Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Honoring the Matron of Thanksgiving

In a prior post on the spiritual practice of gratitude, I described my formative Thanksgiving holidays spent at the home of my paternal grandmother, Geneva Garrison, nicknamed "G.G."  She attended college and worked as a teacher.  At one point in her career, she taught in a one room school house.  She lived to the age of 101 before, as she would say, "going home to be with the Lord" this past winter.  I share two important qualities with G.G.:  1) I am very spiritual by nature, and 2) I love to write.  I would like to honor G.G. through sharing an excerpt from her personal journal.  If you would like to learn about making your own sorghum or riding in a covered wagon, this is for you.  Reading about the living conditions of our ancestors 100 years ago can make us thankful for what we have, and at the same time wistful for a more concrete experience with nature, the land, and even with God. 

Here is what G.G. had to say about the origins of her life:

"In the beginning:
On May 8, 1907, I was born to John Walter and Rose Ethabell Matteson at 26th and Bird St. Joplin, Missouri.  My parents and sister Lola, age five, gave me a warm welcome I am told.  When it was time for my arrival, Mom sent Lola to summon a neighbor to come and serve as my mid-wife.  She in turn notified Dr. Mays.  I was in a hurry to get here, so everyone had to get in action. 

When I was three months old we moved to a farm one and a half miles south of Anderson, Missouri.  Of course I can't recall any happenings there until I was two or three years of age.  I remember many fun times.  Lola told me later she was pushing me in a large baby buggy and turned it over on me.  She cried thinking she had killed me.  Lola was a good little girl.  She tried to assume duties to help Mom that she couldn't handle.  I remember quite vividly when we had the measles.  Mom put us in a dark room on a feather bed.  She brought our meals.  We didn't like the looks of our hands so we wore gloves. 

Mom raised chickens and geese.  One old goose enjoyed chasing us.  Lola was at the top of its list for victims.  She would run screaming bloody murder to reach the house. 

Mom had a dear Christian aunt who lived in Galesburg, IL.  Her name was Annie.  Mom wasn't saved, and she got much help and strength from Aunt Aunnie.  One day Mom decided to stay in a clothes closet until she had a know-so salvation.  I don't know how long she stayed there, but she came out shouting.  She told me later about the experience.  One day she started out to the smoke house when it was storming.  Lightning frightened her and she reacted to it.  She said her heard the Lord's voice saying, "Be not afraid, it is I."

My dad was a fine man.  I know of no one who disliked him.  He was saved in a Christian Church when he was a young man.  He was baptized.  He and mom later joined the Baptist Church at Anderson.  Dad was a finish carpenter and a farmer.  Lola and I enjoyed watching him make sorghum.  He raised his own cane.  He had his own mill.  Hitching a horse to it, the cane was ground.  A large vat held the juice which was boiled until sorghum was produced.  He then put it in tin pails to sell and for family use.  Before the mill could be cleaned the cats got in it, and had a hard time getting loose.  Lola and I had fun over that, especially when they lifted one foot at a time trying to shake off the sorghum. 

1911 - When I was about four, dad decided to go out in Kansas to work in the wheat harvest.  What was our mode of transportation?  A covered wagon pulled by Bess and Queen, two beautiful mares.  So we loaded our belongings and departed.  Sometimes we slept in hayfields, making our beds on piles of straw.  At one point we were in heavy rains.  Water came up in our wagon.  We couldn't see the edges of the road.  I imagine mom and dad did some praying.  We went to Turon, Kansas.  Mom cooked for the farm hands in a "cook shack."  Lola helped, and I probably got in the way.  The men bragged on mom's cooking.  They said the former cook majored on rice and prunes.  I don't recall any refrigeration or buying ice.  While we were there, dad traded the horses and wagon for a new Model T.  He had never driven one, but we started for home anyway.  He had problems staying on the road.  They were sandy ruts about 100%.  With his tenacious spirit and the Lord, we made it home.  When we came to a steep hill, we had to get out and push.  "Tin Lizzie" was like a balky mule.  So we had a different mode of traveling when we got home.  Of course, car heaters were unheard of then.  Mom heated rocks, irons and used lanterns to put under our lap robes."

To me, G.G's stories are fascinating.  I always loved hearing about my grandparents' earliest memories.  I am very thankful that G.G. kept a journal and gave a copy to all of her progeny.  I know that her spiritual path was 100% Christian.  I also know that she had Cherokee ancestors who believed quite differently than she did.  It was very important to her that all of her children and grandchildren follow Christianity as a spiritual path.  Here is what she wrote about me in her journal: "David has a daughter, Michelle, from a previous marriage.  She is dear girl too.  She is kind, warm, attracive and talented.  She has a nice disposition and best of all she is a Christian." 

Am I a Christian?  Am I on the path that she wanted for me?  The answer is not 100% clear.  I am certainly on a spiritual path.  I do read scripture from the following faiths: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.  I absolutely have faith in God.  I pray and meditate as often as I can.  Do I believe that we need "salvation?"  That answer depends on what it means to be saved.  I believe that we need to be saved from the worst part of our natures and from the hate and violence that we propagate against one another.  I believe that salvation comes from Love.  I am on a quest to love myself, love my family, and then to spread that love out as far as I can to the rest of the world.  I believe that Jesus will help me to do that, and so in that way, I am a Christian. 

My heart will be with G.G. this Thanksgiving as it has been every Thanksgiving that I can remember.  I will do my best to honor her legacy and I pray that her spirit can be a light unto my path. 


  1. Your grandmother must be smiling down on you and your gorgeous family right now. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. That was very touching. My great grand mother lived to be 95 and we have only been without her for a few years now. I believe that is one of the things I shall remember to be thankful for this day of Thanksgiving.. how lucky I was to have the experience of knowing my great grandparents and all they taught me about life. As always your writings are thought provoking! Happy holidays to you and your family :-)