By Reverend Gerald Casson
Recently, I have been getting some emails with strange titles in the subject line. Subjects such as “sweet potatoes” and “lost spatulas.” The reason that I have received these is that my family was making plans for a family reunion. This event has been organized by email in recent years – emails about who is coming, who is not. “What are you bringing?” etc. And then, there was a little follow up afterward.
Here’s the email about the lost spatula. Subject: Lost Spatula. Hi Family, Aunt Leona is missing a silver cake spatula that she brought to the reunion. If it happened to have gotten mixed up with your things, please contact her at (phone number listed). Thank you, Vicki. One of my first thoughts when reading this email was ‘Who is Vicki?’ I know that she is a member of my family, but I really couldn’t tell you who she is. You see, the side of my family that we are talking about here is the Dawson side, my grandfather’s side.
My grandfather grew up on a farm in a small town in Alabama with his 12 siblings. Actually, I don’t know for sure how many were in the Dawson family, but I know it was at least 10. And really, when you get past 10 kids, it doesn’t make much difference anymore, does it? But for those of you who have large families, you know that 10-plus kids make a whole lot of aunts, uncles, great-aunt and uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. For me, all my life, it was really more than I could keep track of. So, I’m not sure who Vicki is, but I do know Aunt Leona and I hope she gets her silver cake spatula back.
Now for the email about “sweet potatoes.” In recent years, my Aunt Paula has been writing emails to the family. Sometimes they are to the whole family and sometimes just to her children and my brother and me – the four cousins in our generation.
She writes stories about things that have happened in our family. This is what she wrote about sweet potatoes prior to the reunion. “Dear cousins, I plan to bring a sweet potato salad to the reunion next week. Sweet potatoes have always had a special place in Dawson culture. I bet you never thought that you would hear the words ‘Dawson’ and ‘culture’ mentioned in the same sentence. From my knowledge of the early years I know that Granddaddy Dawson grew sweet potatoes and then, so did Uncle George. Down at the home place, mama once reached into a hill to pull out a sweet potato and got a rat instead. I heard about that all my life. I always said that daddy grew enough sweet potatoes for all of Lee County. Daddy always said, ‘to grow is to give.’ Just last month, Gene Davis’ niece told me about being a recipient of daddy’s bounty. As a young bride she woke up one morning to find a large grocery sack of sweet potatoes. Just what every new bride wants. A huge sack of sweet potatoes from you know who.”
The email continues, but the point is – and I had never thought about it before – sweet potatoes are a part of my family’s culture. My family is a big family. Some I know well, and some I just know a little, and some I don’t know at all. But there is definitely a culture to the family. My grandfather and his siblings grew up on a farm during the depression on a little place in Alabama. As I think about this family, as I think about all those siblings, their children, and grandchildren, I realize how strongly the experiences they had and the values they shared have spread through my entire family.
Next week, families will be together for Thanksgiving. As they do this, they will experience what makes their family unique – the common experiences and values that they share. Maybe you can spend a little time this week reflecting on, sharing, and celebrating what makes your family unique.
Many families share values and cultures that have been strongly influenced by being a part of the Christian family. That family culture is rooted in what Jesus did. It is rooted in his life, his death, and resurrection. That influence spread through the early church family and has spread through the last 2000 years. There are some definite marks for our family of what is important, the values we share, and how we live. His family is a life-giving community.
This is one of the great gifts that Jesus gave to us. Not only did he give himself to us on the cross, but after his resurrection, he gave us the gift of family, the church. Service and love and forgiveness are some of the values of his family. Sometimes we live out those values very well; at other times we struggle with one or more. It is a very large family numbering in the billions. There are many that I haven’t even met, but we share a culture that I treasure.
This Thanksgiving I will be giving thanks for all my families and the values we share.