Memories from my earliest years are more like snapshots lined up on the pretty papered pages of a scrapbook tossed together years later. Next to each photo are scribbled notes trying their best to get the story straight despite a lapse in time. Its hard to discern what's a real memory and what is something cobbled together by photos and related stories.
There are a few things, however, that I know are real first hand recollection. I remember the big fire in the woods at the end of our block when I was nearly 4 years old. Although its not actually the fire I remember. Its the events that happened around the burning forest. I remember being with a neighbor. I was there only because my parents were at the hospital for my brother's birth - something I know because someone else has filled in the blanks. I remember the neighbor getting down on her knees to be eye-level with me. I remember her holding onto my shoulders as she asked, "Do you know if Daddy has any piles of newspapers at home? This is very important honey, I want you to think hard." I remember sitting with the older boys - the neighbor's sons - as we ate chocolate frosted donuts at the firehouse, waiting until it was safe to return home.
I remember the things that make family traditions, although sometimes that word is used rather loosely. I mean making a salad isn't, in and of itself, a tradition, right? But I do remember, very vividly, my mother lifting me up to sit on the counter top to help her prepare them. I remember my little hands tearing into the lettuce and dropping the sometimes still too big pieces into the bowl.
I remember going to church as a little girl. My parents were both very active - they still are today. Back then my mother was the superintendent of the Sunday School. Dad taught the High School class. I remember arriving early every Sunday morning and walking through the narrow passage that separated the old classroom building from the sanctuary. I remember walking down the side aisle to the back, grabbing several bulletins for the various teachers and then stopping mid-way up on my way back so I could say hi to the little old lady that sat there just so she could talk to me each week. I remember being Mary in the Christmas pageant. I remember sitting in a circle with all the bigger kids, all of us holding hands, as we sang our farewell.
When I went to college I was terribly home sick. I was only an hour and half away, but it was far enough that no one was just popping in for a visit. My roommate went home on every weekend - she lived about 20 minutes from the school. My best friend on campus also went home on the weekends to work. I was alone. I was lonely. I started walking every Sunday morning to the nearest Presbyterian Church. It was just over 2 miles each way.
At first it had little to do with my need to *go* to church. I had spent my High School years teaching the younger grades just to avoid sitting through sermons. I went because it created a connection for me. I knew that as I sat in that beautiful, grey stone building, my parents sat in our home church. I knew that as we sang the Doxology, my family was home singing it. Over time I got involved in that little church near school and it started feeling like home in its own way.
This morning, as I watched my children explore the santcuary after service, it occurred to me that this family tradition has been passed on already. You'd have to see them in action to understand what I mean, perhaps. They are fearless in that room - that big, expansive room with all the trappings of religious ceremony. Logan climbs up the handful of stairs to the pulpit where he stands on his toes and tells us to sit so he can teach us.
Megan wanders around the aisles and then around the chancel, delighting in the many colors of the stained glass windows. They each spend endless moments of wonder standing on the sill of every window in that sanctuary, carefully studying its every nuance.
At three years old, Logan has already helped me refill the trays that hold the communion cups. He's already worked feverishly with his friend to lay-out the hymnals before service starts because Noah's parents were ushering that day and Logan was bored of helping me lay the linen clothes over the bread plates again.
At just shy of a year, Megan has joined her brother and I at several toddler/preschool 'youth group' programs - really a playgroup run by the church for 1-5 year olds. At two months old she went to her first committee meeting with me. She attended those until she had reached an age where her patience for sitting still lasted less time than the committee members could drag out a decent meeting.
They know our pastors on sight. They go to them and talk comfortably. Feeling as if these are safe people. These are people that are part of their world.
I watched the two of them walk around the chancel this morning giggling. They were at ease. They found family in those walls. There were at home.