Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ties That Bind

As I nestled the pink geranium next to Gloria's gravestone, a red-headed girl and her brown-haired sister stood watching. Gloria was my late father-in-law's younger sister. On Monday, we gathered around the Fritzemeier stone at the Stafford Cemetery, carefully placing metal stakes in flower pots to batten them down in a stiff Kansas wind. No one in our little Memorial Day group knew Gloria. She died in 1954, a year before Randy was born.

But, as the unrelenting gale whipped Emily's red hair and pulled it from her ponytail, I thought about the threads that visibly and invisibly link us all together. Most of the photos I've seen of Gloria are black and white. I think her senior picture was probably tinted, as was the fashion in the 1950, but it shows her red hair and big smile.
My late father-in-law, Melvin, talked about Gloria's red hair. He, too, had red hair, but he often joked that it didn't stick around for long. He started going bald while still in high school. None of Melvin and Marie's children inherited the red hair. It wasn't until Emily was born that the family had a new generation of redheads.

But our visit to the cemetery was less about Gloria than it was about carrying on a tradition that was important to Melvin and Marie.

Later, Randy, Amanda and Emily (as well as Kathy, Dave & I) gathered at a soda fountain in downtown Stafford where Gloria and Melvin likely shared ice cream cones once upon a time. Not long ago, the marble bar and assorted fountain parts were dug out of storage and refurbished as a centerpiece for the new Stafford Mercantile. On Memorial Day, it was just another thread connecting past to present.
It was the same way at the Iuka Cemetery, as I laid flowers on the graves of my Dad's dad and his little brother, Gary.
It's been 70 years since my 79-year-old Dad had a father here on Earth and even longer since his brother died. I don't put the flowers on their graves to honor them as much as I do to honor my own Dad.
Those threads from the past inevitably stretch toward us. It's good to remember.

That seemed to be a theme everywhere I went last week. I was our church's lay delegate for the final Kansas West Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In January, Kansas West will join Kansas East and the Nebraska Conference of the UMC in one big Great Plains conference.

The conference in Hutchinson was the last of its kind. During one of the sessions, Mary Lou Reece, the wife of Bishop Scott J. Jones, showcased an 1892-era quilt. It had belonged to the Rev. Augustus P. George, who was a Methodist circuit-riding preacher from 1880 through 1892. The quilt was presented to Rev. George to commemorate the places in Southwest Kansas he served from 1883 through 1892. He eventually retired in 1908 and died in 1917.

It's a crazy quilt, as unique as the congregations who stitched it together with different fabrics and threads. Those pioneer woman likely used scraps from their own dresses and from the curtains that brightened their simple homes. After a long day of tending children, working in the garden, making meals and hauling water, they may have sat near a kerosene lantern or a glowing fireplace to piece together the fabrics and add embroidery stitches and lace. The quilt squares are from Dodge City, Spearville, Garden City, Johnson City, Bucklin, Ness City and 14 other towns, including those long faded from memory.

One of those towns was Nonchalanta, which was a post office and trading point in Ness County. It was located 15 miles southwest of Ness City on the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. In 1910, it had a population of 69, but it included a Methodist church. Nonchalanta's square caught my eye because of the yellow cross featured there and because of the name.
Click on the photo to see a bigger version of the collage
There's nothing "nonchalant" about this quilt. George's descendents treasured it for more than a hundred years and kept it carefully preserved in cedar chest and mothballs.

Now, it's getting new life. George's great-grandchildren presented the crazy quilt to the Kansas West Conference. It will now be on display at the Great Plains UMC Conference office in Wichita.

During one of the conference worship services, we sang one of my favorite "new" hymns, "Hymn of Promise." (New is relative. It was written in 1986.) It says, in part:

From the past will come the future
What it holds a mystery
Unrevealed until its season
Something God alone can see.

That's true ... whether you're talking about families or churches or communities. It's the ties from the past that bind us together ... the threads that connect us ... the bits and pieces that come together to make the whole. That's worth remembering.

I'm linked today to Jennifer Dukes Lee's Tell His Story. Click there to find out if you're smarter than a 5th grader and other important "stuff" about faith.


  1. Beautiful post! I too am a fan of "Hymn of Promise." (And my students think I am weird, but I love cemeteries, too!) The older I get, the more I appreciate the past. I love the hope of the future, but resist losing the stories of the past.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. E! I just like how the past, present and future are all interconnected. Cemeteries are definitely places that point out that connection (plus some of those old gravestones are pretty spectacular)!