Today was Hat Day! Kids were showing up at the First Baptist Church this morning wearing all kinds of hats- baseball hats, shark hats, beach hats. But Reid Taylor was in a panic. He couldn’t find his fedora hat. He searched the bus, the church and his host home but no one could find it. After a brainstorming process that helped him retrace his steps, he remembered setting it down at Tryon Palace yesterday. Beth promptly called the Palace, which was not open to the public yet. They kindly unlocked the doors and let Reid search the grounds and he found it! You’ve never seen such a happy smile as he ran back to the bus wearing his hat and being welcomed with hearty applause from the entire bus! This is just one example of how friendly and welcoming the people of North Carolina have been to us. Another example was when a church member handed Tom a bag of goodies before we left. It was filled with homemade sweet potato/ham biscuits! Zach Callis volunteered to try the first one and let us know how it tasted. (Remember how we learned yesterday that he is brutally honest?) He gave his approval with a positive critique of having a cinnamon and a slightly sweet flavor. That was good enough for us!
We left the church with many praises ringing in our ears. My hostess told me that she had seen many youth choirs over her 85 years of life but that ours was the best she had ever heard. She also said that she really loved how the kids were smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves as they sang. (We’ve been talking to them about smiling and not looking like they are emitionless. I guess it worked!) High praise indeed!
Back on the bus we resumed our daily traditions. The Greeters for the morning were Austin Mollard and Rachel Burns. I had never met Rachel before so I was happy that I was able to meet her. This is the whole purpose of having Greeters. It gives us a chance to meet everyone on the bus and know their names. Such a clever tradition!
The breakfast reports were quite interesting and varied. Scott and David Hembrough had a hearty “Hungry Farmer” breakfast from the Baker’s Kitchen restaurant. Julia Bratburd and Madison Bowe had homemade quiche with blackberries and grits. Jack Hembrough and Jordan Anderson went to Bojangles and had chicken tenders and sausage biscuits. However, the breakfast winners went to the Baldridge family and Steve Kalnoske, who were placed in a Bed and Breakfast for the evening. They had a menu with over 20 items to choose from! Some of their breakfast items included Shrimp and Grits with homemade cornbread, Eggplant Frittata and Stuffed French Toast with caramelized apples and crème brulee. I’m getting hungry just writing this!
We had two great fork stories today. Keely Bautista told a story of how there was a creepy clown doll sitting on the mantle of her host home staring down on her bed. Then she saw a framed photo of a man holding a baby who looked just like Tom Baldridge! Tom joked that he had a twin brother who lived in New Bern and how it must have been him. The fork prize of the day however went to Jonathan Works with Bryce Taylor and Quil Kibak, who told a story about a water bug in the house and a baby bat crawling on the floor. (I saw the photo that they took of the bat. It did NOT look like a baby!) After Jonathan freaked out about the water bug, Quil and Bryce continued to prank him all evening by saying they saw more water bugs. The story was hilarious. Their prize fork appropriately had bugs on it also.
Zach Callis, who also happens to be a lifeguard (like our tall friend Thomas Hulcher), gave us tips for the day on applying sunscreen (30 minutes before you go into the water) and signs of heat exhaustion (dry tongue, clammy skin, dizziness, etc.) Mama Bowe told the kids that she would be standing guard at the door of the bus and that she would not let anyone off who hadn’t applied sunscreen or had a completely filled water bottle in their hands. They know that she means it too. Don’t mess with Mama Bowe!
We knew we were nearing Atlantic Beach when we crossed the bridge over the InterCoastal Waterway that connects Morehead City with the ocean. It was a beautiful sunny day with warm breezes and equally warm water. We headed for a section of the beach that had a lifeguard protected swim area. Between four life guards, 2 CWS lifeguards, a patrolling helicopter, nearby boats, 5 adults standing guard and even a family of porpoises patrolling the outer perimeter, I felt the group was very well watched over. Most of the kids spent their time jumping over the gentle crashing waves or playing Frisbee in the water. Others collected shells and made sand decorations. The ones who tired of swimming came up to the beach and played soccer or softball. It was a perfect morning.
While everyone was playing in the water, Beth Taylor and Jonathan Colburn were nice enough to drive to the grocery store to pick up lunch food. At 12:30, the kids walked down to the covered pavilions where a lunch spread was waiting for them to make their own sandwiches: ham and turkey, slices of cheese, lettuce, pickles, chips, grapes and leftover birthday cake for dessert. The kids had to sing for their food though. Another opportunity had arisen for a “WitnesSING.” In the pavilion next to ours were a group of men from the “Holy Mackerel Fishing Club” associated with the local Catholic Church. They were having a fishing contest that day. Beth had made friends with them while she was setting up the food and they said they would love to hear our kids sing. So right there around the pavilion, our entire group sang (appropriately)“Witness.” Before the men had even finished clapping, the kids were diving into the food!
The last stop before our evening concert was at Fort Macon. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the danger of naval attack along the North Carolina coast was constant. Fort Macon was built as a defense after the War of 1812 and was completed in 1834. It is built partially underground but visitors can also walk on the top grassy area for a beautiful 360 degree view of the water and surrounding vistas. The fort was used during the civil war, where 400 union soldiers were housed, and also during World War II, where a small group of soldiers set up anti-aircraft weapons on the beach to protect themselves from a possible German invasion. It is a massive fort with 5 sides and is made of brick and stone. Inside are 26 rooms called casements that are enclosed by outer walls that are about 4 feet thick. Visitors can view a re-creation of the living conditions of a typical soldier during both of those wars. Most of our youth were too hot and tired after their morning at the beach to do much exploration of the fort, but they were summoned by Polly via text message to meet her inside. They had another “WitnesSING” opportunity in one of the underground casements to sing “Ain’t Got Time To Die.” Visitors flocked to the room to listen to our kids sing. Our theme, “I’ll be a Witness” is ringing true on this trip!
We arrived at the First United Methodist Church in Morehead City in time to cool off, rehearse and head to dinner. The wonderful members of the church had prepared fried chicken, baked beans, potato salad, hush puppies and iced tea for our dinner. The worship space in the church is small but beautiful, with a lovely large stained glass window above the altar of the sanctuary and plush red carpeting throughout the space that contrasted perfectly with the clean white walls. I noticed that some of the sunburned faces of our youth were almost as red as the carpeting. The kids were exhausted from their day at the beach but they were real troopers and gave it their best effort. Polly dedicated the song “One Faith, One Hope, One Lord” to the people of Charleston who just experienced a tragedy yesterday. She beautifully expressed the hope that one day we can all unite in the same love that is spoken of in the song. It was very moving.
When it came time for Steve Kalnoske to do his hymn improvisation, he jokingly thanked the person who had decided to place the organ and piano on the opposite side of chancel from each other for all of the exercise he was getting. That brought a nice chuckle from the audience but then they were brought to an awed appreciation of his amazing talent as he wowed them with his improv.
The Latin translation of our ending song “Omnia Sol” had a double meaning for us after spending the day basking in the sun at the beach. I hope it is as meaningful to you:
The sun warms everything
Even while I am far away
Love me faithfully
And know that I am faithful.