We had a wonderful time in Tampa this past weekend. My dad flew in from Kentucky to preach the meeting at El Bethel, and it was so good to see him. He recently made a lengthy trip to Africa, and it was so wonderful to hear his stories and experiences from that land. We usually go many months without seeing family, so it is so nice to say "see you in 2 weeks" when saying goodbye.
We also had the great privilege of staying with my grandparents, who live a little outside Tampa...Plant City, to be exact...you may see their little town on the news these days as the farmers try so desperately to save their strawberries from this freeze snap by watering them each night to put a protective layer of ice around them.
Anywhoooo, living in South Georgia as a kiddo, we would make the 6 hour trek down to my grandparents' house quite a few times throughout the year. I have copious amounts of memories climbing trees with my cousins, running along the huge empty cable spools my grandfather brought home from his job as a lineman, eating fried eggs, toast and homemade strawberry jelly every morning, and catching lizards and attaching the cute little reptiles to our ears, nose, and lips. Being at my grandparents' house was always full of fun and adventure growing up.
But this time was different. Long gone are the days when we would spend numerous hours catching lizards...time is just much too precious now. With my grandfather about to turn 80, I have realized that time with them may not be as infinite as I once thought as a child...and I have also realized that I don't know much about my grandparents. Growing up, I always heard bits and pieces of stories here and there, but I have suddenly had the urgency to hear these stories and more from the mouths of Papa J and Grandma Bea.
So for the past couple of visits, I have tried to ask as many questions as I can in order to hear as much about their childhood, marriage, young life, middle age, and now. In doing so, I have so many amazing stories stored away in my head...stories about my grandfather's "performances" as a young tike in my great-grandfather's gas station/grocery store, how long he was in Korea during the war, the unusual way he met my grandmother and told her he was going to marry her within just a few minutes of meeting her, their life raising their 4 boys and then why they decided to adopt a baby girl...and got twins (my mom and her sister), why my grandfather has so many scars on his chest and belly, and so many other stories that wind together to create the life of my grandparents...and subsequently, 3 generations spawning from them as well.My favorite story is one that is both surreal, hilarious, and remarkable. It still makes me tear up when I think about it. I want to write down this little synopsis of the events as told to me, so that I never forget the amazing working of God in the lives of those I love...
My grandfather had just gotten back from the battle lines of the Korean war and was stationed in Fort Sill, OK. During his time off one day, he visited a drive-in, walked inside, and sat beside a beautiful stranger reading a newspaper and eating a bowl of chili. The gal worked at the drive-in but was currently on her break and having a bite to eat. My grandfather, always being the showstopping performer, grabbed the stranger's spoon and took a bite of her chili. Shocked and appalled at this man's behavior, she told him to leave her chili alone...and that she worked there and would get him his own chili if he wanted some. He said that he did, so she walked into the kitchen to get him a bowl of chili.
My grandfather followed this woman into the kitchen, abruptly kissed her and told her that he was going to marry her...but first, he promised another girl that he would take her out on a date that night. He said that after that date, he would date no other woman except the one he just kissed...Bea.
Obviously, Bea thought this man was a lunatic, and who wouldn't! However, after that day, he was pretty much everywhere she looked. Worn down by this man's persistence and swept up by his love, the two were married 2-1/2 months later...Julian and Bea Cunningham.
Shortly after, the new couple learned they were expecting a baby. They made the trip to Florida so that my grandmother could live with my grandfather's family while he was finishing his duties at Fort Sill. I can't imagine the uneasiness on both my grandparents and great-grandparents during this meeting of their new daughter-in-law and reunion of their son. I can imagine that my great-grandparents were wondering what in the world had gotten into their son...making an emotionally charged decision directly after being in intense battle for a year, marrying someone he barely knew, and bringing the pregnant wife to live with them for a while...I can only imagine what they were thinking. But this is that part that gets to me every single time I think about it...
My great-grandfather, who died of acute leukemia even before my mother was born, put his hand on the shoulder of my scared grandmother and said "Honey, if Julian loves you, we love you too." What a remarkable statement and showing of affection. That statement, uttered almost 60 years ago, is profound and filled with so much emotion. That statement of faithful love has affected so many generations since.
It is truly remarkable what we can learn from our families if only we ask questions. I am truly thankful for having this weekend with my grandparents...I am truly thankful for them in my life.**pictures from my cousin and his wife...thanks Gary and Danielle!!