Yesterday was an eventful day. It started out by getting up early, walking the dogs, cleaning out the cat boxes then heading off to town for church.
I'd debated the night before if I was going to go. I knew that if I were to go to church, it had to be in, Hartville. I wanted the experience for my book as much as I wanted to see what a small town church was like. Not to mention the fact that I rarely miss a Sunday.
I arrived in the small town, parked my van and assumed the little building on the right was the church I'd go to. The doors were closed and there didn't appear to be any lights on. I glanced to the left and saw the church across the street stood with its doors wide open, as if inviting anyone who cared to enter.
I ascended the few concrete stairs, and stepped into the building. I was momentarily blinded by the dim candled light and the contrast from the sunlight I'd just exited. The room was smaller then I'd imagined with only ten or so pews on either side of the narrow room.
As I slowly made my way to the front, I glanced at the few people occupying the pews. A few on this side, and a few on that side. I quietly took my seat on the left, a few pews from the front. An older coupled sat just in front of me. It didn't take long for a few others to straggle in. A few here, and a few there...and a do mean a few.
A woman entered the building and made her way to a pew across from me. She looked my way and smiled. It wasn't long before she made her way over to introduce herself. She asked where I was from, and one word lead to another, and before I knew it she'd offered to sit along side me to help me thought the service.
As the service started, I quickly realized what a blessing it was to have the woman offer her assistance. We quickly flipped from an old Hymn book, to the handout program I received at the door, to the “Bible” they used for readings.
Later in the service everyone shook hands, offering God's peace to one and all. Not a one of them missed a soul...though there couldn't have been more then ten of us. That's right, ten! And here I come from a church that seats 7,000, in just the main auditorium. Quite a shock, to say the least.
When they took communion, breaking of the bread, I made the decision to participate. It was not done in the fashion I had been accustom to in my home church. As I made my way to the front of the church, I looked to others for what to do. I knelt as they all had, and waited to be handed a piece of the bread. When I noticed they'd all sipped from the same cup, I sucked in my shock and threw all caution to the wind. And that I did.
When I looked into the silver goblet in front of me, I was surprised to see what appeared to be water. I was shocked when I took a sip, and to my utter surprise, found it to be wine!!!!! I hadn't had a sip of alcohol in over ten years...by choice...and it wasn't even noon, yet! You can imagine my shock.
After the service many came up to me to find out who I was and where I came from. How long I'd be there. An incredibly sweet group. I talked to the man who is the “main pastor” (not sure of his title). He explained to me about how many of the neighboring towns can't afford to hire a full time pastor (or bishop, not sure which they are referred as), and so they have a handful of they that travel, helping the other churches out. Inside, he looked to be like anyone else I might have seen around my town. One outside, he wore a black Stetson. I couldn't help myself. I had to look down to see it he was wearing cowboy boots, and sure enough he was.
He told me about the church and a few other things regarding the area. He's lived in the very same house he was born in, and his wife’s father lives next door. A 92 year old man who could tell much of the history of the area, if one was willing to listen.
I headed across the street, a few steps away, to the tiny building I'd originally thought to be the church. Come to find out the church had purchased it for a hall for meetings and gatherings. I spoke to several people, was given information on the history of the church, before sitting down with a woman that was all too eager to fill me in with whatever information she could offer.
I was trilled, and yet sadden, to find they have a Barn Dance, not too far from Hartville. I would be in only a few weeks after I'd be leaving. I was thrilled at the thought that such a thing still existed...you just can't know what that did to my entire being. And saddened that I'd missed it. But God always knows what's best, and if I'd gone there, there'd be a good chance I'd never returned to Illinois.
I also learned that on Fathers day, in a town called, Esterbrook, they have what is called, Buckboard Sunday. From what I recall, people come from neighboring towns by foot, horse or buggy. There's a small wooden cabin with no electricity or running water. They worship together, and when they're done, they turn in all the pews to the middle of the room with tables lined in the middle. Everyone offers a dish they brought, and they all sit down to eat.
When their bellies are full, the instruments are brought out. They sing and dance, young and old. I just have to return, purposely planning to be here for both the events.
As if that wasn't enough I headed out to a neighboring town, then turned around and headed in the opposite direction to, Fort Laramie. There I visited a old fort. Now that was packed full of history. Many pictures were taken to capture the way of life from over a hundred years ago.
I then headed back to town, though along the way I'd remembered being told about Hartville's cemetery. I passed it up, for it looked so remote and uninviting. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to, so I turned around and headed back.
I turned onto a narrow dirt road, wondering if I were trespassing. I passed a wooden post sticking up with a black cowboy boot sticking out from either side. A few more feet and I spotted a large wooden boot that read, Boot Hill Cemetery. It was very uninviting, surrounded by rusted bob wire, tall grass and no entrance to be seemed.
I proceed up a little further where an iron arch with the words, Hartville Cemetery, beckoned me in. I slowly proceeded forward along the dirt path glancing to the right, then to the left. There were Grave stones of many different styles, some with artificial flowers, and some without. It was fascinating to see a few here, and a few there, surrounded in antique fencing.
As I got out of my van, camera draped over my shoulder, I proceeded slowly, looking at the dates. There were many dated as far back as the later 1800's, early 1900's. It struck me deep within that some gravestones were modern, ones I'm accustom to seeing with names and dates. But the ones that struck me the most were those that were merely a rock. A rock. A small boulder. That's it. No inscription. It was as if someone picked up a rock from over yonder and placed it there. The only indication that it was a grave site was the plastic flowers someone has carefully stuck in the ground beside it.
As if all this hadn't been enough for one day, as I entered the main street of Hartville, I decided to see if the bar I had gone to on Friday night was opened. I had wanted to go back and get a few pictures, mainly of the brandings on the wall. Until a few days ago, I haven't been in a bar in years, so when I approached and saw the line of Harley's outside, I had to wonder what I was doing.
Once again with camera strapped over my shoulder, getting closer, I noticed the metal sign hanging above. I was wrong in my earlier thinking that it was the oldest bar in Hartville. It's the oldest bar in Wyoming! How cool is that?!?!?.
I turned the brass knob, and entered the building, immediately seeing two of the women who worked their on Friday. I knew I must have looked the part of a tourist with my camera. I didn't want to cause any worry, so I explained what I was doing and why. They were all too happy to allow me to take pictures and fill me in with whatever information they had. I was able to purchase a book about all the ghost towns in Wyoming, including, Hartville.
Now it was after three, and I still hadn't eaten since early that morning. Feeling as though I had my fill for the day, I headed back to the Kindness Ranch, where I knew I'd want to sit at my lap top and capture everything I'd just experienced.