Family Heroes: We All Have Them And Their Stories



By now, nearly three weeks into the new year, the leftovers are all gone, and the house is pretty much back to normal. Here and there may still be a favorite Christmas card -- probably one with a photograph, and maybe a really nice present (one you never expected) is on display. Hopefully the warm atmosphere of Good Will to Men still abides in some form. You have made and probably already broken all sorts of resolutions, but there is a whole year ahead to make and break others. In general, I trust that things are at least marginally better for you than a year ago. If not, then you have our prayers, and there is a whole year ahead for things to get better.

Family seems to play a far stronger role at Christmas than at any other time of year, with the possible exceptions of weddings, funerals, and graduations. If you ever had or wanted a family, Christmas seems to act as a great magnet to bring as many members of a family together as possible. Something in this great holiday wants everything to be all right again and everyone to be happy. All is forgiven if you mind your manners. I have seen families who wouldn't speak to each other embrace at Christmas. At least for a moment.

Princes and commoners, beggars and kings are somehow seen as human beings for a brief flash. In that moment, all things are possible and anyone can be loved. What a concept.

In most families, there is one ancestor who stands out as the most influential. Stories and legends are told, ad infinitum, at every gathering about the great exploits or the marvelous influence of these individuals. They are the champions who carry our banner; who make us proud to be who we are, no matter who we are. They are the best of us. This season, I was once again reminded of one of my favorites.

Please allow me:

My Grandmother was a Mahan from Old Virginia -- tobacco farmers and men of the cloth.

You won't know the name, but they were well-known, and she never let us forget.

A proud, proper lady, she was, could quote you some Bible for any occasion, plow a mule as good as any man, and cut a cord of wood, but preferred to sew and grow flowers and coax heavenly flavor from common food.

She tried valiantly to make a "proper man" out of Will Henry (Collins) her husband -- It was a lifelong challenge, probably the only thing she never mastered, but her complaints were good-natured most of the time. And Paw Paw Will was a hard-working man -- a good provider of things wrought from the ground, or caught off-guard in the woods -- a tee-totaler as far as anyone knew. There were times, though when his singing was suspiciously loud.

Scots/Irish, both of them. (there are reasons to believe they were distant cousins.)

Down the Blue Ridge to finally settle in the Appalachian foothills in north Georgia, looking for good land to grow tobacco -- red clay, ain't it.

But "what don't kill you just makes you stronger" was a creed they lived by, and Oh! the stories they could tell, and did, and the fiddle tunes -- the piano had to be left with the Mahans.

We had a car when I was little, and Pop would drive us up from Atlanta to Pine Log Church in Bartow County, back in the red clay hills, to hear urgent, soulful singing -- a prayerful wail, two-part harmony as pure as the setting, an offering to God.

I don't remember a word from any prayer or sermon, but I can never forget that sound.

Pop said that the preacher once called upon The Lord to show them a sign -- a recognition of their faithfulness. Times were hard, and repairs were needed on the old building. Suddenly, a mild earthquake shook hard and cut oak shingles from the roof of the weathered church. When he could gather his flock back together, Pop said, the preacher had enough money to build a new church, and it was this one that we attended, but it looked old to me.

We rode by "The Old Home Place," and he told me stories about his childhood all the way back home. He worshipped his mother.

Paw Paw went first -- wore out.

No "proper Will," perhaps, but a great legacy.

Grandma stayed around long enough to make sure that her six boys and girls remembered who they were and how they were raised, and then she died from a fall.

A fallen Mahan, we irreverently joked, safe from the taste of lye soap in our mouths.

You have your own heroes, no doubt. If they are still alive, tell them how great they are.

A blessed and happy new year to you all.

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