Funny enough I woke up thinking about my great grandmother. She passed away in 2005 but lived to 96. Ms. Hattie Mae Reynolds lived a long but rather quiet life. She raised 4 children largely on her own and at a scale that most of our modern world would probably consider small.
Looking back, the memories of my great grandmother are pleasantly simple.and sweet. Perhaps, they are nice memories because I was a child and young adult or they are nice memories because the things that stood out about my great grandmother were simple and sweet. For as long as I can remember, my great grandmother lived in the same small house, with the same maroon couches and chairs that I could use my finger to trace it’s etched pattern over and over as I sat and listened to adults talk.
In trying to best describe my great grandmother, I would say she was just that…a great grandmother. She wasn’t stylish or cool but with all due respect, she was old and I liked that a lot about her because she was the same every time I visited her. I don’t remember her discussing current trends, styles, fashions and politics but I remember her laugh, her voice, meals shared, her weathered skin, white hair, her voice and that she was always quite jovial. Her house was not filled with the finest furniture but her closests and bedrooms were stuffed full of crocheted blankets and pillows. I don’t remember her giving me money but I do have several blankets that she made with her own two hands.
Perhaps, the greatest story that I heard about my great grandmother was not told by her. I rarely remember Hattie talking about herself. From what I remember, I think my grandmother told me the story and it wasn’t from the vantage point of bragging or complimenting my great grandmother but rather just telling the story for what it was. It was this story that I thought about this morning as I was listening to an essay by Wendell Berry called ‘Rugged Individualism.’
My great grandmother’s life was not easy, she was left by her husband to raise 4 children in a very tiny community in Tennessee after The Great Depression. I am sure there are many hard stories that could have been told about my great grandmother but I don’t remember her telling a single one. Rather the story, that I return to repeatedly in my mind is one about my great grandmother being notorious for inviting the preacher over on Sundays for lunch, even though as my grandmother said they didn’t hardly have anything, including “a lick of furniture.” My grandmother said that she would sit in church hoping and praying that my great grandmother wouldn’t invite the preacher over for lunch, and sure enough- she would.
In thinking about Wendell Berry’s essays, my great grandmother, the environment, consumerism, the state of our country, health and my own life, I find myself looking for the people who are thinking about their neighbor, providing a meal, giving help, creating a place of rest, and doing something that is good, right and true- just because it is good, right and true. My eyes and ears are constantly searching for people who are living and have lived from all worldly appearances a seemingly insignificant, humble and quiet life.
I guess that’s because more than ever, I believe it is these people who have made and are making the most significant difference in their families and communities. These people are the foundation and the center that peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control flow. They are the springs of living water that we need to drink deeply from and spend lots of time with if we are going to change the consumer lifestyle that is making us physically sick.
Seriously, I am done talking about our entitled, opinionated, hypocritical and overly fragmented ways, thoughts and “beliefs” that are clearly the visible results of a consumer lifestyle built on on nothing but consumerism. I don’t have any more room for a lack of seriousness that our times and our spiritual, emotional, mental, physical and relational health demands. Nothing about the erosion of the foundation of love and truth in our individual selves is amusing. Nothing about this time in our history is not ‘all of our problem and not all of our doing.’
My great grandmother was pretty incredible. I am not and I never will be half the person she was or have the wisdom that she had. She was basic, simple, plain, ordinary and humble, and because of that there was a space that was created in her for extraordinary beauty, power and strength of love and truth to flow like a mighty river- coming out in such ways as inviting a preacher over for lunch without a lick of furniture.
Perhaps, the point I am trying to get to in my own life and in this piece is best summed up in Wendell Berry’s essay ‘Family Work’. Honestly, I think we would all do well to read Wendell Berry’s collection of essays found in “The World-Ending Fire” to see that The Way, The Truth and Life of Christ is completely different from the what the current culture and the “Christian” culture thinks, says, believes and lives.
While the entire essay is worth a read, here is an excerpt that brought me back to the old-fashioned life that my great grandmother lived, and one that is still speaking to me, even now at the ripe old age of 46.
“According to my observation, one of the likeliest results of a wholesome diet of home-raised, home-cooked food is a heightened relish for cokes and hot dogs. And if you ‘deprive’ your children of TV at home, they are going to watch it with something like rapture away from home. And obligations, jobs, and chores at home will almost certainly cause your child to wish, sometimes at least, to be somewhere else, watching TV.
Because, of course, parents are not the only ones raising their children. They are being raised also by their schools and by their friends and by the parents of their friends. Some of this outside raising is good, some is not. It is, anyhow, unavoidable. What this means, I think, is about what it has always meant. Children, no matter how nurtured at home, must be risked to the world. And parenthood is not an exact science, but a vexed privilege and a blessed trial, absolutely necessary and not altogether possible.
If your children spurn your healthful meals in favor of those concocted by some reincarnation of Col. Sanders, Long John Silver, or the Royal Family of Burger; if they flee from books to a friend’s house to watch TV, if your old-fashioned notions and ways embarrass them in front of their friends – does that mean you are a failure?
It may. And what parent has not considered that possibility? I know, at least, that I have considered it – and have wailed and gnashed my teeth, found fault, laid blame, preached and ranted. In weaker moments, I have even blamed myself. But I have thought, too, that the term of human judgment is longer than parenthood, that the upbringing we give our children is not just for their childhood but for all their lives. And it is surely the duty of the older generation to be embarrassingly old-fashioned, for the claims of the ‘newness’ of any younger generation are mostly frivolous. The young are born to the human condition more than to their time, and they face mainly the same trials and obligations as their elders have faced. The real failure is to give in. If we make our house a household instead of a motel, provide healthy nourishment for mind and body, enforce moral distinctions and restraints, teach essential skills and disciplines and require their use, there is no certainty that we are providing our children a ‘better life’ that they will embrace wholeheartedly during childhood. But we are providing them a choice that they may make intelligently as adults.” (1980)