Bridges and Streams

Great-grandparents

Last week was filled with historical talk and images – even theology. First there was the cemetery where we had buried my father-in-law in January. We checked to make sure that the gravestone had been cut and set properly, and then we visited the graves of Mr. Glad’s great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides of the family, and several aunts and uncles.

Above is a photo of one set of the great-grandparents whose graves we visited, people born in Cornwall in the mid-19th century. They came to California to work in the New Almaden quicksilver (mercury) mines near San Jose, where the wife Eliza gave birth to my husband’s grandmother and several other children.

When I look into the bright eyes of that face I just wish I could hug her. Why do you focus on her and not him, my husband asked? Because she’s a woman and I’m a woman, I answered. I feel strangely connected to her across the years and in spite of the fact that I never knew her nor are we even related by blood. I wonder if she is praying for her descendants, including my children and grandchildren? I can’t see and touch her right now, but (Matthew 22) “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” She is a real living person, not an idea.

New Almaden Englishtown

The novel Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner tells the story of a miner and his wife who lived for a time there in Englishtown, with tales involving Mexican miners in the camp’s “Spanishtown.” The Cornish people attended the Methodist Episcopal Church on the hill and Eliza is remembered as loving to read her Bible.

When her children were grown and the parents had moved into San Jose, she still prepared a large spread every Sunday afternoon and expected all the children and their families to come for Sunday dinner. She was especially fond of her grandsons.

Many of the women those days kept chickens and cows but Eliza was the only one in her family who had the gumption to kill a chicken. When any of the others wanted chicken for dinner they would take their bird to Eliza to chop off its head.

A mother and father not ours

On the first night of our trip to these forbears’ old stomping grounds we had dinner with a dear cousin who also is linked and indebted to them. We came bearing gifts of photographs of some relations who have passed on, and we talked about our family — and of course, our own childhoods.

Next day the Mister and I ate a picnic next to the Felton Covered Bridge in the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s the tallest known covered bridge in the country, built of redwood in 1892 to span the San Lorenzo River. No one knows why the builders made it so high.

I started thinking about bridges as a metaphor, as in “Bridges to the Past”….What would be the thing to be bridged, the gulf over which we can meet on a bridge? If we are on this side of the bridge, what or who is on the other side?

Burned redwoods at Henry Cowell.

The bridge lies near the Mt. Hermon Christian conference center, where my husband from his earliest days enjoyed the creeks and paths, and sleeping on the porch of his grandmother’s cabin.

He and I spent our brief honeymoon in that cabin, and strolled dreamily around the redwoods of Henry Cowell park nearby. It was drizzling that day in March 41 years ago and we had the park to ourselves, no doubt breathing the same woodsy, cold and moist air that we drank up on this trip.

Our marriage has endured to the present; it’s a continuing thing, so the bridge idea doesn’t exactly fit in that case, but it was pressed back into my mind a few more times anyway.

Mr. Glad and “The Giant” redwood tree.
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Our cabin in the old days.

From the covered bridge and the park we drove up a hill to the neighborhood of the old cabin where we’d spent so many happy times with several generations sleeping in nooks and corners and beds tucked into closets. Another cousin and his wife live around the corner in a cabin that’s been in his family for many decades, too.

 

We two couples walked up and down all over the place remembering the fun and family going back 60 years. Mr. Glad and I hadn’t visited “his” cabin since 23 years ago it passed from our family. We saw that trees and ferns and birdbath have been taken away, to make space for parking trucks.

 

 

 

 

 

That’s too bad. Well, let’s keep going downhill toward the kind of landmarks that don’t change so easily.

 

Two Cousins on New Swinging Bridge

The natural beauty endures – some of these redwood trees have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. The unnamed tall tree above looked to us as large as The Giant we had seen a few hours before in the state park. We were gazing up at it from the Swinging Bridge, a suspension bridge that still sways when you walk on it, though it has been improved from what it was in Mr. Glad’s younger years.


Cabin Cousin named this scene “Stumphenge.” People are always making structures and arrangements that are symbolic of the most meaningful things in their lives. Some of those structures, as I was to reminded the next morning, are intangible.

 

It’s obvious I love a good bridge — some of them are majestic works of art, and even the less dramatic show the human need and desire to go from here to there on the earth, to interact with the natural landscape in practical and artistic, and sometimes playful, ways.

I am often more comfortable on a sturdy bridge than I am down in the canyon or river below. Two creeks come together on the Mt. Hermon property. This confluence of Bean and Zayante Creeks is just about The Most Favorite Spot from the Mr. Glad history files. I have waded in the creek here too, with our children, and have sat picnicking on lovely warm summer days. We looked down from the swinging bridge and sighed our contented memories.

At this time of year we didn’t want to be down there in the chilly water. From the bridge, wearing our cozy jackets, we could get a wide view. You feel that you know where you are, and there are no sand or pebbles scratching between your toes.

The next day as we drove home Mr. Glad and I listened to a discussion about a famous theologian who is now acknowledged to be a BRIDGE between East and West, Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals, and other disparate groupings. If I tell you his name many of you will feel an immediate urge to click away to another blog, because the Unitarians have done that to you.

When they controlled the educational system of this nation Unitarians worked hard to steer young people away from the Puritans, and one small tactic in this program was to inoculate them against a man who preached a lot on themes like humility, beauty, and the sweetness of the Love of God. They did this by making sure that schoolchildren had in their curriculum one of his worst and least representative sermons.

