang it for her.

Little Ducky Duddles, went wading in the puddles

Went wading in the puddles quite small. Quack Quack!

He said to me it doesn’t matter, how much I splash and splatter,

I’m only a Ducky after all. Quack Quack!

I don’t think she ever really laughed or giggled out loud, but I remember her amusement at the song I had picked. She told me “If you’re going to sing in a talent show, your going to learn a REAL song.” She then taught me a song that I will never forget. It’s called “He”.

The night of the show, I do remember singing with the group. As it turns out, part of our choreography involved us turning around, bending over and placing our hands on our back and wiggling our fingers. I wore a dress that night, and every time we turned around and leaned forward, I flashed my underwear to the audience. I didn’t know until later when my sister told me, why everyone was laughing. But their laughter didn’t last very long. When my turn to sing came, I took the microphone and marched out on the stage, not a nervous bone in my body, and I sang my very first solo.

He

He can turn the tide and calm the angry sea.

He alone decides who writes a symphony.

He lights every star that makes the darkness bright.

He keeps watch all through each long and lonely night.

He still finds the time to hear a child’s first prayer.

Saint or sinner call and always find him there.

Though it makes him sad to see the way we live,

He’ll always say, I forgive.

 

Forty years later, I can still recall my Dad saying that there was not a dry eye in the house that night. Forty years later, my sister told me for the first time how proud she was of me that night. Forty years ago, I sang a solo that started a passion for music and singing in my family. This was the turning point for us. After this night, we would be a family of singers known as The Singing Jacksons.

 

I Hope I Get to Be the Queen!

School was a lot of fun for me.  I loved recess and art, I even loved doing the work.  I was good at math and I loved helping the others when I could; but the best times were when we had parties.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentines Day, any reason at all to have a party was a good reason.  The mothers would take turns bringing snacks and staying at our parties.  It was a time to show off our parents to the other children.  I was so proud when it was my mother’s turn.  I remember the other children telling me my mom was pretty.  I remember replying, “I know!”

One morning, right after milk time, some high school kids came into the room and took Tonya Blaylock, Mark Dixon and myself out of the classroom.  I was scared because I thought I was in trouble.  They took us to the gymnasium, which back in that day was made of all nature wood.  It was brown, and it was dark.  On one of the walls was a huge painting of our Mascot, the Blue Devil that I thought was so neat.  We would come in here for PE classes sometimes when it was raining, but we mostly came here for assemblies and presentations.  On this particular day, there was no presentation or assembly.  It was just Tonya, Mark and I and a bunch of teenagers.  Now I knew I was in trouble!  After a while, just long enough for it all to sink in, my music teacher came in and asked us if we knew why we were there.  None of us did. “We are going to rehearse for the Homecoming and you have been chosen to be in it!”  I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, or what a homecoming was.  We walked around the gym and stood where they told us to stand.  Somewhere along the way, I remember Tonya saying someone would be a queen.  I thought, “Wow… a real Queen!  I hope it’s me!” I’m glad someone told my mother what was happening, because I don’t know how I would have explained to her I was going to be a queen!

The night of the ballgame, (which by the way, they never told me there would be a ballgame) Mom took me down to the dressing room and dressed me, took the curlers out of my hair and teased it high on top of my head as if I weren’t already the tallest one of us three children.  I don’t remember walking through the ceremony, but Mark and I had some good conversation because we were bored, and I talked all the time anyway.  Fun times, even though I didn’t get to be the queen!

