Memories of home at 'Swamp Reunion'

By Pat Kenney
Special to The Journal

Christmas and Thanksgiving arouse longings to return "home"--just to be there once more in that sacred, intimate spot that is central to our personal history and life. Such a place is the Kindricks Ferry church on the Bayou Macon out in "The Swamp" from Wisner in Franklin Parish, Louisiana--a shade over 40 airline miles southeast of Monroe in the broad Mississippi River Delta area, in the center of an agricultural area with such picturesquely-named farm communities as Cooter Point, Jigger, Peck, and Ft. Necessity.

I was recently honored to attend the "Swamp Reunion" of the Kindricks Ferry church community where all the people who grew up became like family. About six years ago a thoughtful member of the community, Mrs. Lily Kenney Roberts, organized the first of the gatherings as a time of remembrance for the old family members who are nearing the end of life, and for the young people who otherwise might not know the stories and lives of their hardy ancestors. My husband grew up there and I grew up in another nearby community, and for most of our lives these two spots have been very special to our personal lives.

At the reunion this year, a bountiful dinner was served, with door prizes, an old-time singing, and personal testimonies of heartfelt faith and family ties. These brought tears, and some folks were moved to express what this place had come to mean to their lives. One long-time friend and family member, Shirley Hodges, gave a moving speech expressing feelings just as in days of yore when the "family" came together to comfort each other. Another cousin, Shirley Swindle, told the group of her sister, who was an invalid all her life and could never speak a word. During revivals her parents would bring Ann to the meetings, and she so enjoyed the singing that they thought she sung along with the music. The sister said the passing of Ann was a holy time for her family. As they tarried with her in the hospital, she seemed to hang on for a very long time. Finally they needed to leave to make arrangements but before they left, her sister spoke her first and only word to each of them. She said "bye".

When they returned she had peacefully left this world for a better place. It is plain we don't fully understand human suffering but through faith and experiences like these we are helped.

Two things stand out about this place--the river, Bayou Macon (which locals pronounce Mason), which once had a ferry across it, and the neighborhood church.

Bayou Macon flows through a wide area of the Delta country between the Ouachita and the Mississippi Rivers, roaming north beyond the Louisiana-Arkansas state line, south down to the Tensas River, eventually to the "Father of Waters," the great Mississippi. The children played, swam and roamed the river banks, and adults met faithfully at the church which was the center of community life. The grandmothers were of great influence in the on-going pulse of the community and I am fortunate enough to have known some of them. When I think of tiny Grandma Kenney, a minister in this church, I think of the 23rd Psalm which declares "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Ps.23:6). These hardworking "saints" were always at the church. They were always concerned about those in the community, always on their knees in prayer in this place.

These ladies saw hard times, but here in this very spot they found the inspiration to make their lives a "song" of gratitude.

The Kendrick Ferry church has stood as long as any of us can remember. There's no graveyard, just a sunshine spot, a glint and a praise. During its history, there have been five ladies and many men as ministers, who have contributed to its continuity.

Grandma Kenney was a midwife, and signed all the birth certificates for babies that entered the extended family of Kendricks Ferry church community. Their names survive in her handwriting. Grandma Kenney--Mrs. Josephine Armstrong Kenney--was tiny in physical stature, but greatly revered, and a mother of many. I have a mental picture of Grandma Kenney trudging the fully five miles from her home, carrying a lantern, crossing the river on the ferry, coming with her Bible in hand to read by the lamps the gospel that was as new and powerful then as now. She did not always go on their mule, often walking through the dark wall of palmetto, singing hymns and praying aloud. It was said that no one, not the Devil himself, would dare accost her.

The gumbo mud of that high cotton country was like glue, but daughters and granddaughters went to "town" in Wisner on weekends to buy clothing. They all got an allowance, and the only "forbidden sin" was that they could not buy any fabric that was not cotton. The Kenny kids were rich compared to some others nearby. Cousin Lily told of loaning her many "can-can" slips to every girl in her class, and upon her graduation, the high school coach wrote a note in her graduation book how all her friends would miss her can-can slips. (Maybe no one knew that her slips were made of nylon!)

Minister "Son" Warblington came to pastor Kindricks Ferry Church in the 1960s, and stayed 22 years. During his pastorate, the church had a revival that lasted five months, minus only two days--when the church was needed for a funeral.

Minister Lofton is there now, and all are "well and kicking" looking forward to the next "Swamp Reunion" next April, "If the river don't rise."

Those returning to this sacred, intimate, place earlier this year said they now wanted to invite everyone to stop by "here" on their way to heaven! I certainly felt blessed by their out-pouring of love.