“Parents tell their children about your faithfulness.”
“I miss Mayberry, sitting on the porch drinking ice-cold cherry Coke where everything is black and white, picking on a six string where people pass by and you call them by their first name, watching the clouds roll by. Bye, Bye.”
“Mayberry” written by Arlos Smith, performed by Rascal Flatts
One of my favorite days of the year is daylight savings time in the fall. The weather has cooled enough to add the flannel sheets to my bed. Curled up in my blankets, I fall asleep delighted to know that I am magically gaining an extra hour of rest. Yet, with all the chaos of 2020, I had to concur with the meme floating around Facebook: “Can we skip fall back, I don’t want another hour in 2020!”
It has been a tough year for everyone, a year that has left us all unsettled and desperately trying to adapt to a new normal. So many of us have experienced losses and broken traditions. With the holidays approaching and COVID-19 cases rising, the holiday season will likely look different for many of us. Travel plans may be cancelled, holiday gatherings are smaller and seasonal celebrations have gone virtual. As a family, we have made the responsible decision to cancel our annual hot chocolate party. This is one of the highlights of my year: opening our home, sharing homemade hot chocolate and homemade peppermint marshmallows with friends and family for the past eight years. Yet, we don’t want to potentially expose ourselves or others to the virus. While taking my daily walk, an older neighbor shared with me that she will be spending her Thanksgiving alone for the first time. My heart reached out to her, wanting to invite her to our home. But the reason for her seclusion was not that she didn’t have family to spend the holidays with, but rather for her protection. Sadly, I do not think her case is unique.
Traditions are important. They anchor a family together and help create a sense of identity. By their very nature of being repetitive, they provide a consistency in children’s lives, providing them with memorable moments. They also aid in passing on family beliefs and values. One of my homeschooling heroes, Sally Clarkson, reflected in a past blog post, “Yet, now that my children are grown, I am amazed how much they communicate over and over again how much our family traditions meant to them, I think it planted very deep roots intertwined around their hearts that tie us all together to the same faith, the same moral values, the same purposes that we share as we live life from day to day.” Traditions connect us to one another by helping us share our values across generations.
A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a Mayberry-like place in West Virginia when visiting my brother-in-law, Don, and his family. They live in a hollow (pronounced “holler” for those of you with northern accents). A hollow is a depression between two mountains or hills in the Appalachian range. It differs from a valley because the depression is close, and you can literally “holler” from one hill to the other. This hollow has been in my sister-in-law’s family for generations. As we walked down to her mother’s home, Anita shared with me some of the history. Her great-grandparents were the first to plant roots in the hollow. They later moved from the land when her grandfather was three years old. At this age he was already attached to the land, refusing to move, and hiding in the wood box. They finally promised him that if he moved, he would be allowed to gather all the eggs in the chicken coop the next morning. That night, his parents took all their eggs and hid them around the chicken coop. Later, as a married adult, her grandfather returned to his beloved hollow and raised his five children there. Anita also grew up in the hollow most of her life, playing with her cousins, exploring the woods, and creating memories.
After Don and Anita were married, they moved into town, about five minutes away. Her mother, along with a few other family members, still lived on portions of the land, enabling Anita’s three daughters to create memories there as well. A few years ago, Don and Anita were blessed to be able to purchase a portion of the land with a house at the top of the hollow. This piece of real estate was not just a future place to spend retirement, but also an opportunity to allow their grown daughters and their families to build homes on the land. One of their daughters has already built a home on the exact spot where Anita’s grandfather raised his family.
A piece of land that has long been in the family’s name is not enough to make this a Mayberry. What made Anita’s hollow special were the traditions created on this land. As she was sharing the history of the land, we were walking to her mother’s house at the bottom of the hill for the famous “Fudge Night”. A few years ago, I heard about Fudge Night and became enchanted with the idea. I admit, when we planned our visit, I knew that if we arrived early enough, we would have the privilege to be invited to the traditional Fudge Night!
Miss Linda, Anita’s mother, is absolutely one of the sweetest ladies I have ever met! She exudes southern charm and hospitality, making everyone feel welcome as soon as they meet her. She loves her family passionately and dotes on her great-grandchildren. Behind her bright smile, is a lady filled with confidence in God’s promises. She faced one of the worst nightmares of any parent, the death of her son, Jeff. As a teenager, Jeff was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and, for five years, she traveled with him back and forth to a cancer treatment center in Maryland. During this time, she kept a diary, sharing her faith, fears and, ultimately, her trust in the Lord. Her son, eventually, lost his battle with cancer, forever leaving an empty place in her life and home. Recently, she released a book based on her diary from that time. To find out more about her incredible journey of faith, you can find the book here on Amazon.
Prior to Jeff’s death, Miss Linda started making homemade fudge in an old pot on the stove. She would invite family members over, and as soon as it was ready, hot decadent fudge would be spooned onto plates, waiting to be devoured. After Jeff’s death, she made fudge every Friday night and has continued this tradition for the past thirty-one years. In addition to Fudge Night, Miss Linda still makes the traditional Sunday dinner, where her daughter and granddaughters gather with their families, along with nieces and nephews and cousins, eating some of her famous dishes like meatloaf and pot roast.
Fudge Night is not just an opportunity for the family to indulge in a chocolate fantasy, it’s also an opportunity to connect with one another. Despite life’s busyness and trials, it has remained a constant in their lives, a constant that provides a place of refuge, filled with laughter and love. Although she follows a recipe, Miss Linda knows instinctively when to add the creamy peanut butter to make it the right consistency. As it is poured into a pan, the love that goes into making the fudge adds a quality that no recipe can record. Within minutes, little hands, along with big hands, crowd around the pot to eat the hot fudge, while stories and laughter continue amongst everyone.
In their small West Virginia community, Fudge Night is somewhat of a legend. One of Anita’s cousins proposed to his future wife at a fudge night. One year, when my niece, Lindsay, was a cheerleader, the high school football team won a big game. After the game, the entire team, along with most of the high school, ended up at Miss Linda’s home celebrating at Fudge Night. Over the years, they have had people knock on the door, asking if they could come to the famous Fudge Night, and they are always welcomed by the family!
Fudge Night was all that I imagined it to be and so much more! Typically, I find fudge a little too sweet, but this fudge was different. It had a deep cocoa flavor enriched with the creaminess of the peanut butter. I started off with a modest portion in the beginning, enjoying the conversation, delighted to see my two-year grandniece devouring the fudge with bright twinkling eyes. I soon realized my portion was gone, and demurely, went back for more. The house was filled with laughter, stories, and love while thirteen of us shared a pan of fudge.
As we headed back up the hollow a few hours later, I was left with a sense of awe. I realized I had just visited Mayberry. It felt like a sacred moment, a gentle reminder to me of the importance of traditions, family, love, and values. It showed me the power of one woman, who kept her faith and, along with her family, built some memorials to the faithfulness of God. Yes, she had experienced a devastating loss, but she didn’t let that loss paralyze her life. She poured into her daughter and her daughter’s future family a sense of permanency by opening her home every Friday night with fudge, reminding them that God was still good. This is such a beautiful example of the gospel in action!
Yes, my hot chocolate party is canceled. Yes, my holiday gatherings and traditions might look a little different, this year. Despite these losses, God is still good and faithful! Instead of focusing on the losses of the season, I am still going to keep some of my traditions, celebrate with my family and build some memorials for my children and grandchild. And, hopefully, sometime in 2021, I can plan another visit to Mayberry and Fudge Night!
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