Life in the Key of Family
I’m happy to introduce a guest blogger today. Mike Gibson is a singer/songwriter who grew up in East Tennessee. As a young boy he discovered an old guitar tucked away in the back of a closet. Influenced by such artists as James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg and Jim Croce, he has been playing, singing and writing for over four decades. He will be sharing his experience writing a song about his grandparents in conjunction with a family reunion he attended and the feelings of love, family, and belonging that accompanied the experience. Thank you for sharing, Mike! -Nicole
By Mike Gibson
I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them. -Author Unknown
Most have probably never heard of a place called Stinking Creek, but for our family, it is a place that holds cherished memories. It is a small rural community in East Tennessee where my Grandfather, Jeptha Allen Gibson, and Grandmother, Lydia Elizabeth (Graham) Gibson, raised much of their family. My childhood memories of their house by the creek include warming by the crackling fireplace, chickens in the yard, hogs that would occasionally break loose and run down the dirt road, wooden bridges, creeks and crawdads. But, especially I remember the feelings of family, of love and of belonging. There is no stronger bond than the eternal bond we can feel for family as we come to realize that those who came before us truly gave us the “opportunity of a lifetime.”
My grandfather Jeptha passed away before I was born. Though we never met, I felt I knew him to some degree through the stories I heard growing up. He worked hard in the coal mines to provide for a growing family. He had a good sense of humor and had a soft spot in his heart for children—especially those in his family. My older siblings said that he always kept gum in a long roll. Before visits they were instructed not to beg Grandpa for his gum—so instead they would go sit near his chair and stare up at him. Eventually he would say, “Would you girls like a piece of gum” to which they would eagerly nod their heads. He would get a long piece of gum from the cupboard and cut them off a piece with his pocketknife.
Fortunately, I did know my grandmother—a kind elderly lady, slow to anger, always in the pews on Sunday morning and always happiest when family came to visit. If she knew grandchildren were coming she usually had a treat ready—most often iced cupcakes. Her silver hair was typically up in a bun and her smiles were contagious. After a visit I would leave her home knowing that I was important to and loved by her.
This past June our family had a reunion for the descendants of Jeptha and Lydia Gibson. Since we had not had a family reunion for many years there were several in attendance I had never met or not seen since we were children. The reunion was almost canceled and rescheduled for next year, but thanks to the determination (and perhaps inspiration) of a great-grandson of Jeptha and Lydia, the reunion went on as planned.
As the time drew near anticipation grew. A reunion Facebook page was setup where we all began to get reacquainted through sharing posts and photos—both recent and old family treasures. A few weeks before the reunion, as I was leaving work, one of my sisters called to discuss the reunion. There was excitement in her voice as we talked about the upcoming trip to Tennessee. During the conversation she suggested that I write a song about our grandparents for the reunion. At first I was doubtful that I could write a song on demand—usually ideas for songs come to me suddenly out of the blue as a series of thoughts or feelings. But, as we hung up and I started the ten-minute drive home, ideas began to flood my mind and by the time I arrived home an outline for the song was complete. The song, “In Their Own Way”, came quickly that evening and the following day—with memories provided by my siblings and the family reunion Facebook page—it seemed to be a song that wanted to be written!
The day before the reunion, several of the family took a trip to the cemetery where Jeptha and Lydia (and now many other family members) were laid to rest. We then caravanned up the winding country roads to that spot full of memories. As we walked along the dirt road and over the wooden bridge near where the home once stood, we shared stories, laughter and a few tears—it seemed as though we walked on sacred ground.
The reminiscing continued the following day as we gathered at a state park. There were lots of games, food and even a talent show. I printed the words to the new song so the family could join in on the last verse. It was a tender moment for me and other family members who shared many of the same memories. I like to think that our grandparents were smiling down on our little gathering.
As I think back on this recent experience I feel much the way I do when I think back on the old Gibson home by the creek—I remember the feelings of family, of love and of belonging. As we sang the last verse together I felt the bonds of love grow stronger for those of us left to carry on the name:
They’ve both been gone for years and yet here we are,
Bound together by the love that they started.
Their lives run through us all, deep within our veins.
And we each bear the call to carry on the name.
Sweet and simple memories, of the ones who matter most.
They both left a legacy, it’s up to us to see it grows.
They loved us in their own way.
May we love them in our own way.
Sometimes it is not until after someone has passed on that we realize fully what another life has given to ours. In some cases, as with my grandfather, we may never have had the chance to meet the person to whom we owe so much. When this is the case, there is at least one way that we can remember them and honor their legacy—it is through the life we live. May we love them!
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