Today, Thanksgiving of all days, is a day to celebrate with family. And today Janet and I hosted the annual event here at our home. Andrew and his family, as well as Kristin and her family, were all here to have our traditional meal. Everyone left by about 2:00 pm so Janet and I had the rest of the day to ourselves.
Since things were so hectic at the cafeteria today, we decided to take a trip down there to thank all the employees for their hard work – many of them had been there since 4 am this morning – and several of them have been working since last midnight. What made the day so busy – in addition to the buffet and regular cafeteria line, was the fact that two high school bands from the southern states had made arrangements to stop at Byrd’s to have dinner.
Apparently, two groups of students, one from Alabama and the other from Georgia, had accepted invitations to perform in the annual Chicago Thanksgiving Day parade. They made arrangements to stop by the cafeteria on their way home. Both groups arrived while Janet and I were visiting and I ended up helping get drinks and welcoming the band from Georgia into our establishment.
Anyway, to cut to the chase, the band was from Valdosta, GA. And as seemingly impossible as it is to believe, my father had a cousin, one of his boyhood friends, who settled in Valdosta. In fact, eventually, Dad’s cousin Don ran one of the family’s plywood mills and had six sons who all settled in Georgia. As I went around the room making sure that we were taking care of the group, I mentioned that I had extended family in their city. Much to my surprise, I found out that there is a Nichols street, named after the family, and that several of the band parents claimed that they had worked for the mill and a hardware store that was also owned by my distant relatives.
Now you couldn’t prove any of this by me. I think I was in Valdosta when I was around 10, so that means I haven’t been there in half a century. But it was very interesting to hear people speak about the family connection from there and it brought back memories from the distant past – things Dad told me about his cousin and that end of the family.
From what I understand, Cousin Don originally went to Valdosta to run a plywood mill for his father, my great Uncle Nic. Nic owned several mills throughout the deep South and various family members ran the production for the family owned business. In fact, my own Uncle Vernon ran the mill in Beaumont, MS and there were other plants located in Picayune, MS and West Helena, AR. As I recall hearing from Dad, Don had 6 boys, but I lost track of that end of the family in the early eighties.
The information I found out this evening is not much different than stories I have heard from other families. They start out in one city or region and then, after several generations the families scatter across the country and lose touch with one another. In the beginning, there is an attempt to stay connected, but sooner or later interest wanes and it just takes too much effort to invest in distant relationships. Or parents stay in touch but their kids don’t continue communicating and cousins drift apart. Then, the whole pattern repeats itself and we get even more disconnected.
There are numerous examples in the Bible of people being scattered across the earth. Probably the most famous one is the story of the Tower of Babel and how the people were banding together to create a monument to themselves. God saw the effort and decided to confuse language and send the people in different directions. I am sure that this was the start of families moving away from one another across the face of the earth.
So on this Thanksgiving Day, for a moment, in an obscure way, I was reconnected with stories of people from my past. I really enjoyed hearing about them – from perfect strangers, no less. The verse for tonight is from the introduction to the book of James. In verse, 1:1, James welcomes the reader with his opening statement – “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings.” Isn’t that the best way to welcome people who have been scattered? By greeting them? My encouragement tonight is that you, as well as almost every other person on the face of the planet, has extended family that you haven’t seen in a while, or may not even know about. My prayer is that you will pray for these relatives and perhaps even make the effort to reconnect.
I know that I have a re-kindled interest in looking up our family from the South once again. Life’s too short to ignore the possibilities. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…