Posts Tagged family

Friends and Family Give Life to Living

“I don’t complain about what I can no longer do. I am thankful that I got to do them at all. I have enjoyed so many blessings.” This was my conversation with my friend Dr. Monty Knight on our way to lunch with our lunch buddies. He has blessed my life in so many ways. This is what friends do. They are there when you need a friend to remind you of what you believe.

Several years ago, my son Michael, downloaded a group of my favorite hymns. He gave me the collection, “The Gospel According to Dad.” What a gift. I can play it while I am at my computer and be reminded of what has been given to me. Faith passed down through the generations grows stronger as the years mount up. It is amazing that my son knows me so well. He chose the selections.

When the telephone rings just after 9 a.m. every morning, I know without looking that it is my daughter, Suzanne, just checking in to see how my morning is going or to reassure herself that I made it through the night. By the same token my friend, Gene, will call about 9:15 in the evening. My sister checks in on a regular basis.

When my friends Bob and Rose Boston were on their way to Mt. Pisgah to celebrate their wedding anniversary, he called to let me know that they were passing the signs to Woodruff, my home town. He said that they have a big sign posted, “Home of Mitch.” Preachers can tell some mighty whoppers.

I can count on my friend, Joyce, to call to tell me about an unusual word or a great quote she has found. She and I share a great love of quotations. I look forward to her uplifting conversation. Every Christmas my friend Sally will send me the big print edition of, Daily Guideposts Devotionals. What a treasure.

If I miss being in church, I know that Clyde will call to tell me how much I was missed. His calls almost make it worth missing an occasional Sunday.

From time to time just when I need it Carol, my wife, will tap me on the shoulder and say, “You’ll be alright, Mitch or she’ll sing, “You are My Sunshine.”

I pray that you have some of these folks in your life. These are the angels that we are promised. They bring joy and thanksgiving to the heart.

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Celebrating Family Reunions

Family reunions seem to be having a rebirth especially among African/American families. Family reunions were very important in my youth. I discuss one such reunion in particular in my book, Our Father: Discovering Family. These reunions give us a sense of who we are and where we came from. How I wish that I had paid closer attention to the old stories when I was a boy.

A few years back I started attending my grandmother’s family reunions again. Of course she is long gone and so are all of her brothers and sisters. Only the “kids” are left and most of them are long in the tooth like me. My sister’s birthday falls close to this one, but she threatens my life if I reveal it to the group. This one has been thriving for more than fifty years.

The family of my dad’s sister started having a family reunion a couple of years ago. Maybe there is a resurgence of the practice among Caucasians. It seems to me that the scarier our world becomes the need for closeness with family becomes stronger. In those bygone days, all of the food that was served was home made. You knew whose fried chicken or coconut cake was the best. Now everything comes from the colonel or Publix Supermarket. Nothing remotely compares to my mother’s fried chicken or Aunt Alice’s pineapple upside-down cake.

My Uncle Calvin told the best good old day’s tales and Cousin Virgil told the biggest whoppers. The children were not hothouse plants in those bygone days and didn’t need underfoot supervision; therefore the grownups could have real conversations. The laughter was contagious. Most of all you knew that you belonged. Birthdays, anniversaries and graduations were celebrated. New babies were passed from aunt to aunt. The absence of the recently departed were noted. Many of the attendees were late because their church service had lasted longer. Some were late because they are always late. One thing has not changed. Someone always returns thanks before anyone eats.

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The Right Time and Place

One of the surprises that came with writing my book, Our Father: Discovering Family,* was getting to revisit at least in memory with some of the saints that inhabit my world. Some of them I wrote about others are still unsung. Most of these remembrances brought a smile to my face and a deep sense of joy and gratitude.

I also realize that my small home town of Woodruff, South Carolina was the ideal place to encounter people whose values would guide my life. Yes, it was the segregated South and yes these people were prisoners of their place and time. Never-the-less, I did not see or experience the meanness that is so evident today. I did not hear the harsh rhetoric toward public officials that is so pervasive today.

I got a head start on race relations. While we lived in the Abney Mill Village and in a company house. The company sent crews to do regular maintenance. One day the two person crew at our house consisted of two Black men. They were repairing a bedroom window and I was watching them from the inside. I had not yet learned how to tell time. When one of them asked me the time, I simply threw the alarm clock out the window to him. They loved it. From then on when we met on the street they greeted me loudly and recited the story to their companions. This incident set the tone for my life. Everyone enjoys a good laugh. Laughter is a healing force.

Pink Robinson was the custodian at Woodruff High School. He had a laugh that was unmistakable. And contagious. When the windows were open, you could hear his laughter as he returned from an errand on Main Street roughly two blocks away. Smiles spread across the classroom no matter which class you were in when his laughter rang out. It is not a stretch to say that everyone loved Pink.

Rev. Susan Sparks, a Baptist pastor in New York City, a lawyer and a standup comedian, has written a wonderful book, Laugh Your Way to Grace. She contends that Christians have forgotten how to laugh in church. She maintains that laughter is a gift that needs to be nourished. She’s right. Some of my best memories are of Northside Baptist Church and the saints and sinners that I met there.

*Our Father: Discovering Family. Wipf and Stock. 2016.

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Tell Your Family Stories

“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” Sue Monk Kidd

You are the keeper of some wonderful family stories and history. Funny, strange, tragic, inspiring things happened that only you know about. Share them in a few sentences with other family members. We are not talking about revealing secrets or skeletons, just good stories. If you do not share these stories, they will be lost forever.

Here are some clues to get you started. These are just prompts. Looking at old family photographs will also help. If it is possible, drive or walk through your old neighborhood.

Where and when were you born?

Were you named after someone?

Did anything significant happen the year you were born?

Take a memory walk through your grade school or high school.

What teacher was in each classroom?

Visualize going to church or synagogue.

Where did you sit?

Who was your religious leader?

What was a family dinner like?

What was your first car?

How did you get it?

Who was your first real boyfriend or girlfriend?

Did you ever play hooky from school?

Where did you hang out?

What was your first job?

Who broke your heart?

Did something funny happen at your wedding?

How much was your first allowance?

What did you buy with it?

Who was your childhood hero?

Does your house or neighborhood have a ghost?

The day after Thanksgiving is designated as a National Day of Listening by Storycorps. It is a day set aside to tell and record family stories. Sit down with family members and encourage them to share their stories with each other. You might need to break the ice by telling your story first. Research has shown that children who know their family stories both the successes and failures are better able to cope with life as adults than those who do not know their stories. Stories connect us to each other. They create a bond.

My new book, Our Father: Discovering Family (WipfandStock), is full of stories. For each one that I recorded in the book, there are three or four that I didn’t include. As you recall one story, the telling will lead you to remember others.  Relax and enjoy the experience.

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