Some folks just enjoy being together. They’d rather be with each other than with anybody else. They have things in common. They know when to listen and when to talk. They laugh and joke. Sometimes they’re silly. They also understand when there’s a need to be silent. In short, they respect, admire, and accommodate each other.
Now, imagine that same kind of relationship existing, not just between people, but between two wards. That’s the way you’d feel if you lived in Lawrenceburg or Columbia, two towns in Tennessee.
Go on a hayride in Columbia, and a lot of the teenagers from Lawrenceburg will be there, too. When there’s a picnic at the Davy Crockett State Park, just outside Lawrenceburg, you can be sure some kids from Columbia will be there, carrying a watermelon or two to make sure there are enough refreshments.
“We’re real close,” explained Misti McDow, 13, of the Lawrenceburg Ward. “Maybe it’s because we’re nearly all kin of some sort, and the ones that aren’t seem to get adopted in. We share our feelings; we talk about nearly everything. We’re just good friends.”
“Lawrenceburg and Columbia are so close together,” said Paul McDow, 16, also from Lawrenceburg. “When one ward has an activity, it seems natural to invite the other one. That way about 40 people come. We’ve had roller skating parties, firesides, and dances together. The kids from Columbia are a lot of fun.”
Paul is the youth council chairman of the Franklin Tennessee Stake, as well as an active participant in Future Farmers of America and 4-H, where his success in raising livestock has won him quite a few awards. He also serves as studentbody president of his high school. “School activities keep me busy, and it seems like there’s always plenty of work to do. But besides my family, the Church comes first. And I’m so close to people in the Church that they seem like family.”
Jason Sawyer, 14, of the Columbia Ward, agreed. “Most of my friends are sons of somebody in the ward. My dad’s the bishop, and I spend a lot of time with his counselor’s sons.”
“I spend a lot of time with my cousins, Tre, Joe, and Becky Pennington,” said Brian Greene, 15, the teachers quorum president of the Columbia Ward. “They live nearby and we do everything together—swimming, fishing, basketball, baseball. I’m running up and down the road to their house a lot. And we always go to church meetings together.”
The Greene’s home is a stone block building that for many years served as a meetinghouse for the Saints living in the hills around Columbia. “Now it’s our house,” Brian’s brother Jason, the 13-year-old deacons quorum president, explained. “But we still have ward activities here sometimes.”
It’s a peaceful location, shaded by trees, just on the flat where Catheys Creek bends. “Sometimes if there’s a lot of rain we have to sandbag,” Jason said. “But it’s still nice.”
It was especially nice the night Columbia Ward hosted a hayride there. The creek chilled the watermelons just right. Big fires scorched the hot dogs, but ketchup and mustard made the charcoal flavor blend in perfectly. In the fading light, some of the young men threw a basketball through a hoop.
“It’s neat when the whole ward comes to your own backyard,” Jason said. “I like them to come here. I have lots to show them. And you don’t worry about being late for a meeting in your own yard.”
After the hot dog roast, when the fire had burned down, Brother Collin McKennon spoke briefly about effective use of time.
“It’s a precious commodity,” he said. “But all hours are not alike in value. How valuable your time is depends in part on what you decide to do with it.”
Brother McKennon, the activities committee chairman, is the kind of guy who can put an arm on your shoulder, maybe tease you a little, and let you know the world’s okay. The teenagers like him, and they listen when he talks.
Just the same, there was a lot of background noise. But it wasn’t kids whispering to each other. It was frogs. Hundreds of them. Croaking, chirping almost. A thousand rusty springs in a chorus of constant squeaking. Perhaps they were warning each other about the catch-and-release frog hunt later that night.
Out on the dirt road, Brian and Jason’s father, Dale Greene, fired up the tractor he’d borrowed from a neighbor. Everyone jumped on the two trailers behind it, and it roared on up Love Branch Road. The night was clear. Stars were bright as they are only when you’re way outside, away from haze and street lamps.
The tractor noise nearly drowned out conversation, but everybody sang songs and told stories anyway. And threw hay. The youth from the Columbia Ward talked about their plans to get up the next morning at 3:00 A.M. to work in the bishops’ regional storehouse and cannery in Nashville.
“The work area is steamy, and you get wet, and you’re sleepy ’cause you get up so early,” said Melissa McKennon, 14, the Mia Maid president. “We work a long, long time. But we enjoy working together, kids with other kids, adults with the kids. It’s good to see everybody working together on something.”
“It makes me feel good to know I’m helping people less fortunate than I am,” said Stephanie Rawlins, 14.
“We usually aren’t doing anything early Saturday morning anyway,” said Deron Sawyer, 18. “Why waste a day when you can be helping somebody instead?”
“I figure every can you put in there feeds somebody. And who knows? Someday it could be you or me,” Brian Greene said.
Like several other Scouts in the area, Brian is doing an Eagle Scout service project at the cannery. Scouts have built concrete ramps, painted yellow lines, and helped organize schedules for canning and warehouse cleaning.
