Watermelons make me wistful. When summer starts to creep in and those green orbs begin appearing in cardboard crates at the Charleston grocery stores, I’m transported to my grandparents’ farm in Indiana. It’s there where I learned the skill of searching for the perfect watermelon. Just ten minutes down the road from my parents’ suburban neighborhood, my grandparents lived in a house with a farm stand and fields of fruits and vegetables in their backyard. This central hub for our huge family get-togethers was where I spent many hours with a crowd of 27 cousins. On more than one occasion when family began to trickle in for a festivity, my grandma, “Mimi,” would lead me right outside their back door to the farm stand to pick out a melon. Together, we’d run our hands across the piles of melons fresh from the dirt, turning them around and looking for the ones with the yellow belly smack dab in the center. We’d spot the dark webbing which signals sweetness and pick one up to make sure it was heavy. Confident that we picked properly, we’d take our prize inside to the kitchen counter and place it on her old wooden cutting board. Mimi would raise the big knife reserved for such rituals and whack it right down the middle as the two pieces cracked open. She’d give me a wink and together we’d share the heart of the melon while no one was watching, giggling that we got to eat the best part.
Last week I had the opportunity to bring my children back to this farm where Mimi still lives. My son is old enough now to experience a glimpse of the good parts of my family’s culture. He marveled at the big blue tractor and the red barn. Just like I did when I was a kid, he spent many of his days during our trip with a cluster of his own cousins who became his playmates. It was a joy to watch him, yet the wistful feelings welled up within me as I realized his everyday life looks very different from my childhood memories. In Charleston, we don’t have the gift of family down the street. On a slow afternoon, we can’t hop in the car to Mimi’s house to eat some fresh watermelon or call on cousins for a play date. Family visits take travel, money, and effort to make them happen, and we only go back to Indiana a few times a year. It’s strange and a bit sad for me to realize that some of my deeply ingrained memories and daily patterns of life as a child are experiences limited only to special occasions for my own children.
The night before we boarded our plane to come back to Charleston, I came to the evening church service with some of that wistfulness whirling around in my head. Then the pastor opened up the Bible to Proverbs 14, and one verse in particular stood out to me: “In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.” As a parent, I want to raise my children in a home that acts as a refuge. I start to worry sometimes that my kids are missing out when I think about all the ways in which my childhood home went beyond the walls of my own house to the connections I had to my extended family. I tend to lack confidence that I’m giving my children all that they need to thrive. Yet the passage in Proverbs reminds me that far better than any family culture is a faith heritage passed down to the next generation. Elias and Charlotte might not have cousins at their beck and call or a family farmhouse down the road, but they have parents who seek to fear the Lord and a church family who has vowed to help us raise them. I can have confidence that as I seek to fear God and honor Him with my parenting, He is the one providing His refuge for my children through circumstances providentially planned for their good.
We’re safely back in Charleston now, and one of the first things I did upon arrival was to go to the grocery store with my kids. I stood over that watermelon bin while Elias looked on from the cart and Charlotte peered up at me from her carrier. As I turned the melons around and tapped on them, I explained to Elias the secrets of securing the best watermelon. He may grow up as a Southerner, but I’m not letting him or Charlotte leave my house one day without having learned how to pick the perfect melon.