The family ritual of storytelling was remarkable. To a child like me it was firsthand history-reporting as well as poignant homilies on the condition of mankind. Civil War tales abounded. Green Barry Burton was remarked to have fought on both sides. No turncoat he, his mare happened to wander across the lines; and the animal being more essential than the cause, my great-grandfather was forced to go “Union” in order to regain his rightful ownership.
The tale-weaving stretched to relatives and friends, half-brothers and sisters I have never known. Marvelous names emerge in my memory, their accompanying stories sadly forgotten. There was an Aunt Pink Hill and a renegade, “Hook” Burton, the mention of whom usually aroused comments about hanging. The foibles of these people were roundly approved, their idiosyncrasies valued. These family mythologies dance in my subconscious, weaving endless delight in humanity, capturing the passions and despairs of life into nuggets worth relating and contemplating.
Only by looking back through the dance can I comprehend my present. Whence this almost inordinate loyalty to my family? The source was certainly the comradeship I saw demonstrated in that clan. Whence this ridiculous sentimentality about children? The four of our own were a handful to raise straight in this crooked world—but, oh, how lovely to feast on little faces, to love the touch, the sound, the smell of warm, wiggling bodies. And now, grandchildren have joined our lives offering their own sweet sense of presence. They remind us that the family line continues into yet another generation.
Whence this subtle emphasis on hospitality? Certainly it is influenced by the past. The food on the long tables was a remnant of southern and southwestern tradition—Uncle Dewey’s country fried chicken, hot bacon grease and vinegar dressing spilled across the greens, Aunt Bertha’s special potato salad. Cold cornbread crumbled into milk, steamed bread, “the mess”—molasses poured over butter or peanut butter and stirred until it resembled creamy caramel, served up with pancakes or bread.
Food on family occasions was more than an art, more than a demonstration of gourmandism. It was a sharing, a communal expression. There was not much emphasis on elegance or finery, but a high priority on how hot the verbal debates could wax, how riotous the laughter would rage, how deeply the discussions would range. Communal sharing was symbolized by this feeding of one another. Life was celebrated in the rich enjoyment of one another’s company, by the mind-stretching dissent, by the endless parading of family folklore. Those people and their times together are enhanced by a vivid memory of my grandpa fiddling country rhythms, tapping and bouncing his spry frame to encourage some fat toddler to take to dance.
These festivals dwindled as younger generations moved on, moved out. The hub of the wheel from which the spokes radiated has disintegrated. Those six children born of that thin, beautiful woman and her philosopher husband are almost gone. Mysteriously, they live on in me—a child least known to them due to distance and time. It is a demanding, yet welcome, haunting.
The impressions and way of life they transmitted to me are more actual than the wooden bowls and the iron pot of my grandmother’s which now hang in my kitchen. These people are the source, the wellspring from which I drew long unconscious draughts. They were the atmosphere I breathed. From them I inherited mystique about hospitality.
I invite you to come back to this blog, as I continue to share some of the basis for a life-long experience of extending an open heart and open home to people who need to feel connected to others. And, I welcome you to connect with me through my website, Hungry Souls.
Award-winning author Karen Mains continues to write content for her Christian blog, “Thoughts-by-Karen-Mains.” In so doing, she desires to touch the lives of Christian women and men and help them find ways to walk closer with the Lord Jesus Christ. In addition, through silent retreats, spiritual teaching, women’s retreats, Christian vacation opportunities, and other ministry activities, Karen helps each Christian woman and man receive vital spiritual food.
Karen has long had an interest in Christian hospitality and is the author of the best-selling book, Open Heart, Open Home.
Through her Hungry Souls ministry, Karen serves as a spiritual coach to many Christian women and men, and teaches a mentor-writing class. And, through the Global Bag Project, she is working to develop a network of African women who sew exquisite cloth reusable shopping bags. This micro-finance women opportunity helps provide a much-needed sustainable income for struggling African families. For more information on this critically important project, please click here.
For decades, Karen and her husband, David, have served God through religious communications—radio, television, and print publication. The are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy: Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. To find many valuable resources for pastors and churches at the Mainstay Ministries main website, please click here.
Likewise, pastors will find special resources to help them prepare effective, life-transforming Sunday sermons by visiting David Mains’ website by clicking here.