Tomorrow, I will sit at a Thanksgiving Table at our son’s house. As usual, before I do, I will think about the year and of all the things for which I am grateful. As you know, the ending of this year has been one of mounting intensity not only for our country, but for Doug and me as we arrived at his retirement. So this year, I will ask God’s protection and blessing for America, and I will give thanks for all Doug’s years of ministry, for all the churches and people he has touched, and for all of the ways they have touched and cared for us.
I know I will pause in gratitude for the new home that we closed on this week, making it our very own, and remember Kris Cuddy, our agent, and Trione, our finance manager, who gracefully turned a dream into a reality, and I will feel a few thrills of excitement over all that awaits: moving and then decorating, gardening and inhabiting Shady Stroll Lane (best name for a retirement street ever!) turning it into Nana and Boppa’s house.
Then, as always, I will spare a moment for all those who went before, without whom this Thanksgiving and all the ones that have led to it, could not have happened. As they used to say in a TV show from my childhood, most of all I will “Remember Mama.”
We all take in our mother’s everyday teachings: “Don’t touch, HOT….Watch where you’re walking – I tended not to…Pick up after yourself…You turned it on, so turn it off…Always be polite, say please and thank you…Don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you.” I know you remember all those basics your mother taught you, critically needed to get on in the world…or famously the things you had to have learned by kindergarten.
My mother certainly taught me those things, but so much else as well. I have shared some of her wisdom sayings in past posts, because over the years more and more of her wisdom has become real to me.
Many of my mom’s lessons to me were apparent at the time. Others required life experience to understand. Over the years, something she said would sit far back in my mind until just the right moment and then pop back into awareness when life handed me a reason to see the wisdom of her words.
I’ve always been a great fan of the reputed quote of Mark Twain’s, “When I was fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could barely stand to be around him, but when I was twenty-one I was surprised how much he had learned in seven years.”
I never thought my mother was ignorant…or the virtual swear word in my family, “stupid.” If you acted ‘just plain stupid’, you were in trouble, for that was almost unforgivable….as in “How could you do something like that, are you stupid?” Stupid equalled ill-mannered and poorly brought up, making ill-considered, irresponsible choices or acting in ways that embarrassed or brought shame to the family. (To clarify, this was not a condition of intelligence – It was a choice of behavior.) My mother was never stupid. I tried not to be.
But sometimes, I thought I was smarter than she was. I thought I had learned more, or that times had changed rendering some piece of advice no longer relevant. Now that was ignorant. My mother’s wisdom has stood the test of time.
When I was 21, I still hadn’t quite reached Twain’s maturity. So, when Doug and I were getting married, I wanted all the latest in my registry of desired wedding presents including….Teflon pans. They were new! They were non-stick! I got them. I scratched them. I replaced them over the years, more than once. I gave some to my mom. She liked them. She sometimes used them…she rarely scratched them.
But one of my mom’s treasures was an old cast iron skillet. She always made the eggs or pancakes we had for special weekend breakfasts in it. It was the one pan my sister and I were never allowed to wash when we did the dishes. Mom would carefully wipe it out and put it away. When I asked why, she said that if we washed it we would ruin its “seasoning.”
That was a piece of wisdom lost on me – I had teflon! New improved, scratched replaced…so new again. She had that old cast iron skillet, seasoned over time, until the day she died.
When we cleared out her apartment, I took it home. I’m not sure why, but perhaps because I could picture her making meals in it when I was a child. I kept it. And the old skillet sat in the cupboard untouched for years. After all, I still had teflon.
Well, segue ahead. Ten years after my mom died, cast iron pans began to appear in recipes. As they say, everything old becomes new again, and cast iron wisdom began to reappear.
I don’t know how long it took for me to finally learn it, to get out the pan, read up on “seasoning,” and learn to care for it. My mother’s was an old wisdom even when she was young, I had to get older to get it.
You see, she invested in something made to last a lifetime if it was cared for, something that acquired character as it was seasoned by meals and memories. Something meant to be passed on.
I had foolishly fallen in love with the new and momentary, the designed to be replaced, instead of what was designed to endure.
Now, you know I always use these examples from my life as the basis for lessons – today’s is seasoning: Just like mom’s pan, character is created by endurance, by the life experiences we get through, by the choices we make. The polishing of ourselves, like the surface of my mother’s skillet, happens as we are worn to a shiny patina by living our values, sharing our lives with integrity with those with whom we live and work and, I believe, by reaching out to those in need, (or, to stretch the analogy a bit…by feeding others from our pans.)
The corollary is that if we don’t care for ourselves as well as others, if we make the pragmatic choice because it is expeditious, or would bring a quick reward, or we want to get revenge, or thumb our nose at others, or only serve ourselves, if we contravene our values, we erode. We create pits in our purpose. We rust. We become of no earthly use.
As a social worker, it was easy to live these values in my job, as a pastor’s wife I did that in my church, and as a wife and mother, in my home. We all have these opportunities.
My mother worked for the air force. She could be as gruff as any of the military guys she worked with, but she had a heart and a passion for caring for the people she encountered. She didn’t need to be a social worker to create a patina of kindness as silky as the butter in her pan. She “mothered” and brought home airmen away from their families, and was the very best and caring friend, and she believed in her children’s abilities, backing up that belief by working to assure we had college money in an era when mothers didn’t work. Her cast iron enduring wisdom is my foundation.
Teflon, the non-stick, slick surface may last for a while – like a candidacy where nothing the candidate said, no many how egregious it was, stuck, but white nationalism cannot succeed forever in a country ever more diverse. And at our roots, our country is grounded on solid values and they will pop up again and again and keep reasserting themselves.
So for me, this Thanksgiving I am going to give thanks for the things that sustain us, the love of family, the heritage of wisdom, and try to keep polishing my character. Cared for, cast iron will endure forever.