I closed the book, turned out the lamp beside my bed and snuggled down into the cool sheets. Outside the window, the wind whirred and whistled; its familiar cry could so easily sing me to sleep as it has so many times before – the tune of the wind is like the voice of an old friend – the lullaby of my childhood. It is the song of home on the West Texas Plains.
The book I am reading is Prairie Gothic by John Erickson. Although I bought the book last summer, it has sat on my shelf unopened through fall and winter as I make my way slowly through my multiple book purchases. I am just two chapters into the book, but just as John and Kris promised, I love it.
John Erickson writes about his own family history, but as I read of familiar places I feel the same connection to this land we call West Texas or the South Plains and I hear the stories of my own family cry out from the pages. They may not be written there in ink – those stories belong to John Erickson and his family – but they whisper between the lines within the recesses of my own memory.
I thought of the stories my great-grandmother used to tell of her childhood. Her eyes, which were dark brown just like her long hair which she wore pulled up in a tight bun, would sparkle with pride as she told about coming west with her parents in a covered wagon in the early 1900’s. Her father built the dugout that my cousin and I played in as children. Later, he hauled lumber by wagon from Big Spring to build the homestead house where she lived on Hungry Hill Ranch outside of Tahoka.
Sometimes at night my mind is jumbled with the thoughts of the day, and such was the case last night as I lay there listening to the wind. I was thinking of stories – the many stories that had crossed my mind that day. I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on the story of Tamar and Judah and in my daily bible reading I was reading of Moses and his last words to the children of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy. I read the latest political news from a conservative site and a blog post that reminded me of the foundation on which our country was laid. Ann Voskamp’s words on her blog www.aholyexperience.com gave tips on growing grateful children. As I tossed all these words of the day around in my mind, I realized they are all stories of the past. Even Ann Voskamp’s words of growing grateful hearts within children speak of her legacy of gratefulness that she is leaving for her children. It is the same legacy I hope to have given mine – that of a grateful heart.
The stories of our past – both the good and the bad -are incredibly relevant to us today because they tell us who we are and the places and events that shaped the people from which we’ve descended. Elmer Kelton states in the forward of John Erickson’s book, “Erickson points out in this remembrance of his ancestors that they were not always as upright, brave, and tolerant as we might wish them to have been, but they were human. They had strengths we can admire, and they had weaknesses we can understand because we share those weaknesses.” Tim Keller points out that the story of Tamar is the story of sin and we would not want to emulate her example, but it is also a story of justice and grace. Moses reminds the people of Israel who they are and where they have been and he sternly warns them to remember the laws they have been given and the stories of their past so they will remember as they establish roots in the land who they are and from whence they’ve come. These are the stories of our spiritual ancestors.
In much the same way, the stories of those who shaped our nation, wrote our laws, and fought for our freedoms, are the stories of our country and they define who we are as a nation – they are the people from whom we’ve descended as a nation. While the stories of our own ancestors, those who came to this land and carved out ranches, farms, and towns, should not be forgotten for it is their blood that runs through our veins. All of these stories remind us of who we are and why we are here. These are the foundations into which our roots are buried. The foundation has already been laid – it is as solid as the ground on which we walk. When we attempt to rewrite history or we leave out the stories that we no longer feel are significant; when we forget or never know from whom we have descended; when we don’t know our past, we become a nation, a people, a generation, lost.
We may say that the world has changed so much that the past is no longer relevant, but when we look back at those from whence we’ve descended, we realize that man has not changed and all we have done by ignoring our history is to uproot ourselves and lay our roots bare upon the land to wither in the sun. We are left as children to wander without direction as we try to find something upon which to anchor ourselves.
I am even reminded that I should recap again for my children what God has done for our own family to bring us to this place at this time – how God used their father and their brother and others in our past to bless our present. We should all remember who we are as Christians, as Americans, as Texans, as people. I know the words of Edmund Burke have oft been repeated, but they are worth remembering. “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.”