I had a fun weekend clothes shopping with my 5-year-old granddaughter and her mother. Evelyn (my granddaughter) loved picking out clothes to try on. This is the second time we did this, although her mother and I have been shopping together for Evelyn since she was born. The first time Evelyn and I shopped we were looking for beautiful church dresses for Christmas time. She’d twirl and twirl like a dancing princess in the dressing room as she tried on each dress. This time we were outfitting her for the summer so each short set she’d put on she hopped around in to see if they’d work for summer play! Funny Evelyn!
Today, as I was thinking about this fun day with three generations I realized that this had become a family tradition and I wondered how far back in the generations this helping to clothe the youngest generation started. I knew I was carrying on my Mom’s tradition of taking her grandchildren and their mothers’ shopping for kid’s clothes a couple of times a year, where she would pay for all the outfits we chose. I remembered how special those times were and how helpful they were to a young family’s budget.
As I thought back to my childhood I tried to remember if my grandmother had started the tradition or not. You see, I grew up in a multi-generational home with a brother, a mother and step-father, a grandmother, and, for long periods each year a great-grandfather. I guess I really didn’t think of it as an unusual family dynamic. My grandmother worked in the lab of the Welch Grape Juice Company until I graduated from High School, while my Mom was a stay-at-home Mom.
As I remembered the many clothes shopping trips I mostly remember my Mom and me, but I do remember that my grandmother always gave us money toward the clothes. I’m not sure if she also went along or not, but her financial contribution surely made the difference. She, too, was a part of making that tradition, but did it go back further?
My grandmother’s life story had many years of sadness. Her mother died when she was 6 and soon after my great-grandfather married the epitome of a mean step-mother. She harshly disciplined my grandmother with a horse whip. Sweets were often in the house but few and far between for Grandma. We even had a tradition in our house of asking for a step-mother piece of pie or cake if we wanted just a small taste of it – in remembrance of Grandma’s childhood. There came a time when Grandma turned 16 and ran away to live with her Aunt Ettie to get away from such an abusive home.
Later Grandma married and had Mom. Grandma was happily married, but when Mom was almost 9 my grandfather told her he was going to get her birthday present, a bicycle, and drove away not to be seen again until Mom was in her 30’s and then only once so my grandmother could divorce him. He had left in 1934 after he had gambled their home, land, and furniture away. In fact, he even had a second mortgage on the furniture from my grandmother’s step-mother! Grandma was devastated, with no place to go and not knowing where her husband was or when he’d come back. Her step-mother pressured Grandma for the money even though she was unwilling to take them in.
Aunt Ettie (my great-aunt) reached out and took my mother and grandmother into her home. Grandma proceeded to get jobs cleaning house in addition to her work at Welch’s so she could pay off her step-mother and contribute to their living expenses. Remember this was the Depression Era when everyone was scrambling to make ends meet. Aunt Ettie had her own successful businesses. She was grew flowers to sell and she was a dressmaker, who in better times had employed several seamstresses, but these years were hard for her also.
As I looked down through the years to Aunt Ettie’s generosity I saw the preservation of my family as a result of a godly act. I Timothy 5;16 says:
If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
Aunt Ettie, who was struggling too, saw my grandmother as a widow, since Grandma’s husband up and left and no one knew where he was. She went far beyond what the scriptures called for. Since Aunt Ettie’s husband was an alcoholic who didn’t work, she willed the house and property to Grandma with the provision that Grandma would allow Aunt Ettie’s husband life use. It wasn’t long after Aunt Ettie’s death that the uncle (I’m not sure of his name) died also, so the family estate became Grandma’s.
My grandmother had been given a leg up. In 1947 she helped my mother and step-father afford to tear down the old house and build a new one. That was the house I grew up in and live next to even until today.
Aunt Ettie’s generosity began a family tradition that followed I Tim. 5:8’s admonition:
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (Some translations say infidel)
So as far as I can trace back, my family has had a tradition of helping the generation before and after them. Some traditions are good to pass on. As each generation gives to the next and helps to strengthen the past one, we pass on not just financial blessings but the Christian values that motivate us to help one another.