The tractor pulled into the woods, the engine still whining. The road became a snake, winding corner after corner through the dense woods. Every once in a while, at a clearing or up on a hillside, house lights would appear and all the youth would shout hello. Folks on the porch would wave and shout their greetings in return. In the hills, everybody knows everybody.
Another stretch of dirt road took the hayriders beneath an overpass, along a stretch of the Natchez Trace (an early trade route of trappers and Indians), then back to Catheys Creek and the Greene’s house.
Some attempt was made to stage the frog hunt. A few of the hardier souls, armed with flashlights and gunnysacks, did roll up their pant legs and wander in the shallow stream, but mostly the frogs got away.
“We don’t go frog hunting very often,” Melissa explained. “We just wanted to show you what they look like.”
The next morning, the Columbia Ward did go on the welfare assignment and spent the whole morning canning green beans. “We had done 1,050 cans when I lost count,” said Tre Pennington.
It was a lot of work. It left you feeling like you never wanted to see anything green again. But it did give everyone a chance to work together. And while they worked, they answered questions about life as a Latter-day Saint, about life in the Church.
“When the missionaries were teaching me, I knew right away that it was true. I didn’t have any doubt. My dad got baptized; then I got baptized the next Saturday,” said Stephanie Rawlins. “I enjoy being in the church I know is true. Friends I have who aren’t members can’t talk the same way. They don’t understand. With my friends in the Church I can open up; I can talk about things that are really important.”
“I’ve thought many times about what it means to have the priesthood,” said David Dawson, 16. “It means I’m more than just somebody on the street. I know where I can be in the eternities. Holding the priesthood is like being with God every day. It’s a great feeling if you live right.”
“Most of my nonmember friends go to their own churches,” Jason Sawyer said. “If you talk about religion to them, they look at you funny. But when I tell them our religion says we have the right to hold an office in the priesthood, they think that’s quite an honor.”
Jason also talked a little bit about what it’s like to be the stepson of a bishop who makes doughnuts for a living. “He gets up early to start baking, then sleeps in the middle of the day. A lot of times he’s gone doing church work. But he loves us, and he tries to be there when we need him. Besides, we always have plenty of refreshments!”
“That does it!” Melissa said, setting the last can of beans in a cardboard box. “I’m tired, but I’m not so tired that I couldn’t eat breakfast. Where’s a McDonald’s?”
By noon, the Columbia Ward was headed back from Nashville. But instead of going straight home, they took a detour to Lawrenceburg. The youth there wanted to return the favor of being invited to the hayride, so they had invited Columbia to a late afternoon picnic. While everyone was gathering at the chapel, the Lawrenceburg youth shared some of their thoughts about being a Latter-day Saint in Tennessee.
Paula McGuire, 15, talked about the closeness she feels in her ward and between the two wards.
“I love to be with the youth of the Church,” she said. “Other kids at school see us and think we’re strange to be so close. But in the Church you do seem closer. We really are like brothers and sisters.”
Regina Luker, 16, the Laurel president, told about her efforts to tell an atheist friend about the gospel. “It’s hard to get her to believe in the Lord,” she said. “But I obey the commandments, and I try to be a good example. We need to show we can be trusted.”
And Paul McDow spoke again, this time about teaching a lesson about the Church in his history class at school, about reading the scriptures, about saving money for a mission, and about living in the hills of Tennessee.
“I love it,” he said. “I couldn’t live anywhere else. The only thing that would make it better would be if there were more Church members.”
The youth from Lawrenceburg took the youth from Columbia on a quick tour of their town, then over to Davy Crockett State Park, where they ate fruit, sandwiches, and cookies. There was a short program, featuring Paul dressed up like a frog, “Davy Croak-it”; and by the time the sun set, the two groups went their separate ways, promising to get together again soon.
If you’re ever in middle Tennessee, stop in Columbia. You can go in to Park’s Feed Store, on the main square. Ask the men shucking lima beans to describe their home town. They’ll tell you “it’s the mule capital of the world.” There’s even a Mule Days celebration once a year. The men will tell you that U.S. president James K. Polk was born here. They’ll tell you about the big Civil War battle fought near Columbia in “18 and 65,” how you can still find sabers and shells out in the hills.
Then go to Lawrenceburg and ask the people there about their city. They’ll tell you that Davy Crockett lived here while he was a Congressman, after his explorations and before he died at the Alamo. They’ll show you his statue in the town square. They’ll even walk down the street with you to the plaque that marks the spot where his house once stood.
But ask Latter-day Saint youth in either city what it’s like to live in Tennessee, and you’re likely to hear a description, not only of the town their ward’s in, but of their neighboring ward as well. Of the people, the service, and the fun. Of the joy and the spiritual growth that can come through the influence of good friends and fellow Saints.
Because when you live in either ward down here, you live in both.