ANCESTRAL GEMS

He must have been an evolutionary scientist of some sort being interviewed on NP Radio. I missed the introduction but I caught enough of his perspective on life to make me curious. He contends our ancient ancestors from the beginning of time to our era will just fade out and become extinct, vanish, wiped out.

Oh, don’t tell me my favorite Aunt Florence will be among those who will not make it through those cosmic black ages. Come on, as long as I can remember in my childhood years she sent me a birthday card and a crisp one-dollar bill. When I hit fifty she began sending me cards with five-dollar checks. On that first day I was so elated when I received the increase I rushed to the bank to get it cashed and eagerly announced “This is from my favorite Aunt who sent me this check!” The teller smiled and replied “Aren’t you lucky?”

“Yes I am, yes I am, and if I live long enough I might be able to purchase a new car.”

And don’t tell me that my grandfather, who always smiled when I was a kid when I entered his house, just faded away in history. He’d give me a wink, pull out his coffee can beneath his chair and spit a wad of tobacco into it. He never missed. I was honored.

My grandmother never chewed as far as I know but she made delicious apple pies and I can still picture her serving me a piece. Why would our evolutionary course of action manage to erase those tender moments? Why bother?

When I visited a great Aunt in Oklahoma a few years ago for the first time, she ran out the door with a huge oval-framed picture before I managed to park in the driveway. She was hollering “This is a portrait of your Great grandfather, Walter!”

All I could think about was the frame looked like a brown toilet seat; but, so to speak, she was ecstatic and proud of our aged ancestor. She cherished the portrait. I, on the other hand, cherished her spirited presence and I will never forget her glee.

When my father was a boy his father, the tobacco chewer, the pie maker and my favorite Aunt and a couple of other siblings lived through the Dust Bowl years in Oklahoma. My granddad learned how to drive a second-hand model-T Ford to drive to California through the Mohave Desert, and often on boards. They had to live in Okie camps and were persecuted. They picked cotton for a couple of years on the way.

I guess I could let go of the images of their unbelievable ordeals in those days and allow the evolutionary process to omit those horrendous ventures but let’s not leave out the birthday bucks and checks, coffee can spittoons, the sight and smell of apple pie and a photo surrounded with a brown toilet seat clutched in my delightful relative’s hands.

My maternal grandfather had a small farm in retirement and was not all that prepared to take on those chores. I was sitting with my grandmother when I was about twelve as we watched him through the kitchen window. Granddad was trying to hold a wheelbarrow from blowing over on a stormy day. Suddenly the wind hit hard and the barrow scooped him up. He wound up beneath it and crawled out, and appeared to be OK. But he was not happy. I was laughing my head off when grandma grabbed me and put me in a bedroom and closed the door.

I have to describe her, by the way. She loved to play solitaire with garden gloves given her severe Eczema condition, and she always chewed blackjack gum.

My grandfather was a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles County. His job for several years, before he landed in a wheelbarrow, was that of escorting prisoners one-on-one by train to be executed. Whenever someone bad-mouthed such a prisoner he would say, “Try spending some time with them before you judge them.”

I think I could live without memories of my granddad’s occupation being vanished by an impartial force but not that afternoon when he was swallowed up by a barrow while my dear grandmother wearing garden gloves and chewing blackjack gum giggled with me for a brief time.

Here’s a piece of an ancestral treasure I want to claim and retain. A clergy friend who was the president of the Arizona Interfaith Council phoned me and asked if our church allowed for book-signing events after worship services. I said we did. He asked if we would host Rosa Parks and her attorney who had books that had just been published. I laughed and said, “No, come on, quit joking!”

“It’s true, they would come with an entourage and be present for the services and the signing.”

I was stunned! “Are you still on the line, Stevens?”

I had the privilege of introducing her in the last service. I walked her through the choir room and opened the door to the pulpit. Just when we started to step into the sanctuary she gently put her hand on my arm and asked nervously, “Do you have a step stool for your pulpit?”

“Yes, of course, it is to the side of the pulpit. I’ll set it up.”

“Oh, thank you so much,” she replied with relief.

By now, you’re probably aware of what comes next. Let the evolutionary leveler go ahead and knock out my memories of the entire civil rights upheavals but don’t mess with the moment that small hand touched my arm.

Frankly, I believe our ancestors’ legacies will somehow remain intact throughout the earthling spans of time but the accounts of bigger cultural accomplishments are likely lodged mostly in forebrain reasoning faculties. However, those warm personal bonds that last no more than a couple of hours are located somewhere in us where profound tenderness and compassion reside for all time.

“Lost yesterday somewhere between sunrise and sunset,

two golden hours each set with sixty diamond minutes.

No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.”   Lydia H. Sigourny, a 19th century author

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