By:  Nancy Jackson-Ferguson

The Red Group

A lot of things happened in 1968, some of them I remember and some of them, not so much. The Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated, Apollo 8 orbited the moon, and everyone was talking about the war in Vietnam. It was also the year I started first grade. I was so excited to get on the school bus that first morning. The bus driver had the radio turned on and I remember hearing Tony Orlando and Dawn sing “Knock Three Times”. I chose my seat and sat next to the window so I could see outside with Lisa sitting next to me. Why I wanted to look outside, I don’t know. The only view was open fields around our little country house, until you got into the small community of Dell Arkansas where the school was and which hosted modest houses and a small business district that included a rail road depot. My Pawpaw Hinch worked at that depot every day, and my sister and I would later on spend many afternoons there after school. But the best thing I remember about that first day of school was being a big girl on the school bus. Just as the bus was pulling away from our house, I saw Nanny and Papaw’s car coming toward us. They were coming to our house so Nanny could watch my baby brothers while Mom went to work. They had a powder blue Impala that seemed so small up against the huge bus. I looked out the window and waved, excited that they could see what a big girl I was.

After we arrived at school, I went to my very first classroom. I had my writing tablet and a pencil and I was ready to go to work. Mrs. Brown, who in my eyes was one of the most beautiful women ever, called roll and asked us which kind of milk we wanted. What a wonderful thing to be able to have chocolate milk every morning at school. Of course that elation was quickly squashed when I started getting car sick every morning on the bus. Believe me; after that, milk was the last thing I wanted after I got to school.

The one thing that really bothered me about first grade was the reading class. Now, I know I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I’m no dummy either. When Mrs. Brown divided us into reading groups, she may as well have called us “The Smartest Group”, “The Mediocre Group” and the “Not so Bright Group”. But I guess in order to be politically correct, she called us the Red Group, the Blue Group and the Yellow Group, but we all knew what they were and nobody was proud to be in the Yellow Group. I was in the Blue Group. I wanted so bad to be in the Red Group. Tonya Blaylock was in the Red Group and I wanted to be there too. I worked so hard, and sure enough, it paid off. The Red Group was a whole chapter ahead of the rest of us. They already knew what was going to happen to Dot and Jim in our readers. The rest of us would have to wait. Then one day, when Mrs. Brown called up the Red Group to the round reading table, she said, “Nancy, why don’t you come up here too.” I made it!! I got into the elite Red Group. I proudly sat next to Tonya and impressed the whole group when I knew two words that were new to our vocabulary. Right there on the page was a picture of Spot, Dot and Jim’s dog, and the words in big bold letters…. “Bow Wow!” I felt so smart!

By:  Nancy Jackson-Ferguson

Meet the Grandparents

 

I do not ever remember not going to church as a child. Every Sunday morning, we would get ready to go without question. It was the normal thing for us to do. My sister Lisa and I would alternate the weekends with our younger brothers Kevin and Tracy to go spend the night with Nanny and Pawpaw ( Rev. Lauren and Geraldine Hinch). After watching the Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family and enjoying raspberry sherbet with the Creature Feature, it was off to bed. Sometimes, if we stayed on a Saturday night, we would go to church with them in Manila at Blackwater Baptist Church where Pawpaw was the Pastor. It was a little country church that did well to gather a crowd of twenty or so on Sunday mornings, but I liked the attention of being the granddaughter of the pastor because that meant everyone knew me. Plus, we always knew Nanny would give us each a half stick of gum to chew on the way to church as long as we spat it out before services began.

Looking back now, I have a better appreciation for sets of my grandparents and who they were. Mawmaw and Pawpaw Jackson (Benny and Lucille) were very social in their hometown of Osceola where Mawmaw was a beautician and Pawpaw sold cars. They were both members of the Eastern Star, which I never really understood, but I think it was some sort of organization formed under the Masons, of which my father and both grandfathers were members as well. It was not a secret that they were members, but the whole organization is a mystery to everyone except its members. When we were a little older, we were invited a couple of times to go sing at the inauguration of Mawmaw and Pawpaw as the Grand Matron and Grand Patron of the Eastern Star. Non-members are not allowed and we were told to never tell what we heard or saw there. It was a very lengthy ritual and I was very proud to be their granddaughter, even though I’m still not sure what it all meant. It didn’t matter too much because my grandparents were being honored and that was important.

By:  Nancy Jackson-Ferguson