Now that the kids are a little older, they can all wipe their own faces and brush their own teeth (mostly), some (with significant harassment) do their own laundry, and they can read their own bedtime stories, I have found a few minutes to read, too. I mean, like, for fun. Like, not journals or textbooks. I recently read JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America. I believe our family roots say much about our own behavior. Curious about my Southeastern Kentucky heritage, I convinced my mom to take me back to the Mountains I remembered from my childhood…to the tiny town where so many of my extended family still call home.
In typical Jen style, we started our weekend on a day when I was post call, but fortunate enough to have stolen a few hours of sleep, we headed south and east, through corn fields, then tobacco fields and horse farms, then rolling hills and finally, old coal mines and the Mountains.
We stayed with my mother’s cousin, who has come home to the house where she grew up…the house I remember coming to as a child to see my great aunt and uncle, her parents. It still looks the same. The town feels smaller now and like most other small towns in the hills, it’s seen hard times and has many empty store fronts as evidence. But we found a new little pub where the bartender gave us samples and seemed eager to chat…eager to find out why us girls, without the honey thick Southern accent, were in these parts. “We are visiting family,” I offered. “Oh yeah, who is that?” I mentioned the name and he said, “So you’re kin to the Judge? How ’bout that!?” A kind and jovial guy, trying to make a business work where most fail, he knows, and welcomes, most everyone. This is home. He’d rather try and fail at the business than up and leave.
We drove to a few cemeteries where the various family members are buried…because that’s how you see the connections. “John is the father of Isaac, who is buried here, who married…” It’s the living family tree…the one that smells of fresh cut grass and is by the creek that is bubbling in the distance. It’s where I could see, and smell, and hear the family history. Much richer than the delicate calligraphy poster on the wall in my living room…
That evening, we dug through boxes of pictures and books and family tree charts. They told stories about my aunts and uncles and grandparents, and great grandparents, and great-, great-, great….all the way back to the Revolutionary War. I heard many stories about Grandma Lucy. Legend has it, she was a mean cook and she never met a stranger. When my grandparents came back to town to get married, apparently Grandma Lucy, much to their surprise, had invited nearly the whole town…and she fed them all. My mom pulled out a picture and said, “Here, this is Grandma Lucy and Isaac. And I think those are her sisters. They are standing on the porch of the house on Fields Cliff…you know that one.” Of course I know that one. I was there so many times as a child. I remember playing with my second cousins in that yard. But something about the picture struck me…there they were, looking like they were dressed in their Sunday best, and there’s Lucy, in an apron. I can hear them all standing outside, all lined up and yelling for Lucy to hurry up and come out for the picture. I am sure she was cooking and otherwise preparing to welcome in strangers, to hug the children, and feed the town. That’s just who she was.
I felt like I met Lucy last weekend. She is challenging me from the front porch of the house I remember, to have a bigger heart; to welcome in everyone I know and pour out my soul, and my kitchen cabinets, to them. She met her husband, Isaac, at Oven Fork Baptist Church, a deep faith connected them, no doubt. Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” Lucy, I hear you.
And how timely is this lesson for me, when we see our neighbors and friends and family, hurting, lonely, hungry and stranded after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey…and as we somberly remember 9/11. Refugees from Mayanmar, Syria, and elsewhere. DACA. The Border Wall. Human trafficking. Lucy, you remind me that we are already great. And you challenge me to be even greater. To put on the apron, to be late for the picture, to empty my heart, and my home, to all who are hungry, in mind, body, or spirit.Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.