Generation to Generation
I am a believer in touchstones; touchstones being objects that connect you with someone from your past. I know that many people collect things that help connect them to famous events, and people; I even have a couple of those. One is a bound collection of portraits of the members of the Green Bay Packers who won the very first Super Bowl game. It was a Christmas present from my parents when I was 10 years old. My sister Sharon, who was a nurse at the time, brought the book to the hospital because ‘hall of fame’ Packer Ray Nitschke’s child was a patient at the time. She asked him to sign his portrait. He not only did that, he offered to take the book to the locker room and have everyone sign it. And that’s exactly what he did. So, each player signed his portrait in the book. I have the autographs of every member of that team.
I suspect that the book may be worth some money, but I can’t imagine ever selling it. To me, the value of the book is that it connects me to my parents who gifted it to me in my youth; it connects me to my sister Sharon who brought the book to Ray Nitschke in the first place; it connects me to men who were true sports heroes from my hometown team; and it connects me to my ten-year-old self. But, the fact that the book is probably worth enough money that strangers may want to obtain it simply for its monetary value, means that it is not truly a touchstone. Touchstones have value that only the owner can see.
When my parents passed away and my siblings and I were dividing their personal possessions that we didn’t want to sell, I received my parents’ rosaries. I know from childhood memories that my mother always carried her rosary with her in the front pocket of her housecoat. My father’s rosary was always in his pants pocket. With all of the challenges of marriage, the normal stresses of life, seven children and two miscarried children, their three oldest sons serving in the military during the Viet Nam War, beloved grandchildren, living through the end of World War I, all of World War II, the Korean War and the Viet Nam War; and all their own hopes and dreams, worries and concerns; it isn’t at all surprising that the face of Jesus on the little crucifix on my mother’s rosary is worn smooth, and that the black stain is worn down to the bare wood on my father’s rosary, from the countless times those beads passed through their fingers.
I have carried those rosaries myself during stressful times, key events in my life, and hard times in my life as a reminder to me to pray my way through, but also for the comfort they provide knowing that my parents prayed for me many times, and that although they are in Heaven many years now, I rely on the fact that they still pray for me. Neither rosary, I’m sure, is worth anything in hard cash. But they are touchstones. I can feel the power of love in them – God’s love, a father’s love, a mother’s love.
That’s why, when my two granddaughters who live in Colorado were visiting this spring, my heart stirred with the idea that it was time to pass the rosaries along. I gave my mother’s rosary to Samantha, the oldest. And I gave Mallory my father’s rosary. I pray that they wear them a little smoother, and that they also feel God’s love, great grandfather’s love, great grandmother’s love – and my love whenever they pick them up.
The picture at the head of the essay is also a touchstone – maybe not the kind that would come to mind. But it is a picture of my favorite flowers that grow in our yard – lilies of the valley. 33 years ago, this spring, I dug up an ice cream bucket full of the plants from the yard of my wife’s great aunt and uncle. They had just passed away and the old farmstead house was going to be auctioned off. Since then, they have already filled in two flowerbeds along the driveway as well as the north side of the garage. Last spring, I put in a new flower bed in the back yard and transferred several shovelfuls of these quick-spreading plants in there as well. They are blooming and spreading nicely. The little white bell-shaped flowers fill the air with their sweet perfume these days of late May. I am sure that Uncle Hilbert and Aunt Esther are quite pleased to know that “their” lilies of the valley are still blooming and still being enjoyed by “family”. I think of them often, especially at this time of year.