Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Echoes in the Mountains

There were quite a few echoes in the east Tennessee mountains this past weekend. 

Around 40 Madarises gathered there at my cousin Ben's place in the mountaints near the NC border, overlooking the famous "Dragon's Tail" road so popular with bikers. (Real bikers riding Harleys & Ninjas & such; not people like me who ride bicycles...)  To clarify, this was but a subset of my extended family.  "Extended" here means everyone from my Dad's siblings down. There were 4 generations represented there.  For many, the phrase "family reunion" evokes groans & sighs & fears & dread; this is NOT the case for Madaris family reunions!  They are some of my most treasured times on earth.  Lisa, who married into the family, would agree, as would our children.

There were echoes of laughter.
Pretty much any gathering of Madarises brings with it a lot of laughter, which is one of the many reasons I so enjoy family reunions.  If one's basic outlook on life is sour & borderline-angry, then one must be part of a different family!  We're going to have fun and enjoy the time & the journey together, as we did this past weekend.

Launching water balloons off the mountain.
There were echoes caused by various forms of outdoor activity.
Also de rigeur for a gathering of my family.  This gathering included cornhole, s'mores around the fire, tubing a nearby creek, hiking the mountains, swimming/jumping off the nearby bridge, tossing a football around, even water baloon launching (which is pretty cool off the side of a mountain!).

There were echoes of music.

The Sunday afternoon sing-along
Though our musical talents vary from superb to...less superb let's just say, we enjoy music.  Sunday afternoon, we made it specific by gathering around the piano as Jeanne (our hostess for the weekend), played various hymns accompanied by her hubby on bass and their two sons on trombone & guitar.  We chimed in with favorites from the hymnal, and sang along.  "Amazing Grace"..."In the Garden"..."My Jesus, I Love Thee"..."It Is Well With My Soul"...and other classics that mean much to our family heritage.  Some in the room had allergy attacks that we they tried to hide during this singalong.  *sheepish grin*

There were echoes of conversation.
Another thing that is an integral part of our family gatherings is conversation.  Lots of conversation.  And Ben & Jeanne's place had multiple settings that were oh-so-conducive to chatting; decks, porches, mountain trails, lounge chairs, meal places,...The topics vary widely from very serious to very frivolous, and one can jump into or out of most any conversation at leisure without offending the others.

There were echoes of games.

A serious game of "Garbage."
Of course, the required card game called "Garbage" which is a game I've never figured out.  It involves several people, multiple decks of cards, and a dizzying array of rules.  One cousin accused another cousin & 2 aunts of changing the rules as the game went on; "Garbage" is serious business at Madaris reunions!

There were echoes of others.
As a now-gone cousin told me once, one of the unique and greatly-strengthening aspects of the Madaris family is that we have quite a bit of experience with death.  Early death...death at an old age...death of very young children...And thus, we share a rather profound appreciation of life and of its brevity.  We cherish the memories of those now gone, including, most recently, the senior member of the family, my Aunt Daisy. (written about here some weeks ago).  Her name came up several times last weekend, almost always with a smile and/or a laugh.  This is how we tend to focus our memories of those now departed. 

I also think this is how we keep this particular batch of echoes around family gatherings.  "I remember one time when your Dad said/did _______"..."I know Aunt _________ would be right here digging into this blackberry cobbler"..."Remember _______'s car?"..."Hey, I have some of Granddaddy's garlic plants still cultivated; you want one?" (etc.)

So we heard again the echoes of some of my cousins: Glenn, Bill (also recently departed & written about here), Joe Lel, Joe Henry,...And of some of my cousins' children who left this world VERY early...And of some of our aunts & Uncles: Daisy, Ruth, Jr., James (my Dad), and Evelyn...And, of course, of Charlie & Mattie--my grandparents, who started this whole thing.  A deeply treasured time for was sitting on the deck listening to a few cousins who are not quite as young as I share memories of Granddaddy.  I treasure this, because Charlie died when I was not quite one year old.  Naturally, during all card & domino games, Mattie's echoes were loud, as she loved thrashing us all in card games.  I have 21 years of memories of her, and I could nearly hear that great laugh & see that wonderful smile that I've missed so hard for over 30 years now.

Ben's parents, George & Daisy, who had a HUGE
impact on my faith & my marriage.

There were echoes of sadness.
Again, we have considerable experience with death, both the sudden, unexpected kind and the long, slow kind.  We also have experience with things like heart trouble...cancer...marriage challenges...parenting challenges...Such things are never far from our awareness when we get together.

There were echoes of remembering times gone by.
Other family gatherings, whether at the cabin on Lake Martin or at Grandma's small house in Selma, or at cousin Chuck's cattle farm in central Alabama, or Aunt Evelyn's place just outside of Selma...My cousin Wanda compiled a video of some 4.5 hours of video footage from some of those gatherings.  I plan on blocking out 4.5 hours & watching the entire thing soon.  We swapped pictures.  "I was cleaning out Mama's file cabinet, & found this great picture of you/your Dad/your kids...Thought you might want it."

Over all of these others, there were very strong echoes of grace and of faith.

A few of us attended the church my cousin Ben
(on the left) pastors
Charlie came a rough family background, with a VERY difficult father who--according to lore--turned all of the kids out of the house when they turned 16 to fend for themselves.  Mattie's Mother had a mental breakdown when Mattie was only ~12; Mattie's Mother spent the rest of her days in an institution.  Neither of these sound like ideal family settings to train a couple!  And yet, I nearly guarantee you that all of us who were there--and most of us still living who were NOT there!--are already eagerly anticipating our next family gathering.  The Madaris family is loving & gracious & close, despite being just a couple of generations removed from very tough family backgrounds.  That's just one example of what theologians mean by the big word "grace."  We don't deserve it--especially some of us in my me--but we get to experience it anyway.

My Grandma Mattie remains one of the more godly, Christ-like women of faith that I've ever run across.  Most of us share her faith, to greater or lesser degree.  All of us respect & recognize that her faith mattered greatly to her, and thus that it has helped shaped all the rest of us.  (A newly-treasured photo that was given to me: me when I graduated from high school, standing between both of my grandmothers, both of whom would be gone just a few years after the picture was taken).  One of Mattie's ancestors was an integral part of founding the Alabama Bible Society back in the 1800s; perhaps Mattie's faith--and ours--is traceable back to Abner.  Regardless, Christianity & Scripture have shaped our family.  Shaped us such that we are able to welcome & love those who might have a different worldview (very rapidly become a lost art, that).  I am so very thankful for the Gospel's impact on my family.  Eternally thankful.

There are many of us here...and many of us no longer here.  I can't wait to be reunited in Glory with those now departed.  And to meet those I never met, and let them teach me more about our Savior, and about their own faith journeys from before their faith became sight.

And tell them all THANKS.

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