As I write this, tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2018 here in the United States and Amy Johnson Crow has suggested Thankful as our them for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
When I started thinking about this, I found so many different directions that I wanted to go. At first, I thought about one of my very favorite Thanksgiving Dinners that I celebrated with my grandfather Robert H. Dickson, Jr. I talked about that some time back and you can see it here.
Then, I thought about pointing out that My ancestors were actually here for the First Thanksgiving in the Colonies, while Kathleen’s Mayflower ancestors were Johnny-Come-Latelys for the second one, even though they get all the credit. Folks forget that the first commemoration of Thanksgiving took place in the Virginia Colony took place at the Berkeley Plantation in 1619. My ancestor, Cicely Reynolds, was living very near to the plantation at that time and may well have been at that celebration of thanksgiving. Kathleen, on the other hand, has a number of Mayflower ancestors (John, Elinor, and Francis Billington, John Howland, Francis Eaton, Henry Samson, Degory Priest), so of course there is a Thanksgiving connection there, too.
But this last Sunday, I was preparing my Sunday School lesson and hit on what I really wanted to talk about. I am not the sort of genealogist who believes that my identity is defined or my future determined specifically by the lives of my ancestors or by my DNA. But, I do know that important values are passed down from generation to generation. I know that the experiences for good or for bad of one generation affect several to come. And for the lessons and experience of those before me, I am thankful.
One of my favorite things is to teach adult Sunday School. I am a guest speaker in a number of different classes at our church. This past Sunday and this coming Sunday, I am visiting with one of my favorite groups. This is a class where there may be members still in their seventies, but the vast majority are members of the Greatest Generation and are firmly in their mid- to late-eighties and nineties. What could I possibly have to teach them? But they are always gracious and welcome me and invite me back.
When I thought about it, I realized that I have a number of ancestors who were pastors and preachers. But I also have a lot of members of my family who have taken the more informal route of teaching and leading adult Sunday School. Mom is currently the president of her class. My brother and his wife lead classes at their church. My step-mother teaches Sunday School at her church as well as leading worship from time to time at the local county jail with my Dad. (He helps; he isn’t a resident.)
And back through the generations, many of my ancestors shared their faith and their understanding by teaching Sunday School. My maternal grandfather, Hudson Wren, led his Sunday School at the Wilson United Methodist Church in Wilson, Arkansas class for nearly 40 years. I remember every Saturday evening, when we were at his house, he would retreat into his den, close the door, and work on his lesson. We all knew not to disturb Papaw while he was working on his lesson because it was important to him. Even though he saved his notes for years, not long before his death, he cleaned out his files and destroyed years of lessons. I am thrilled to have some of the the ones that escaped. I still refer to them for my own lessons. Of course, they are often tied to the Adult Bible Study quarterlies from years and years ago and I don’t have those. But I can still guess at the direction from the notes. It’s fun to see his way of taking notes and writing and to hear his voice in them.
We recently met my great-grandfather, Charles Council Bailey. He also was called on to lead Sunday School from time to time. I’ve got a few of the talks that he gave at different times, including one done for Sunday School. I suspect that this is from the 1890s, though I don’t find a date on it. That means it was probably when they lived in Milton or Stigler in the Indian Territory. I have to say that I can identify with his comments as I lead classes full of folks who have all had long and full lives. This is part of a talk he gave to and about the Sunday School and why it is important.
In this he says “… if I should attempt to offer a word of advice or define for older and better [men] the interest we should take in this work, that they will deal lightly with me when passing upon my presumption, and with careful hands winnow the chaff from the grain, if any grain there be in what I may offer.” Sounds about right when standing in front of a group of folks who have seen far more of life than I have.
My maternal grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, often led the devotions for the Women’s society in her church. I have a few of these and love them, too. She’s quick and to the point in what she has to say. That’s the point of these devotions that open the meetings. Here’s one of hers. I don’t know the date, but it was from late in her life.
Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?
Matthew 12:50 – Whoever does what my Father in Heaven wants him to do is my brother, my sister, and my mother.
Kirk Douglas: “Once, while I was driving to Palm Springs, CA, I picked up a hitchhiking sailor. He got into the car, took a look at me and said “Hey! Do you know who you are?” That’s a very good question. A question we all have to ask our selves.” (From The Ragman’s Son: An Autobiography)
We live in a day when it is fashionable to lament that we need to find out who we are. This was never a problem to me. As the youngest of a large family and almost the only girl, I knew I was Somebody’s Little Sister or I was Charlie & Viola’s little girl. I’ve known people who resented this identification with their family members. I never did. I do not resent one of my brothers introducing me as his “baby Sister”. The knowledge that I was an integral, indeed an important, part of this closely knit family was a security that many people have not known.
If a brother caught me misbehaving, he would draw me aside and tell me to stop it. If I argued that the other kids were doing it, they would reply “Yes, but you now better.”
Our meals were an unhurried time of sharing. We told our small triumphs or defeats, as the case may be.
It was in [Sunday School] that I learned “Jesus Loves Me”. Also God is the loving Father of us all. This did not seem strange to me for I had not yet learned that not all fathers are loving. Later in [Sunday School], Mrs Clark taught me that I was a part of the church family and that expanded to the Family of God.
As I grew up my family kept expanding. There was school and later I went to college. Then I married and we were another family unit within the larger family of mankind. I was a wife. Then a mother. many years later I became a grandmother. Then I was a teacher.
I am many things. I am still a wearer of many hats. Most important, I am a child of God – a sister of Jesus and of all who are children of the Father. This, I think is the foremost “who” that I am.
As some of you may know, I sang in one choir or another most of my life. One of my favorite anthems is an old one that is an adaptation of the 23rd Psalm, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need and ends with “Not as a stranger or a guest but as a child at home.”
I do not always do all the things that the Father would have me to do and, like Paul, I sometimes do what He would not have me do. With much prayer and effort, I strive to live so that I can say I am a true child of the Father.
Hey! Do you know who you are?Susan Louise Bailey Dickson, “Hey! Do You Know Who You Are?”
So, back to Thankful. I am so thankful that in my family, I can find examples of people that I have known and loved and that I can discover and admire who help me to see who I am. Not that they determine me, but that their influence and experience on and in each successive generation is undeniable – both for good and for bad. I am thankful that by finding my family and reflecting on who they were and are, I am able to answer Grandmother’s question more each day. Hey! Do you know who you are?