Monday, March 06, 2017

When Tomatoes Grew On Trees

It came up again Saturday just like it always does. The situation in question was in regards to a long running story in our family about an incident in the life of my father and my uncle. According to the most reliable sources, Dad and his older brother, Monroe, were working in the garden belonging to our grandparents when they were quite young. Apparently or allegedly, depending on your view of history, Dad flung a tomato at my future uncle. The projectile found its mark and Monroe feigned death. The gullible boy who would become my daddy believed him. A frantic message to his folks led to their running to the scene. There is some debate as to what happened next in regards to who my grandparents held responsible and who bore the brunt of any punishment. We all laughed about it the way we always do. Probably it would take an in-depth documentary to get to the truth. My prayer is that Ken Burns is available.

There was a reason it came up again forty-eight hours ago. You see, Saturday was the celebration of my uncle’s life, an event which most of our society would deem a funeral. It was an amazing scene as so many gathered at a church building he had helped erect fifty-five years ago in Milwaukee. Uncle Monroe’s family spoke about him in the glowing terms most never hear spoken of themselves. An open microphone allowed many who knew him as a teacher/preacher/mentor/elder/friend to solidify the impact Uncle Monroe and his beautiful bride of seventy-one years, Aunt Julia, had in Wisconsin and far beyond. Of course there was a bountiful family dinner provided by the ladies of the congregation who love this branch of my relatives as their own. And then we settled down and told stories about Uncle Monroe and those in his kinship orbit. Some were touching and most were funny. I shared several things Dad’s brother shared with his nephew which would have been lost to me without his knowledge. We even reassembled several hours later back at the hotel around a fire and I learned so much I didn’t know about my aunt and uncle and cousins in Wisconsin. My siblings left early the next morning but my flight wasn’t until Sunday afternoon so I was able to worship with both my biological and spiritual family. The best part was the whole church surrounding Aunt Julia, who is ninety-two and now a widow living by herself, and pouring out a lifetime full of love. Some messages, even though they are clearly understood, need to be made public and this was one of them. And of course, there was a church potluck lunch and one last time to say my good-byes. And then I reluctantly had to go.

As I typed much of  this in Gate C-14 at Love Field in Dallas, I watched the world go by as passengers arrived and prepared to depart. Some were happy, some appeared sad or angry or confused, and some masked what was going on in the inside. And I reflected on the tomato fight which somehow has taken on mythical proportions among the Hawleys. Why has a two minute skirmish of child’s play between little boys many decades ago become a prominent stone in our family foundation? It would seem so unimportant to the outside world which may be exactly why it’s important. Kinsmen (and women!) require traditions and rituals, ceremonies and legends, heroes and heroines, if the family tree is to possess any bark to flesh it out. Otherwise, it’s just a disconnected list of the mostly dead who are little remembered past two generations. I plead guilty to owning only scant knowledge of those who came before my grandparents. But once more, my life feels interwoven with the lives of those with whom I share common DNA or the marital bonds attached to our mutual bloodlines. 

Sitting on my folks' front porch in St. Louis close to twenty years ago, Uncle Monroe told me that he and Aunt Julia, along with my parents, were the fifth consecutive generation of Hawleys to celebrate Golden Wedding Anniversaries, a fact I find astounding. Evidently, we have longevity in our chromosomes but more importantly, those in the distant past who made the commitment to God and marriage. The lives of many of the kids I work with have been decimated by having very little semblance of searchable ancestry, and who lack family stability and continuity. The longer I walk this earth, the more I wonder how I hit the genealogical jackpot. I admit, I used to roll my eyes at the story of the tomato fight- I don't anymore. Those kids I referenced lack the blessing of common heritage coupled with an overwhelming sense of love I took for granted. In college, there were girls who wanted to date me because of my mom and dad. When it's all you know, you don't really know it. A common theme in the memorial service centered on the way Uncle Monroe and Aunt Julia specifically and unceasingly sought out the hurting, which almost unfailingly was tied to family issues. We witnessed the same with our folks. The blessed in the Lord have a spiritual obligation to minister to those who were not blessed in their biological families of origin. Why did Matthew and Luke both include genealogies in their Gospels? I take it as reinforcing the role ancestors, in spite of personal frailties, play in the existence and maybe even the influence of succeeding generations. Luke traces the family tree of Jesus back to Adam and then God Himself. But we know Adam got ejected from his perfect home due in part of a piece of fruit. And as we all were taught, tomatoes are fruit...... and Uncle Monroe feigned death in the family garden in Michigan. Somehow, it's all related, at least in the mind of a man who did not grasp the significance  of family lore as a boy. I get it now. We love you and miss you already, Uncle Monroe.

Applicable quote of the day:
We inherit from our ancestors gifts so often taken for granted. Each of us contains within this inheritance of soul. We are links between the ages, containing past and present expectations, sacred memories and future promise.  

Edward Sellner

God bless,
Steve/nephew of Uncle Monroe and Aunt Julia
Luke 18:1
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