Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steeped in Tradition - Tea and Family

A family is a tree with roots, branches, and if blessed, has enough sap to sustain it through adversity and to keep growing stronger, taller and deeper. Like trees, family legacies do not occur overnight. They have sapling small beginnings and the branches share and gain vital nutrients together. Every action towards its care secures benefits, e.g. shade, for others. This family pictured above, the Carters, planted firmly principles about family into my life. As a result, their collective influence still provides shelter. It's true: there's nothing like family.

Rooted and Grounded
To deny one's family makes as much sense as extracting iron from blood. We are inextricably linked with our relatives, whether we like it or not. We share history, regardless of whether we share opinions, and we write history whether or not we choose to do it together.

City born and bred, it baffled me how every year we made a non-negotiable trip to Monroeville, NJ, also known as "the country". There I'd be surrounded by a swarm of tall, handsome, fashionable and very outspoken adults who seemed intent upon inspecting me as to whether I knew what being a Carter meant. Carter?! My last name is Hamilton and my father is Vernon. My willingness to assert myself at a young age seemed to please them. I passed the invisible litmus test and they pronounced me a Carter indeed. Like my mother and maternal grandfather (pictured) before me, last name notwithstanding, I belong to the Carter Family.

Over tea I learned about how my great-grandfather Thomas Gray Carter placed his life's savings within a bank to buy a farm and lost every dime he had when the bank closed in the Crash of 1929 that preceded the Great Depression.  We Carters came together, supported each other, and, yes, that 13-acre farm was purchased and became the family headquarters.  That was the reason we visited Monroeville every year. The land served as a testimony to our family's faith in God as well as in each other.

Branch in the Big Apple 

People often ask me if living a big city like New York is lonely. Considering my family, I find that there is no place where they won't come to see about me and certainly I will seek out my relatives. Very soon our family will gather together in South Jersey to celebrate my 107-year old great-aunt Sarah Frances Carter Brown. Her recent passing means that the Carters pictured above are all deceased and laid in the ground. We Carters now decide whether to nurture or to neglect our family tree.

Yet, roots are planted so the branches can grow up. Through being a Carter, I learn daily that being a family is more than coming together for weddings, funerals, and reunions.  Our family legacy, indeed our strength, comes from a commitment to seeing about and caring for each other. This is what my grandfather said his father taught them: 'When one hurts, we all hurt.' By the same token, if one is determined to make it then we all can make it. Raise your cups in a toast and let's drink tea. We will make it -- together. 

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