Summer 1972. I rock in a wood chair on a porch that will soon be filled in to form my new bedroom. Sunlight brings out the dark green bluegrass and lighter fescue that fades into red clay under two oaks that border Shirley Road. A green 1962 Oldsmobile slows, and Granddaddy waves me inside. I jump from the rocking chair, sprint to the open door, sit in the soft seat in the back. Granny sits to the right as Granddaddy drives to the square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. There we stop at Great Aunt Flora’s shop, a thrift store in a building so old that its upper floor had bars bordering the street. I ran up the steps and pretended that the musty room was a jail as I looked outside as legs and feet passed. The high hells, some topped by shoes so red the glint from the sun hurt my eyes, fascinated me. Then I was downstairs, found an American History book from the 1950s, and began to read. I asked Aunt Flora the price. “Just a quarter,” and Granddaddy paid.
“It’s good to see a boy interested in books,” she said, and I was proud.
“Let’s go to the courthouse,” Granddaddy said, and we walked across Church Street toward the center of the square, stopped under a grove of large oaks. On wood benches sat old men whittling cedar blocks; the odor of the shavings slid into my nose, pleasant as a cat’s fur. The old men talked, small talk, but I took in the moment, stored it as we entered the courthouse, found Aubrey’s candy stand, Aubrey who was blind, from whom my mother and aunt bought candy as children, from whom Granddaddy bought a Zero Bar for me. Then we walked back to Flora’s, left the square for the IGA store, where I cooled off by the freezers, their fresh vegetables and fruit a feast for the eyes. It was after five, time to go. I was staying overnight at their home, a large log house covered with wood siding. At twilight I sat on concrete steps, watched lightning bugs flash, feeling the cool of evening take the day’s heat. Later, bath and bed, windows open, cool breeze, sleep. That was the best day of my life.
Why do such memories seem so sweet. Philosopher Peter Kreeft says that memories sanctify the good things that happened in life, making them a foretaste of Heaven. No day could be as perfect as I imagine that day in 1972 to have been–yet my memory makes it a piece of sacred space and time. It is a hint of what is to come by God’s grace. And if should die in such grace, it would be so good to wake up in my grandparents’ house, hearing the mockingbird’s song, feeling the rush of wind through window screens, smelling bacon cooking in the kitchen, the radio on to WGNS. I walk into the kitchen, Granny taking bacon out of the pan, Granddaddy at the table’s end. There will be an eternity to explore God’s creation and explore the mind of God. Who knows? But sacred memory may be the start of an adventure that is both continuous and different than this life, an unending time for growth in love for other people and for God. In a way, I hope that God starts small, grants each of us a sacred memory that is no longer just a memory, but reality realer than this world, reality without evil, reality given by grace, undeserved.