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January 10, 2022

Churches I have Loved (Most of the Time): Cloudy

Editor's Note: The following is an essay and recollection written by my father, Dr. Cecil Baker Egerton, of his first pastorate in Cloudy, Oklahoma, circa 1950.

I will never forget Cloudy. I learned so much there. I don’t know what the place is like now, but over a half century ago, it was a journey back in time to an America that existed long before I was born. Located on a ridge in the Kiamichi Mountains of Oklahoma, it was twenty-five miles from the nearest paved road. As a young man from the city of Knoxville [Tennessee] who was studying in a theological school in Fort Worth, Texas, going there was like using a time machine to visit a vanished world. The women still boiled their laundry in iron kettles on Monday. People drew water from their own wells. The younger kids attended a one-room schoolhouse, while the older kids rode a bus down to Rattan.

As a budding minister, I was impatient to take up the challenge of a pastorate. Cloudy was a mission of the church in Rattan where a friend of mine conducted services on weekends. They asked him to find someone willing to lead the mission. He chose me.
That first Sunday, fourteen people showed up to issue me a call to the pulpit. The Sunday School, which had continued while they were without a pastor, consisted of three classes – one adult and two for different size children, all meeting on a one room church house warmed by a pot bellied cast iron stove in the center and with curtains strung on wires to separate the classes. Many more attended the services that night. I received a starting salary of ten dollars a week.
Most of the people were very poor. The bulk of the land was owned by the Dierck Lumber Company (later absorbed by Weyerhaeuser). Livestock was still raised on the open range so that hogs and cattle could fatten on acorns from the lumber company’s forest.

