Monday, April 23, 2012

Miss Sudie

In the one-thing-leads-to-another category, yesterday I found myself combing through a document my great aunt had written about her parents many years ago. I'm sure I had read all this before (and in fact much of it probably appeared in an autobiography that my aunt published for family about 20 years ago), but I felt as though I were reading the information for the first time. 

Chalk it up to mid-life reflection and a host of other things, but I find that I am hungry to know more about the people whose lives have a direct bearing on my existence whether through my gene pool or the impact of relationships. 

Such is the case with Sudie, my maternal great-grandmother. She is of special interest to me for several reasons. She is my mother's mother's mother, and as women know, the influence of our mothers on our lives has perhaps the most profound and significant impact on shaping what we believe and how we find our way to who we become. Of all my progenitors from that generation, Sudie takes center stage. She is also my closest link, in terms of kin, to Tennessee. She was born in 1869 and raised in Bedford County, about an hour from where I now live. I attribute my love for this state (geographically), to the genetic memory I carry from Sudie. As I unearth and become familiar with old family photos I wonder more and more about the woman behind the deep-set eyes. Reading the words that follow serve both to satisfy my hunger and whet my appetite for more.  The first paragraph are the observations of my aunt; the remainder from my grandmother.

Meet Miss Sudie:

"Mother had a remarkable memory and intellect... she never seemed to forget any information she acquired. She had an extraordinary facility with words. Perhaps some of us inherited that from her. She was never at a loss to define, pronounce correctly, or spell any word. Her mathematical skill was close to genius; she could solve any mathematical problem. She never forgot her Latin and was able to translate any amount of information about plants and their botanical names. She often said that if she had not married she would like to have become a landscape architect, or a pipe organist."

"I believe the underlying source of Mother's endurance, her patience, the interests of her life, was her deep, genuine religious faith. The faith that enabled her to live just long enough to have taken care of Daddy to the end. The faith which gave her strength to get up at night when she was suffering from what I later believed to have been angina, and go to Daddy's bedside when he said to her, "Miss Sudie, do something to make me feel more comfortable." The faith that kept her private devotions of daily importance, which led her to continue family prayers without Daddy, even if it were only for herself and Fanny; faith which supplied the energy to teach a Sunday School class of only two or three black children at Melrose on Sunday mornings when there was no other Sunday School for them to attend. The faith that gave her face that spiritual beauty."  

"I can't think of an other person I have known who had Mother's kind of faith: one that was never conspicuous or intrusive, but one that permeated her entire life, adding strength to her gentleness, endurance to her delicacy and a genuine love to her interest in other people. It is my conviction that this faith was developed and strengthened over her lifetime and must have been the outgrowth of intense suffering at some point."

"When you consider her as a very particular and excellent housekeeper, a gracious hostess of unlimited hospitality, a tender and devoted mother, a serene and loving wife and nurse, and combine these attributes with those of a manager of farms and business, a leader in church work, and a moving spirit in community uplift, it seems an almost incredible combination. Yet she never sacrificed her gentleness of character and her sweetness of nature to the sterner demands of her life."

How blessed I am to have such a woman impact my life.  What a challenge it is to emulate her!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

stream of consciousness (pun intended)

We were in Gatlinburg last month to celebrate our anniversary and get away to our favorite place for respite, The Buckhorn Inn. It is truly a hidden gem of hospitality tucked into a fold of that mountainous area with an extraordinary view of Mt. LeConte, one of the highest peaks of the Great Smokey Mountains.

The morning we left to head home we took a walk along one of the area's many trails that featured early blooms of trillium, wood violets, and other beauties unfamiliar to me. The trail pretty much follows the curves of a tributary to the Little Pigeon River, and I never tired ot trying to capture the enthralling beauty of the water spilling over and around rocks as it tumbled its way down the mountain. At one such point I encountered a wee cairn, pictured above, that someone took the trouble to assemble not long before my own arrival at that point.

My own life doesn't include a tradition of cairns, but both my grandmother and her sister seemed to follow suit when they erected cairns on the family homestead to mark the occasion of their respective weddings.
my grandparents posing at their wedding cairn in Georgia
It never occurred to me when I had the chance to ask my grandmother about them, but now the genealogical sleuth within wants to know. I wonder about a family tradition based on nothing more than the fact that these are referred to in the photo album as cairns. A cairn is a distinctly Scottish word, referring to an erection of stones to mark an event or occasion of significance. Scripture is full of "cairns," though the reference to them is of building altars to the Lord (think of Jacob after wrestling with the angel). My great-great-grandmother was a Davidson, of Scottish descent.  I am more inclined to think that this idea became fashionable by some other means, however. Our Davidson ancestors came to this country more than two centuries before the weddings of my grandmother and great-aunt, and had such a tradition remained intact all those years, it seems unlikely that it would have ended with my grandmother and not been passed on to my mother and shared with me. 

