Summertime in the South signals the time for family reunions. On Saturday, I attended the 119th Reunion of the Peden Family. Started in 1899, these reunions celebrate the Scots-Irish ancestry of our family on the grounds of the historic Presbyterian church established in 1786 by our family. This year, I shared a few words with the gathering about my grandparents and I thought I would share some of them with you today.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6 – NIV
Isn’t it interesting how a particular place can evoke vivid memories of past events or remind you so clearly of loved ones long passed? Have you ever had the sense that you have stepped back in time as you step through the doorway of some special place?
I always have that feeling when I step through the doorway of the old two story white clapboard church built so long ago by my ancestors. A chord of nostalgia strikes as I pass between the old white columns that graciously adorn the front entrance. I step through the old oak doors and find myself transported back in time, to the days of my youth. I take my place upon one of the ancient hand planed wooden pews, my mind considering all the men and women who entered this House of Worship before me and how they kept the faith of their fathers before them. This feels like coming home.
Yes, Fairview has always been home to me. I cannot darken the door of that church without thinking of my grandparents, Scip and JoStella. They were institutions in that church. It is from them that I learned to love the family.
My grandfather was a master storyteller and my cousins and I could sit for hours enthralled at Grand’s stories of the family. Yet, it was Grandmama that taught me to love the family history.
Born in 1906, JoStella was a Peden descendant along her mother’s line. She grew up Peden and then later married one of those Peden boys, a distant cousin from around the bend. I like to think it was a particular source of pride to her that she was able to carry the Peden family name for the majority of her life.
Grandmama was quite a fascinating lady, a strong, intelligent, independent woman of her day. Growing up on a cotton farm, she defied the odds and managed to make her way to Flor McDonald College in Red Springs, NC. Studying Home Economics, JoStella graduated in 1929, bound for a career in teaching. The interesting thing about her degree in those days was the amount of general science included in her studies. In fact, her background in the sciences was so rich that after World War II, she was called back to teaching because she was one of the few in the entire county who was certified to teach general science.
My grandmother was a biologist and a botanist. You would know this if you had ever strolled through her yard on a summer evening and seen her flowers. They were amazing! Yes, that’s where I learned my love of gardening.
Grandmama was a chemist, whipping up concoctions in her kitchen that would melt in your mouth, like those chocolate chip cookies that no one has ever been able to duplicate. Sadly, I did not inherit her cooking skills, although I do make a tasty caramel bar from time to time.
Above all, Grandmama was a historian. JoStella loved the family history. She attended her first family reunion in 1909 and then attended every reunion thereafter until her death in 1986. She loved the genealogy, always knowing who was related to whom and how. Opening up the family history book, she taught that love of the family history to her grandchildren. She wanted us to remember our ancestry.
From Scip and JoStella, my cousins and I learned the core values passed down through the generations by our Scots-Irish ancestors: love of God, love of Country, love of the Family. For Grandmama, faith and family were paramount. She was an avid church-goer, and she expected us to be up and going with her. In fact, those pots and pans would start rattling around in the kitchen early on a Sunday morning. Perhaps it was just her getting ready for one of her fabulous Sunday dinners, but I think it was more about making sure the rest of us were up and ready for church.
Grand and Grandmama lived through hard times, the Great Depression, World War II, the ups and downs of life on a cotton farm. In my minds eye, I can still see Grandmama in her rocking chair late on a Saturday afternoon, gently rocking, Bible open, preparing for her Sunday School lesson. Just as clearly, I can hear Grand’s deep bass voice resounding from the choir as he sang the old hymns on a Sunday morning. Through all the joys and trials of life, they kept their faith. They kept the traditions. That was their legacy, their gift to us.
I wonder. How shall I maintain this legacy? How will we keep the faith? How will you and I share the love of God with our families, with our neighbors? How do we honor our ancestors? Will we remember their sacrifices? Will we pledge our allegiance to this great nation that they founded? How do we look to the future, hearts filled with hope, mindful of the lessons learned from the past?
It’s up to you and I to keep the faith, to love our neighbors, to stand for what is good and right and true. May we do as well as our noble ancestors in sharing our faith, in passing on a legacy of love.
Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love…
O Father of our Fathers, Creator of all things, we give you praise this morning. We thank you for our faithful ancestors who passed down the tenants of their faith to their offspring that we might know that You are God alone. We thank You for their love, for their faith, for their sacrifices, for the freedoms they bought for us at such a high price. Lord, let us learn from the past. Let us keep the faith. May we share the love of Jesus, that the generations to come will place their trust in You. For it is in You, O Lord, that we find our hope, our joy, our peace.