Real Stories, Real People
By Hannah Hensley
One of the most fantastic things about the stories I tell is that they are real. Real stories and real people. My heritage and my people. Though far from perfect, it’s still wonderful, because sometimes by God’s grace, imperfect people who are sinners on this earth, can be orchestrated to make a beautiful picture. It’s my beautiful picture. It’s mine, not just because I was born into this family, it’s mine because it was given to me. It’s a gift given to me by my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. It’s a gift given to my mom and my aunt and all the in-laws in my extended family; it’s their gift, too. A gift of stories, heritage, and love. It doesn’t belong only to the blood-related grandchildren; it belongs to the adopted into the family. Though adopted into the family, they’re so loved and cherished they too have been given our stories and heritage to make their own. Not only were we given the gift of story and heritage, but the gift of an atmosphere full of honor, love, devotion, belonging and Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountain traditions. We were also given, maybe, more importantly, a home. A home, a place to find comfort, joy, and happiness. A home where we can even bring our sorrows and woes. A place of feasting and rejoicing and a place to mourn together. A place where we are taught about our past and to plan our future. A place of understanding love. A home that’s not our own abode, but a home that’s open and given as a gift. Full of hospitality and love. No matter how much, no matter how little. No matter how clean, no matter how dirty. I love to write about our feasts at Mamaw and Papaw’s table, but not every meal is biscuits and gravy or fried chicken. Sometimes it’s takeout or leftovers. Sometimes it’s soup beans or vegetable soup. Sometimes it’s grilled cheese sandwiches and instant potato soup. It’s not always the food, but it’s the fact home was here and was opened, sacrifices made, we sat together, bowed our heads and prayed to the One who made it all possible. Most of the time our visits are last minute, but we know that their home is open to us. Most Sundays come after long and tiresome weeks and often they become filled with naps and TV. But couches and beds are here, and blankets and pillows are for those sleeping on the floor. In that home, we’ve been given stories, love, and hospitality. A second home. A place of rest. A place to escape from the mundane. A place where you are understood, but more than that, there is a sincere desire to understand you and your life. A place to talk of anything from cars and trucks to abortion. Where we talk of biblical truth and daily news. A place to learn of our past and our fathers and mothers before us. Their hardships, their victories, their songs, and their stories. How they preserved the food they grew. How they lived through wars and the great depression and came out of it victorious! All these things my dear Papaw Charlie and Mamaw Atlas gave me. Mamaw and Papaw give it to me. Mom and Dad continue to give it to me. But, with such a gift comes a certain amount of responsibility. A responsibility of respect, love, and loyalty to one another. You treat people how you want to be treated. You show hospitality. You give and make sacrifices for each other. You respect your elders, no matter how old, no matter how forgetful. And receive it, this gift, with the trust that you will take this story and hand it down to the next generation.
I have been given the gifts of grandparents attending church with me, never-ending hospitality, good food, biblical truths, genuine interest, an honorable heritage, taught about the love of God, shown respect, taught honor, shown real joy, many a laugh, encouragement and praise, truthful criticism, a family, the benefits of hard work, the love of mountains, the appreciation of dirt and the gift of home. All I had to do was accept the gift given to me and understand the importance of it. And the glorious thing is it’s not just mine, it’s been given to Christy (daughter-in-law) and Haddie (adopted) and all those who entered this family through marriage or adoption.
By no means is my family perfect and neither is our story and heritage. How could it be? We are sinners in a fallen world. We’re lazy and loud. We embarrass one another constantly. We’re self-centered and selfish. With our laughing comes joking and kidding and with that can come into consideration of the person the joke is on. Bitterness can be carried around for long periods of time. Pride can easily overcome us. But there is confession and forgiveness, and with our love for each other and our love for God, most often we’re able to go on with life. To go on with the celebrations and feasting. To go on with the things that have a lasting impact on our lives and the lives of our loved ones.
So, tell your story. Show hospitality. Listen to Mamaw and Papaw. Drink your coffee slow. And more importantly, love God.
Hannah Hensley, 22, lives in Erwin, TN with her family. She is the oldest of 8 children. She loves living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, writing stories and visiting her grandparents, who live in Mitchell County.