All of that wondering notwithstanding, this morning I am thinking about cairns, and the ways we mark or acknowledge events of significance in our lives.  Communities large and small seem to do a better job of this than individuals, or perhaps they are just more visible. Marking anniversaries of victories, defeats, transitions and transformations is something we appear inclined to do, perhaps as a way to uniting us or offering us a means to feel that we belong to some thing and some place bigger than we are. 

Do you have a cairn, real or metaphoric? And how does it serve to draw you back or urge you forward in your life? This inquiring mind wonders.

Friday, April 20, 2012

can you believe it?

I actually scrapped!

Last summer I had occasion to dabble in some digital scrapping (for the life of me I can't remember why), and I discovered that there were some real benefits to the digital life. Like the fact that I don't have to worry about running out of paper, embellishments, or anything else that I like because they can be used over and over again. There are a whole variety of other tricks of the trade that are possible to create the images and finished products desired as well, but I am far from being anything but a novice in the area. The technical aspects are a challenge since I am not photoshop or other-editing savvy, but bit by bit I am learning. And finally, I am creating.

I had a bonus day at home yesterday and decided to seize the opportunity to work on a couple of layouts. The one above was based on a "sketch", which I more or less followed pretty precisely. The one below, of Cross in February (I just realized that I mistakenly identified it as Thanksgiving: oops!), features a favorite picture. The design is my own and pretty generic, but I admit that I am pleased with it. I have concluded that I lack imagination when it comes to design, and rely heavily on the work of others for inspiration. I am beginning to develop a sense of placement and utilization of things I wouldn't have thought of (like the gray circle), and taking some risks with patterns and color, but I have a long way to go before I am churning out distinctive and eye-catching (and pleasing) layouts the way some of my friends do.

All of that aside, I am happy that I finally produced something. I have plenty of pictures with which to play, and inspiration to keep me on that sharp, learning edge. One technique at a time, perhaps, and before I know it I'll be a rock star. Maybe.
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Sunday, April 08, 2012

easter joy sans community

This isn't my first Triduum and Easter season not to be serving a church. It is my first go-round working in a secular environment and not feeling connected to any local community of faith. It's been an odd time of feeling simultaneously deprived and liberated.

We talked of attending an Easter Vigil at the local Lutheran church last night, but never rallied around the idea. I suspect we won't rally around the pancake breakfast and morning service at that same establishment this morning. I'm okay with that. I have missed the powerful liturgies and moving music of Holy Week, but I have also learned that it is still difficult and painful not to be an intricate part of them. It seems the kinder thing for my tender soul to go without. 

Adrift during the last year to consider and reflect on my relationships with Jesus, and with the Church, I've turned over some interesting and provocative thoughts about the identity and role of each in my life. It's been a useful inner dialogue as I continue to search for my niche in life and the world. I've been free from espousing conforming doctrines and giving the proverbial nod to parishioners who want to cling to less-than-liberating notions of what it means to believe and have faith. I am willing to meet people where they are, and believe firmly in the pastoral obligation to do so, but it is staggering how stagnant the belief systems of so many are who fill our pews and count themselves among the faithful. As my own faith has evolved over the years the distance between congregational contentment and my own willingness to seek and risk has pushed me into the outlying environs of the land of no return. Or so it seems at the moment.

So it is that I find myself at ease with celebrating Easter this weekend creating on the home front: assisting Ken with the ongoing effort to erect the fence for the dogs (what progress, in recent weeks!), sewing Templar capes for our investiture next weekend, and continuing to draw lessons on life from my father's recent death. All of these things stir the energy of my being and draw me toward new life in one way or another: freedom for the dogs and for us; discovery through new relationships joined by common values; and valuing the fullness of a life whose brokenness cast more of a shadow on mine than its wholeness did. 

The power of God's grace and redemption is richly distributed through these experiences of my holy week, and I find myself better equipped, in a way, to discover the depth of Easter's power by living its realities in my daily and ordinary life. To borrow from and alter Charles Dickens' oft-quoted line, "I will honor Easter in my heart and try to keep it all the year." That, to me, is the essence of knowing the risen Christ.

Happy Easter.


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