The Stories We Carry

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My photo. My hand, yet also Dad’s. Spring 2016

Every year when springtime rolls around and the earth begins to awaken, I start thinking more about my dad. Winters are so harsh where I grew up. Spring is much anticipated and everyone is ready to get outside and feel the sun. I was fortunate to have a father who liked to spend time with his daughters. He and Mom ended up with four girls and I think after the last one, me, was born, they gave up on having a boy. Nevertheless, Dad adored his girls and taught us everything he would have taught a boy: changing the oil, mowing grass on the riding lawnmower, and playing sports. One thing that Dad did for me that I will forever be grateful for was fostering a love of the outdoor world and a deep faith in things unseen. Mom was an indoor person, not getting out too much except when she would grease up her body with Crisco and lie out in the backyard to tan. Her domain was the inside of the home. But Dad loved being outside and he often took me on walks in the woods. He was the one in charge of helping me collect leaves and wildflowers for elementary school projects. Once when we were out walking, he showed me a tree that he really liked–the dogwood. When I asked him why he liked it so much, he picked a bloom and showed me that there are four petals making the shape of a cross. Each petal has pinkish indentations on the outer edge. He said that these marks represented the nail wounds on Jesus’ hands when he was crucified.
Dad was a moral man who attended church and tithed regularly, read his well-worn Bible every day, and was a steadfast believer. His faith was strong, yet he did not adhere to any dour, strict doctrines. I think he made the connection with God and nature, and that’s why he loved being outside.
I remember this story that he told me every spring, with every dogwood tree that I see. I carry that story and so many others in my heart, and in my body. I know that these walks in the woods and all of those Sundays sitting on a red cushioned church pew with my family made me the person I am today. I’m grateful for it all. I know that my daughters carry these stories, too, because they are a part of me and my body. The things we experience in childhood never leave us. We carry them forth into adulthood and pass them on to our children. And then our children pass them on further down the generational line. We are the things we carry. I’m just glad that my dad carried the love of nature and the love of God and that he passed this on to me.
After I got married and moved away from home, I stumbled upon a Dollar Store plaque that had this poem on it. Of course, I bought it and still have it. It’s packed away somewhere, probably the attic. My daughters will stumble across it one day, probably long after I’m gone. I hope they’ll have good memories of me and what I taught them about nature and God and how it’s all connected. How we’re all connected. How we are all, really, just one big story.

LEGEND OF THE DOGWOOD TREE

In Jesus time, the dogwood grew
To a stately size and a lovely hue.

‘Twas strong & firm it’s branches interwoven
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.

Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:

“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so

Slender & twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.

As blood stains the petals marked in brown
The blossom’s center wears a throny crown.

All who see it will remember me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.

Cherished and protected this tree shall be
A reminder to all of my agony.”

– Unknown

 

This grouping of dogwoods photographed by my talented friend, Leslie Waugh.


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