A view of Cloudy Creek

But not everyone was poor. Four men ran a still on Cloudy Creek. On a summer night when it was running, you could smell the sickly sweet odor of the boiling mash pot almost half a mile downwind. The scent was not very different from the scent I often smelled in college rest rooms during the pot puffing sixties and seventies. I found out later that they had a standing order for twenty gross quart fruit jars every two weeks at a warehouse in Hugo. That much production must have required at least a five hundred gallon still. I don’t know where the product was marketed. I do recall that on many a Saturday one would see a loaded truck, its cargo covered by a tarpaulin, parked on a side street in the county seat town of Antlers. The truck was owned by one of the partners.
With a moral conviction I have seldom seen equaled and never surpassed, the church would not accept any bootleg money even though the men had family members who attended. The policy was that until they changed their ways, their money was unacceptable to the Lord.
Church work in Cloudy had its own rhythm. The Sunday morning service was always poorly attended, chiefly by the women and children for the men had cows to milk and stock to feed. Sunday night services, however, grew until the small building was packed. The same was true of the Saturday night services that were their custom.
Because livestock never learned to read a clock, I soon discovered that evening meetings ran on sun time, not clock time. Not until the sun was low in the sky did the stock come up and wait for their owners to turn them into the lot. Regardless of the stated time, the evening services would start at sundown.
I have many memories etched on my brain. I remember our first revival meeting. I led fourteen people into Cloudy Creek to follow the Lord in baptism. There was no baptistry, but the creek served well. I baptized the short ones near shore. When a tall man was ready, I could take a few steps backward into deeper water to get the buoyancy I needed to perform my task.
The Lord won some great victories in Cloudy. I recall one man whom the community believed to be too stubborn to become a Christian, but Julian Harris moved up from Texas onto an adjacent farm. He had been an active worker in the Woods Chapel Baptist Church near Fort Worth. He didn’t know his neighbor was presumed to be unreachable, so he began sharing the gospel in over-the-fence conversations. Many months later, the unreachable man decided he wanted Jesus in his life.
He showed up at church with his wife, his fourteen year old daughter, and his twelve year old son. He hadn’t attended church often enough to know that public decisions were made at the end of the worship, but he did know about “walking down the aisle.” As we sang the first hymn, “I Will Arise and Go to Jesus,” he came to the front and told me he wanted to be saved. By the time I finished praying with him, his wife and children were standing behind him. That morning we skipped the rest of the order of service. (Heresy of heresies, we even forgot to take up the offering!) We had a revival meeting without my even preaching a sermon.
Some years earlier, two teen age girls (first cousins) had accepted the Lord, but their families talked them out of confessing Christ in baptism and attending church. One of them moved back into the community with her husband while I was there. She professed Jesus as her savior, and her husband did the same. Her father strongly opposed the church, but when I baptized his daughter in Cloudy Creek, I spotted her mother hiding on the opposite ridge to watch.
During summer vacation, I decided to live on the field. I house-sat for a man whose wife was regular in the church, but he did not profess Christ. They had gone to New Mexico to cut timber. 
One evening I sat in front of the house in a cane bottom chair reading. An unfamiliar pickup turned off the road and stopped. A stranger got out.
“Is XXX here,” he asked.
“No, he’s in New Mexico for the summer. Can I help you?”
“Well, some time back, I bought some whiskey from him, and it was about the best I ever tasted. We’re having a dance down at Ringgold. Do you know where I can get some?”
“I could tell you where you could probably buy some,” I replied, “but I won’t. You see. I’m the Baptist preacher here and I don’t approve of such doings.”
He turned around and ran to his pickup as if he was afraid I would put some kind of hex on him and left with spinning wheels churning up a cloud of dust.
[The people were appreciative of my efforts while I was there. They raised my salary to fifteen dollars a week. ]
One thing I remember most vividly about Cloudy was the singing. What the people lacked in formal musical training, they more than compensated for by their gusto. They liked it all loud and fast. They shook the open rafters with the swelling sound of praise to God. “By and by, when the morning comes, we will understand it better by and by” was their favorite. Cloudy was also host to a regular fifth Sunday singing for the area. After church, people would share dinner-on-the-grounds. Visitors would come from churches miles away, bringing their best solutions and guitars with them. A wonderful time followed. I even acquired a reputation as a singer, for I could sing baritone as well as any. The result was that for a while I served as revival song leader for a number of churches in the region.
Like all adventures we have when we serve Jesus, my time at Cloudy came to an end all too soon. I faced cyclical spoking high fevers that would plague me for many years. The doctors diagnosed it as “recurrent appendicitis” and performed surgery, but my symptoms did not go away. I knew I would not be able to continue the two hundred mile drive from Fort Worth every weekend, so I resigned. At that time Leroy Benefield, the Training Union director of the church in Rattan, heard God’s call to attend seminary and become a foreign missionary, so he took over the pulpit. He later served churches in the Philippines.
Young people, when they resist the call to Christian service as I once did, fail to realize how much fun they will have serving the Lord. The Bible says Jesus, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).” I know I thought long about the crosses and the embarrassment of b ecomi8ng a “holy Joe,” but the joy came to me again and again as a wonderful surprise.
Sometimes when the evening shadows grow long, I think of the people of Cloudy and wish I could visit them again, but I cannot. The Cloudy I knew must have changed during the past half century. The people I remember so well have passed on to their eternal reward. Any who are still there, children then, would be unrecognizable to me now. 
[Thomas Wolfe was right: “You can’t go home again.” ]

Editor’s Notes:

Bracketed text [xxx] indicates content that was typed in the original manuscript and subsequently scribbled out by the writer.

Cecil Baker Egerton, this editor’s father, graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1950 (years are estimated) and was ordained to the ministry in 1951 while attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas – the general timeframe in which the events he describes in Cloudy, Oklahoma, took place. The church at Cloudy was a mission, or a satellite congregation of a fully established church. Churches in the Baptist tradition are fully autonomous bodies, while missions are reliant upon their parent church for support. After the events described here, Cecil Egerton went to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he received his Divinity degree. This story would have been written down sometime circa 2001, but I have often heard my father relate stories from his time at Cloudy, and often from the pulpit.

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