I was ten years old when I traveled with my mother, brother, and grandparents to Throckmorton, Texas, to spend a few days with my mother’s grandparents. We drove for three days from Ohio and stopped at tourist places along the way. Carlsbad Caverns astounded me. It was as if the “bigness” of the world was beginning to come alive as I experienced the cool dripping water in the dark cave and its “other worldly” wonders of stalactites and stalagmites. It was holy and scary at the same time.
I recall almost next to nothing about the time with my great-grandparents, Mama and Papa Gordon. I do, however, remember one meal. My mother and grandmother were unusually rested, and I felt wooed into the relaxed atmosphere even though only the adults were talking. This noonday meal seemed to last forever. In my mind I can still see the table set with countless glass serving dishes filled with pickles, tomatoes, applesauce and other “homemade” delicacies unlike the lunches that I was used to.
After we had eaten homemade pie, Papa Gordon leaned towards me from across the table and said, “You Yankee! I can’t believe I have Yankee great-granddaughter!” His bitter tone startled me! People laughed, but I didn’t. The energy that came from this weathered, thin, tough Texan rancher did not feel safe. Plus, I had no idea what a Yankee was! I suspect that he must have laughed then, but I am not sure. If he hadn’t laughed, surely, I would have begun to cry since his tone scared me. I like to think that I leaned towards him and said, “What’s a Yankee?” But if I consider how voiceless I was in my family, I know I turned inward and shut down with shame.
This past July The New York Times had a Sunday section featuring the descendants of Confederate war heroes in response to the tumult that was ravaging the South with taking down Civil War monuments. The great-great-granddaughter of General John Brown Gordon was quoted saying she was happy to not have any reminders of her great-great-grandfather’s involvement in the Civil War. In fact, all the people interviewed for this Sunday section said that our country did not need these statues because the country, and they themselves, had moved on. It was time for everyone to let go of bitterness and move on.
General John B. Gordon was my great-grandfather’s uncle. I know that Papa Gordon venerated his uncle and believed what he did to defend a seceded renegade nation was “right and good.” He was wrong. His “side” was defeated, and he was enraged and ashamed. And I was the bitter end of his unrepentant rebellion.
I used to be proud to be a Yankee and was in awe of knowing which houses in our area were stops on the Underground Railroad. I was fooled that prejudice and racism was a southern phenomenon and relatively infrequent in the North. I long ago gave up thinking that Northerners treated Blacks better than Southerners. I am no longer naïve about geographical borders.
I now understand how every history book or movie I saw about the Civil War always had this sentence: “Brother was divided against brother. The war divided families with sons fighting on different sides of the issue of slavery.”
What if the tender work of God regarding racism had been active in my family?
Possibly my great-grandfather would have leaned forward across the dining room table and asked to hold my hands, and then said, with no bitterness, “I grieve that my uncle led a rebellion based on cruelty and violence against an entire race of people. You are a reminder that there is still much work to do to see honor and righteousness grow in my heart and in our nation.”
“Bitter end” is a nautical term. It is a part of an anchor line that indicates the rode can’t go any further. It tells the sailor if she has enough line to achieve sufficient scope. If you are in ten feet of water, it is best to have a seven-to-one relationship between depth and how much line is out, or seventy feet. The bitter end is a measure that allows the sailor to know whether she can set anchor here or if she needs to move closer to shore.
I don’t want to be the source of my great-grandfather’s bitterness. I am, however, a bitter end reminder with regard to Confederate statutes, unaddressed racism, and narcissistic leaders that we have to move closer to shore.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 42 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living! bs
Glorious: “What if”
Thank you! Yes!!! What if all the families for generations had understood this!!!!????
What if indeed. You are living out the repentance your great grandfather would not. Your fearless exploration of the un identifies racism in your own family is the work that must occur in every home in America.
Thank you Becky.
Thank you Joanna….oh, can you even imagine how wonderful it would be if every family did this?!!
I remember the first time I was called a “Yankee” when I moved to Norfolk, VA, in 1970. I felt unwelcome. Local people talked about “the war” and the first few times I heard it, I thought they were talking about the Vietnam war, which was still raging. I quickly came to see that “Yankee” and “the war” were related ideas. My Yankee education had huge gaps about the south, slavery and the Civil War. I believe we need a great deal more honesty in this country in order to move on–conversations about our country’s shameful history of the genocide of Native Americans, through slavery and the institutional racism that still exists. It is the only way to heal.
Madeline! I love that you thought they were talking about the Vietnam War! So true…only in “The South” is “THE” War still talked about. So sad, actually. I would have thought the same way, Sister!
I would love for every family to take time and educate themselves of our disgraceful racist history as a nation…which continues still today.
How I wish you might have actually experienced your great-grandfather’s repentance. How glorious that you can imagine that for him now. There is so much truth telling & deep understanding that we need as a nation, but reaching across family tables in solidarity will be a powerful way to start.
Thank you for baring you’re heart for the greater good. We are all the richer for your brave heart.
I love your sentence: “There is so much truth telling & deep understanding that we need as a nation, but reaching across family tables in solidarity will be a powerful way to start.” May every family and every person do just that! May we all be part of the change for good.
So beautifully written and expressed.
Thank you, LaDonna! I love your name!
Hi Beck, This final draft was perfection!!!!!!!
Sent from my iPhone
Ah, Jane…you encourage me always!
I loved this! Thanks for sharing, Sweet Becky, and reminding us that our generational stories are ever unfolding–always an opportunity for God to redeem and rewrite the irreconcilable within us.
Katy, thank you. I love that God is our redeemer. Always redeeming what we think is in stone. Beautiful!