When the little wood frame church fell still again, 85-year-old Eileen Hyde and her 6-year-old grandson made their way between the pews.
“One hundred and forty years, can you believe this church is that old?” asked Eileen wearing a pastel print blouse and using a cane to move along behind Christian, who had a half-eaten cookie in one hand and a crumb on his cheek.
“Here,” she said. “I want to show you something. This organ is old.”
“What does it say here, 1912, can you believe that?”
Eileen pointed up at the photograph of bearded Septa Fillmore Hyde, the justice of the peace for Tremont township who donated the two acres where Westminster Presbyterian Church was built in 1871, south of Davis.
“So that’s my great-great-great-grandpa?” Christian asked.
Yes, Eileen told him.
About 110 people, many of them, like the Hydes, descendants of those original farm families, squeezed inside on Sunday afternoon to celebrate the church’s 140th anniversary.
Some would later carry roses in baskets and mason jars to place on graves behind the church.
Mostly, though, they shook hands and exchanged hugs. Outside, under a cloudless sky, they sipped lemonade and talked and laughed a little, too.
Earlier, seated in the old wooden pews, they sang:
Faith of our fathers, living still,
We will be true to thee till death.
Audio: Members of the Tremont Mite Society sing “Amazing Grace.”
Members of the Tremont Mite Society organized the social, as they have every other year since 1979.
Still numbering about 30 locally on its membership roll, plus another 40 living outside the area, the society was formed in 1863. It is believed to be California’s longest-surviving women’s organization.
Members range from their late 40s into their 90s. Five have passed away in the two years since the last social.
The society takes its name from the biblical book of Mark, in which a “mite” is the smallest coin placed in the collection box.
There have been no regular services inside the church since 1912. Since 1929, the Silveyville Cemetery District has overseen its grounds.
Tremont, which once boasted its own store and post office, has all but faded from memory. When its only other remaining building, its social hall, burned down in 1968, the insurance money was used to spruce up the church.
It remains a special place for many. Some married there or had parents or grandparents who were. Of the 85 or so who farmed nearby in the late 19th century, descendants of 25 continue to live on or own their family’s land.
On Sunday, sun flooded in the chapel’s six tall windows. On each ledge, a bud vase held pink, purple and white sweet peas.
Binky Rowe Eason, 68, of Dixon, the society’s secretary, read off the surnames of farm families in the area before 1960, one by one. Their descendants stood as she did so, some getting up more quickly than others.
Anderson, Armstrong, Becker.
Dietrich, Drummond, Dunningsworth.
Priester, Rehmke, Reid.
Wester, Wilson, Wire.
About 10 members of the Hyde family were among those who stood up this year. Afterward, they placed bouquets on about a dozen graves marked with the family name.
Eileen Hyde, who lives in Sacramento, said it was important for her to pass down stories to her grandson.
“It feels so good to have a connection to a family — not everybody is that fortunate — and to have a family that for generations has found it to be so important in their lives,” she said. “It’s one of the things lost in today’s world, when people move far away from one another. Our family has stayed pretty close.
“I have a family picture taken on these steps. We were figuring out from the ages of the grandchildren how many years ago it was. I think it was about 35 years. We gathered our whole family, and everybody sat or stood on these steps and took a picture.”
Binky Rowe Eason and her sister, treasurer Marda Rowe Henry, and their sister-in-law, Emily Brooks Rowe, form the heart of the society.
They’re carrying on the decades-long labor of love of Binky and Marda’s mother, Lillian. She died in 2004, at age 100.
Eason said she found herself doing many of the same things her mother did to get ready for the social.
“Right here, today, is what it’s all about, getting together all the descendants of the people who were buried here or who lived in the area,” she said. “It’s just wonderful. It’s always surprising that we fill the church.”
Society president Emily Brooks Rowe is, by Mite standards, something of a newcomer: Her mother joined the society in 1941.
Emily Brooks Rowe said her father, Frederick Brooks, a UC Davis professor who died in 1967, wanted to be buried behind the church, even though it was in a shambles, then, and the cemetery little more than a potter’s field.
“He just loved the country feeling.”
Her mother, Margaret, the first female Davis school board trustee, is buried here, too. She lived until 2004 — long enough to see the tree-sheltered spot among the wheat fields grow into something lovely again.
Now 79, Emily Brooks Rowe hopes to have the church made a state landmark. She and the other Mite stalwarts feel an obligation to keep the group going, she said.
“There’s a tradition, a permanence, a feeling it’s still possible to go back to something simple.”
She and her husband, Stuart, of Orland, own plots in the cemetery.
“We will be here when the time comes,” she said.
Those gathered in the church closed the program with “Amazing Grace.” Together, once more, they sang:
Through many dangers, tolls and snares
I have already come;
‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
— Reach Cory Golden at [email protected] or (530) 747-8046.