Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Faith Works 5-18-19


Faith Works 5-18-19

Jeff Gill


A flat of geraniums



In the latter half of May, when we'd go to Grandma Walton's house for a weekend, whether it was Memorial Day or not yet we'd end up going out on Saturday with a flat of geraniums.


Decoration Day had roots well before the Civil War, up into New England when the first time you could plant flowers around gravesites was the very end of the month; mid-Ohio is more mid-May for our frost-free date, but in any case geraniums are fairly hardy, which is why I imagine they became associated so strongly in the Midwest with the first planting at family headstones.


The Civil War brought a new meaning to the end of May, starting in 1868, but whether you're thinking about the last Monday in this month, or just the first weekend with decent weather, Decoration Day is still hidden within Memorial Day as an observance. Memorial Day was more the wreaths and the salutes and Taps, but Decoration Day was personal.


We'd get in the car and head out across the downstate Illinois landscape, east to Fairview and Grandview and Hoult Cemeteries, looking for Newlins and Cartwrights and other relatives whose names I didn't know. We'd pause sometimes at crossroads with a sparse corner and a huddled few upright tilting stones. Then we might steer north to Greasy Point, east of Arcola, to tend Walton stones there.


At each halt, the flat of geraniums would come out, the apron, the basket with trowel and tools, a roll of waxy canvas for kneeling. Grandma would be in charge, whomever came along that year, whichever car (she never learned how to drive) and she had a plan and a kind of budget for which geraniums went where.


My recollection forty years later is that however we offered or asked or started out, Grandma planted most of them. Or at least put the final pats onto the soil when everything was in place. Most went close to the headstone, but not where they'd obscure the inscription, though no too far wide, either "or they'll get cut down by the mowers." She knew where they went. She'd planted geraniums there before.


There wasn't a great deal of sentiment, or sorrow, or standing around in a reflective haze. For the most part, there was always one more country cemetery to get to, so we jumped in the car and kept moving. It was the act, the work of planting geraniums . . . and the knowledge that they were growing there, long after you left . . . that was the purpose and the prayer. Consider it a kind of Protestant lighting of candles at a shrine, the planting of geraniums.


Not without a little guilt this time of year I think of her, and her grave, and those graves she took us around to tend. Most I've not visited for years, and they're all 300 miles and more away. Mostly geraniumless.


And I think about how best to maintain memories, and gratitude, and thankfulness. For my own family, known and unknown; and for a wider spiritual family, from church members to parishioners where I've served before, to inspirations farther afield. This week I'm remembering Jean Vanier and Rachel Held Evans who have recently passed on, to wide appreciation and ongoing consideration of their witness in the world; even the more secular fond memories of Doris Day and Tim Conway nudge their way into my thoughts. How do we honor and celebrate and hold in remembrance our own community of saints? We can't plant geraniums for them all.


Next weekend we have many ways to keep in memory those who have died in the nation's service. The color guards and buglers and parades keep us on task for Memorial Day. Each of us needs, though, a different sort of ceremonial to celebrate our own saints. Sometimes it's pictures on a wall, a screensaver on our computer, a list of names on a piece of paper in our Bibles tucked into Hebrews chapter 11.


It is a good time of year, for any of us, in any location, to think back over those individuals who have shaped us and brought us and sometimes carried us to where we are now. And to decorate their memories even if only in our minds, with prayers and appreciation, and maybe even to tell their stories to others for uplift and inspiration.


As I just did with my grandmother and her flat of geraniums.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's pretty sure he's not planted a single geranium since his grandmother died. Tell him about the flowers you associate with certain souls at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Notes from my Knapsack 5-16-19

Notes from my Knapsack 5-16-19

Jeff Gill


Graduations and commemorations



Denison commencement ushers in a season of graduation events all around us, from colleges to high schools, other programs (I still remember my son's preschool graduation better than many other events from more recently!), let alone the impending end of school.


Children will be afoot and a-pedal all around us, or at least I hope they will be, and we drivers and motivators on powered vehicles of any sort need to be a little extra on guard for their return to the weekday, daytime landscape.


The baseball games down at Raccoon Valley Park, Wildwood full of young voices, the longer lines for frozen custard downtown, all are part of telling us we're into summer, even before May ends.


My own feeling is that once the yellow daffodil flowers brown and fade, and the dogwood blossoms of whatever hue drop from their branches, then spring is over. You might say that summer has not started, but spring has sprung.


It's cool for sure on the bricks as the Farmer's Market opens, but there's coffee for that; even the afternoons still aren't too hot, but the sun is high enough in the sky to press warmth into the soil and trigger growth. Our frost free date is just past at mid-May, and the tomatoes may safely go into the ground. Memorial Day can be cool or hot, but rarely too hot, and that weekend also brings the first "Concert on the Green" up behind Bryn Du on May 27.


What I hope for in any family is more time outside. The rail-to-trail path along Raccoon Creek, sidewalks in the village, and the walking paths extending beyond; the Denison Bio-reserve trails, up Sugar Loaf, down Lancaster Road to Infirmary Mound Park or out into the township to Lobdell Reserve of Licking County Parks. They're all options, and "no child left inside" is still a call to our community to promote time and experiences in nature.


My own favorites times afoot are the hour before and the one after daylight; pre-dawn strolls I don't take often enough, and evenings I too frequently get home after dark, but those are the times I hope for to just get up and get going.


Animals are about, smaller than deer but not just the bugs. Possums and, yes, skunks; rabbits and groundhogs dash about. Raccoons I see less often than I might wish, but they're smart enough to avoid the roads more than their marsupial cousins. Foxes and coyotes, squirrels and chipmunks, even field mice and voles if you know where to look.


Whatever your age or education, this is the time of year to graduate from indoor classrooms to Nature's classroom, the learning environment without ceilings but plenty of canopy, lacking solid flooring but often good footing if you have the right shoes.


Credit is transferable from one ecosystem to another, and there are few pre-requisites other than basic safety and awareness (especially if you're walking or running before the sun rises). And I'd call it good news that you cannot, in truth, graduate from the school of the out-of-doors. There's no commencement scheduled, it's simply a curriculum for life long learning.


See you outdoors!


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he does not walk as much as he should or would like to. Tell him your favorite stroll at knapsack77@gmail.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.