Thursday, August 14, 2014

Pecans, War, Family, and Forgetting: Connecting with Grandpa

I felt a deep connection with my two amazing Granddaddies today.  OK, I often feel a deep connection with those two guys I love & admire so much; but today brought them both to the forefront of my memories, longings, & emotions.
Charlie Madaris was a poor, hard-working country boy from Alabama.  College didn’t happen, & wasn’t really an option for him.  He grew up in a rather tough home environment (Aside: why do we talk & act like tough home environments are a new thing?)  Charlie worked until his dying day, because that’s how he lived.  Sawmills for much of his life, followed by less physically-demanding jobs as he aged.  To my non-stop regret, Charlie entered eternity when I was just one year old.  I don’t remember him, but I do have the one really cool picture of us, plus the stories.  There’s also the love of laughter Charlie’s descendants share.  I like to think I catch an echo of Charlie’s laugh when I hear one of my children’s.

Granddaddy & Grandma with (L-R) me, my brother Jim, & our cousin Gary.
Grandaddy died not long after this picture was taken.
Actually, I have several really cool pictures of Granddaddy, one of which jumped all up in my memory this morning.  It’s Charlie in his uniform from his military service in World War 1.  I hope you’re aware that 100 years ago this week, World War 1 officially started.  America would sit out the first part of the War; but then a generation of young American men—including a country boy named Charlie Madaris—would answer the call.
Let these numbers sink deeply into your soul:  Nearly 900,000 British soldiers lost their lives in that War.  Over 115,000 Americans lost theirs in just a couple of years.  Every combat fatality represents the end of a story.  I’m here because Charlie’s story didn’t end there in the trenches in France.
Why’d my mind lock in on Charlie today?  I just started a book called The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, in which the author interviewed the last remaining American veterans of World War 1.  I was reading the preface this morning.  The author makes this stunning summary of the lives of so many of Charlie’s brothers-in-arms:

"...people who, having triumphed, came home & quietly set about trying to rebuild their lives.
And were forgotten."
(emphasis mine)

Those simple lines just crushed me.  I pictured Granddaddy coming home from the War, marrying his beloved Mattie, working whatever jobs the central Alabama countryside offered, raising a family, and going about his responsibilities.  You know, like men used to do (& some still do, thankfully).  Then I realized it’s been 54 years since Charlie’s sudden passing.  Granddaddy, all I have is pictures, echoes of your laugh, lots of pride in being descended from my favorite Doughboy, and a deep & wonderful family heritage.  I won’t forget.
Charlie & Mattie Madaris.  The newlyweds.
Then, at lunch, we got started talking about eating pecans.  I’m a pecan-a-holic, and I know exactly why.  John Benton was a gentle, quiet giant of a man who I knew & loved dearly for the first eight or so years of my life.  I remember slow, deliberate movement, and words that mattered greatly.  I remember the pipe, the sweater, & the Fedora that were required for a proper stroll through the woods.  Or around the corner to Goodson’s Store in Enterprise with his grandsons to buy & eat some peanuts.  (I’m also a peanut-a-holic, & for the very same reason as my love of pecans.)
And I remember the pecan trees around Papa’s house.  Huge & majestic.  One served as both the out-of bounds line and the goal line for the front-yard football games back in the day.  Speaking of football, and since football season is upon us, I remember that Papa was ordered by his Dr. to stop listening to Alabama Crimson Tide football broadcasts on the radio because it was bad for his heart.  (So, yeah; I come by it honestly. J)
I remember Papa teaching me to crack pecans.  And I remember what a rite of passage it was when my tiny hands finally got big enough to crack pecans without the metal cracking device.  Just put two in my fist & smack my fist into my other hand, & presto!  Just like Papa did it.  I love eating pecans still.  Note:  my preference is straight out of the shell.  I’m not a fan of pecan pie (I know; heresy!), nor of pecans cooked in any way.  Just basic pecans from the shell.  I like cracking them too.

The whole tribe in Papa & Granny's front yard. (I'm rt in front of Papa on the left)
Three more cousins would join us later.

Papa, I’ll never forget you either.
Charlie & John--Grandaddy & Papa--an oft-repeated prayer of mine is that, decades after my own faith becomes sight, others farther down the family tree might remember & think of me as fondly as I remember & think of you two.  More, my prayer is that my descendants would thank God for what He did through the life of Charlie Madaris & John Benton.  And perhaps even through their deeply flawed grandson.
Thanks, Gentlemen, for your lives & your legacies.  May we, your descendants, continue the excellent legacy you forged for us.
 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,
 until I proclaim your might to another generation,
  your power to all those to come.

(Psalm 71:18 ESV)

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