In our usual intellectually focused condition we search for these rational bridges to connect us to our roots and to each other. I’m afraid the Unitarians were trying to keep us on a platform without even a good view of the life-giving stream. If I stay in my mind and only think about God, it is like looking down from a bridge at the river, when what I am dying of thirst to do is splash and drink and be refreshed by the Living Water.

But in the presence of God, living our theology by prayer and love to one another, we can be part of a continuum, like the earthly water that over the millennia constantly comes back to us as rain into the streams and snow on the mountains, evaporates from the oceans to make clouds that float inland again….

If Jonathan Edwards and I both live in Christ, who said, “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you,” then we are in the same vital current. And that’s the important thing.

One of my dearest and most influential friends, Anne, gave me a copy of Edwards’s Religious Affections more than twenty years ago, and I spent a while this morning becoming re-acquainted. But I don’t think it’s likely that I will read much more of the works of this brilliant thinker who is for some people a bridge. I already spend too much time standing on and studying bridges and platforms.

Instead I want to live in communion with God and with His people — including my distant-but-near relations from the 19th century, the 18th century — even the Holy Apostles, and all of that Cloud of Witnesses who (I Corinthians) “did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”

San Lorenzo River

10 thoughts on “Bridges and Streams

  1. You've had quite a week! I love the great-grandmother's sparkling eyes too; I noticed them right away. It is wonderful to have family to talk about ancestors and the old days and our own memories with.

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  2. Your photos make me want to jump in the car and drive the five hours or so up there for that beauty that I haven't visited in years. Oh wonderful about you being married 41 years. It doesn't ever seem it could have happened so fast does it?

    I loved what you said about the Unitarians vs the Puritans. I love the writings of the Puritans and have through the years tried to collect the writings. Which no one in the world has ever heard of but I think are so profound. I wish to live with such holiness. I tried for one year to use Jonathan Edwards resolves as my devotional each morning. I didn't get very far.

    When I was teaching history this year, as a supplement to our history I used The Light and The Glory and Sea to Shining Sea because I couldn't stand the tone in our History book. Sometimes it was like teaching history of two countries. It was quite eye opening.

    Anyway, I loved that covered bridge and I love that you know so much history about your family. I feel the same kinship with my husband's great grandparents. I always stare at his Great-grandmother Ammie. I liked that you said this.

    Okay I will stop now, since this is a book. Lovely post.

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  3. Ah, Jonathan Edwards! Listening to Dr. Keller made me reconsider my aversion to him, showed me how my first impression from reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” was largely wrong. This man really knew the sweetness of fellowship with the Lord and his fellow Christians.

    I also like your reference to your own (or Mr. Glad's) ancestors. Yes, that woman does look like someone who would be nice to know! And yes, she is alive in Christ today, even if you can't speak to her personally for now. I know it's not a specific teaching in Protestant theology, but I often think of my dear grandmother in the same way, and wonder what she's doing even though I know I can't understand it. That our ancestors live is certainly a Biblical concept, even if it isn't detailed.

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  4. Ah, I see now why you said this post would take much thought, reflection, blending, and plain work. Very lovely. I especially love the concept that all of us who are in Christ, are flowing along in one great stream, drinking of one great spring of life. Edwards is just about my hubby's favorite. He studies Edwards deeply to learn his mind, and his preaching. So many of us do gaze down from the bridge in wonder, but are afraid to leap in. Thank you also for the beautiful photos and the glimpse into your earlier life.

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  5. I love this post. Thank you for bridging back toward the past for us. Great photo of Eliza and Henry! (Is that right?) And thank you for your own photos also. I have not been back to Mt Hermon for at least 22 years, I guess…

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  6. Mt Hermon, days of camp and meetings where we sang till the late night ( to me) and bunked with other noisy campers. I have a photo of our family on the suspension bridge where we jumped up and down to make our parents laugh. And the tressel!! place of naughty daring to go as far as possible without getting “hit” or having to “jump” off by the passing train…. Oh, Gretchen, this makes me so homesick for my California home!!

    I'm planting (once again) California poppies in my new garden. Their sunny petals remind me of the home of my childhood and the banks under the crystal blue skies that I saw from the school bus windows each morning and afternoon as I waited to be brought to our bus stop.

    I am an avid genealogist and my 2xg grandmother and father are from Cornwall…he a cordwainer…making shoes and boots and a Methodist…Now my hubby is doing the same!! I married my past!!

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  7. Oh, wow. I spent my high school years living in and around New Almaden. I was through there every day on the school bus. I had a friend who lived there. I lived on the outskirts in an apricot orchard. What memories!

    And Jonathan Edwards! I read “Religious Affections” and other of his books in high school and my first years in college. He was a real man of God, the God of love.

    My parents honey-mooned at Mt Hermon, my Grandfather regularly preached there, as well as at least one Aunt and Uncle. Wow.

    Thank-you for stirring up the memories!

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  8. I just happened across your posting here. Wonderful! I am, even today, finishing a little article that my dad wrote about his grandfather who lived and worked in Englishtown. And I'm sure my great grandparents knew these great grandparents, in their times. I see the same wonderful 'looks' in a photo of my Cornish relatives “on the hill”, Thomas and Mattie 😉

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