Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bibles...Recorded History

Bibles are wonderful things, of course. They guide some of us in our religious lives. They provide a history for the Hebrew people, the beginnings of the Christian church, as well as document other groups of people thriving in ancient times. The Bible is one of the world’s best works of literature. Bibles also become very personal to the owner as they usually contain information regarding the history of the owner, or series of owners, in some cases. By examining someone’s Bible you can determine past addresses, important dates within a family, and particular passages that guided the owner. Tucked between the pages you can discover items that the owner held dear and precious.

Most people cannot bring themselves to throw or give a Bible away. They are valuable objects, and the fact that some distant relative took the time to record family births, deaths, and marriages within the front and back pages make the book even more dear. I have several that belonged to my grandfather and now two more have been added to my collection.

In short…Bibles give us a compass for our future while cementing our feet in our past. There is no way to forget your family’s past if you have a family Bible.

During the course of the weekend my sister and I hurriedly ransacked our Rubbermaid containers labeled ‘mother’ that we had packed up, divided among us, and stored at our respective homes almost four years ago as mother left her apartment for the nursing home. We refused to get rid of anything in case she asked for it. I just couldn’t stand the thought of her sweet face looking up from her bed and asking, “Hon, where’s that pansy writing paper you gave me three years ago for Mother’s Day? I want to write a letter.” Or, even worse, “Sweetie, I’m tired of looking at that crystal candy dish. I want the one Sara and Fauscett gave me….you know, the one that used to sit on the coffee table at Red Oak.” I simply didn’t want to have to say she no longer owned something so between my sister and I everything was stored.

Mother’s casket was closed for the majority of the visitation period at her request. Therefore, sister and I wanted to have as many pictures of mother as possible set out around the two rooms we were given. We wanted to put out pictures of her with us, with my dad (even though they were divorced), with her family, as a child, and with her friends. Between the two of us we did really well. There were pictures everywhere and many of mother’s highschool friends had a great time trying to figure out who was who in some of them. After many years of sickness it was great therapy for all of us to be surrounded by images of the Geri we all all remember whether we remembered her as sister, wife, mother, aunt, cousin, or friend.

One of the things I came across as I hurriedly grabbed pictures was Mother’s Bible. She had used two for several years. After her father’s death in 1984 she had begun using The Living Bible that my sister and I had given our grandfather as a gift in 1977. His writing is all over the inside covers, passages are underlined, and an occaisional slip of paper with his handwriting can be found between the pages. Mother’s Bible is, of course, a King James version, published by The World Publishing Company. I couldn’t locate a date of publishing. The address she wrote in the front was the first house my mother and father bought together in Atlanta close to my Aunt Boofie ( I wrote about her here). Mother’s neat handwriting abounds in this Bible. The dates and details of my sister’s baptism and wedding, my baptism and wedding, the date Mother moved her letter of membership to another church, certain passages that meant something to her: what to read during times of death, passages concerning types of dress for men and women, a reminder of where the “seasons” passage can be found (Ecclesiastes 3:1); and passages every Baptist is concerned about at one time or another regarding tithing. Romans, her favorite chapter is underlined heavily. The pages are yellow, the cover is brittle, the picture in the front is a rendering of the prodigal son’s return to his father’s arms. I remember sitting next to her in church on Sunday mornings thumbing through her Bible and always stopping at the picture and gazing at it since I couldn’t yet read. I always thought the white bearded man was God welcoming people to Heaven.

The real treasure mine of Mother’s Bible was the “stuff” she had placed within the pages. Various bookmarks folks had given her with their names inscribed on the back with a laundry marker on the back so she wouldn’t forget who gave it to her. Several cards from my sister and I for birthdays and Mother’s Day. A scrap of paper that my cousin Nathan wrote on when he was a much younger child. He was writing a letter to my mom alongside his grandmother. When his grandmother put her letter in the evelope she included Nathan’s letter to Geri, too. I couldn’t help smile as I looked at it. Mother had written on it exactly who had scribbled on the paper, why, and when. Nathan is now a very handsome young man and I’m going to make a copy of the paper to keep and send his mother the original for her to place between the pages of her Bible. A memory passed along…..a story for a future father to tell when he goes through his mother’s Bible…..life does have a way of carrying on, doesn’t it?

Notes from friends, old church bulletins, copies of letters she wrote to her old church and pictures. There is a five by seven picture of my sister and her husband on their wedding day. There is another picture showing the first house my mom and dad built together. It’s down the road from where my dad lives now. It’s a huge home. We never lived there……..I wonder why mom kept a picture in her Bible of that house. Maybe she liked to remember the good times we had there while it was under construction before she and my father divorced.

Several obituaries were found within the pages as well----my grandfather, my grandmother, my mother’s half-brother, many other family members as well. I carefully replaced them. I believe they should stay where she had them. Afterall, these things are treasures and someone else in the future will enjoy their find.

I looked up some information about Bibles. You can see several images of English and American Bibles here and here.

Sometimes we don’t need a history textbook or some heavy tome to discover where we’ve been. Sometimes, all we need to do is grab our family Bible.

Your past is waiting for you within its pages.

4 comments:

kontan said...

Beautiful.

I am sorry to read of your loss. Your post was wonderfully written and very touching.

Bellezza said...

I am deeply moved by your post for several reasons:

I, too, am extremely close to my mother. I understand the pain you feel in missing her, while you honor her life.

I love the Bible. There is no other book, and I am certainly a bibliophile, which is able to comfort us, or connect us to one another, as this.

When my beloved grandmother died three years ago, the only thing I asked for was her New Testament. It is a joy and treasure to read, knowing what a deep part of her life it was.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so beautifully with us. Peace be with you.

(p.s. I found your blog through Ms. Cornelius who had posted on Education Wonks. I am an elementary teacher as well.)

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Did you hear about the man who found a nearly 200 year old Bible as he was throwing out his trash? It was on CNN today. He contacted the descendants of the people who had owned it previously, but he says he's going to keep it.

We have a German Bible from my husband's family that is over a hundred years old, and was printed in St. Louis, which had a very strong German presence then and now.

Those of us who live today share so much about our lives in media which are far from permanent. How will historians in future generations be able to mine any sources of information for social history on the personal level?

elementaryhistoryteacher said...

Wow, a 200 year old Bible. How cool! My mom's family was from Germany---her maiden name was Blanton. I have several old Bibles downstairs that belonged to my Grandfather. I need to go through them to see what I really have but I'm not ready to do that yet. They are safely waiting for me incased in a plastic container and individualized large-size ziplocked bags.

You're correct about the personal information sources of our lives today. People rarely fill out their family Bibles anymore and with so many families fragmented with divorce and remarriage as well as no marriage at all.....I guess the personal touch will be lost as family research strictly will come down to tracking through birth and death certificates. How cold!