By Norris Chambers

             I’ve been called an old timer since I first became one but there were old timers around when I was just a kid. Some of the tales they told were even wilder than the ones I have been telling. Of course an old timer wouldn’t stray very far from the truth, but I have often wondered if this tale was a one hundred percent truth. It could have happened and it might have.

            Churches, preachers and others conducted what were called “protracted meetings” during the summer months. They were called protracted because they continued for several days. These meetings were held at night to take advantage of the cooler temperature. Sometimes they were in a cemetery church but most often under a brush arbor or just out in the open with a pulpit and benches.

            At these gatherings preaching, singing and praying continued for several hours. Ordinarily a large crowd was present because there was not much else to do and the farm folks liked the music and singing. Most of those in attendance also hoped to improve their spiritual standings. 

            Those who attended arrived by wagon, buggy, old automobile, horseback and just plain by walking.  In the brush surrounding the gathering the vehicles were parked and the horses were tethered to trees. Also in the surrounding area were the mischievous boys who came only to find some mischief to involve themselves in.

            There were some in the seated audience who held babies and small children. These little ones were not overly impressed with the program and soon drifted into a deep sleep. One by one the mothers or fathers carried the youngsters out and made them comfortable in the wagon, buggy or old auto that belonged to the family. Most of them were prepared for the occasion and had a nice supply of quilts and blankets ready for a comfortable pallet. As the time passed and the number of sleeping infants increased the mischievous boys got busy and moved the sleepers around from one vehicle to another. The transfers were completed and the sleepers continued their comfortable naps.

            When the meeting finally closed the vehicles departed without a thorough examination of the sleeping passengers and several of the young ones headed for the wrong household.  

            Pete Brown was one of the first to discover the mix-up, probably because his family was closer to the arbor meeting. He picked up the sleeping three-year old in the back of the buggy and followed his wife into the house. She lit a lamp and closed the door then glanced at the child that her husband was still holding.

            “Pete!” She shouted. “That’s not our Estelle! I don’t know whose little boy you’ve got.”  Pete unfolded the covering and became about as excited as his wife. It was immediately obvious that there was a problem. How would they get this boy back where he belonged and how would find who had their daughter.

            “I know I put her in the right buggy. Somehow she got changed.” Her response was just an anxious question. “What can we do?”

            They decided almost immediately to hurry back to the meeting place. Maybe their daughter was still there. They put the little boy back in the buggy and hurried back to the arbor.

When they arrived a wagon was still there and a man and wife eagerly approached their buggy.

            “Thank goodness!” The lady exclaimed. “I hope you have little Tommy. There has been some kind of terrible mix-up. We have a baby girl in our wagon that isn’t ours.” The two women examined the children and sadly announced that neither child belonged to them.

            The two families decided to wait and see if someone else came back in search of their own child.

            Other victims wandered back to the scene of the crime and eventually all of the children were returned to their rightful parents. Some of the parents didn’t notice that they had the wrong babes until morning and it was the middle of the afternoon before the last trade was made. Several of the parents made vows to deal harshly with the perpetrators of the switch. But, sadly, the baby swappers were never identified.

            As mischievous as Clifton and I were, we would never have been involved in anything as cruel as this. It just wouldn’t have been fun! But in a cruel sort of way the baby swap must have been fun for somebody! I guess fun is fun, even if it is not funny!