Seedy Relatives?

by Julie Barrier is all the rage. In a society of people searching for significance, we long to know who we are and why we are here. So let me shake my family tree for you. I found some flavorful fruit, a few lemons and one really rotten apple.

The East Texas morning sun streamed through the windowpane of the neighborhood McDonald’s as I scarfed my Egg McMuffin and slurped my decaf McCoffee (two sugars). My Mom and Dad described the “fruit” that fell from my family tree in days gone by. They told of dirt farmers, gas jockeys, oil barons, rodeo cowboys, engineers and, oh yes, one bad seed. Every family has one. It’s the renegade relative who makes Aunt Prissy and Uncle Baptist blush. The black sheep. I’m sure every family closet has its share of skeletons, but the bag of bones from our “Tacker Tree” takes the cake.

We were always a colorful bunch. I discovered today that my great granny Evelina seldom wore underwear. It cramped her style. A farm wife and all-around tough cookie, Evelina skinned squirrels and wrung chicken necks before you could blink an eye. Blood and guts never phased her. She only saw the squirrel stew and fried chicken that would fill her table after the dirty work was done. My father, Ralph Jr., told me of the redneck wife of our rodeo wrangler who swilled beers and swore like a sailor. First Cousin Shirley was a sharp shooter. She could pick off a squirrel in mid-air with her twenty-two and shoot an unsuspecting bunny before the squirrel hit the ground. Nobody, but nobody, messed with Cousin Shirley.

One shady character from the Tacker tree stood out from the crowd. He was the name you mentioned in hushed tones-the page that was missing from the family Bible. Daddy’s fifth cousin (twice removed), Elderberry Waldo, was the talk of Thanksgiving dinners and Saturday night bridge games. Daddy told me that he possessed a treasured scrapbook of Tacker lore, but Elderberry was conspicuously missing. How could he speak of this cousin with such shock and awe? My daddy was no saint. When it came to mischief, Dad came in a close second. At three, he experimented with a nail and an electric socket and nearly blacked out the neighborhood. I think his preschool foray into electrocution caused him to lose his hair at an early age. At nine, Ralphie jumped off the garage roof assured that he could fly like Superman. He survived unscathed, except for a well-deserved whipping. At eleven, he carved a foot-long scar in his sister’s leg with a coat hanger, and at eighteen, he was arrested by the campus police for engaging in a rousing bout of fisticuffs.

Elderberry, however, took the cake. My Dad’s earliest memory of his errant cousin involved a slingshot and a wasp nest. Apparently wasp larvae were used as fishing bait, so Elderberry clipped the nest, full of wasps and all, and sent it hurdling to the ground. This was not a smart move. One particularly enraged wasp returned the “shot” with a sting between Elderberry’s eyes. Elderberry swelled up like a bowling ball. He couldn’t even see the nest, much less fish with the wasp eggs. Ralph’s cousin was either extremely brave or extremely stupid. As history would have it, he was both.

Elderberry soon morphed from mischievous to malicious. He tired of writing spelling words and being sent to the principal’s office for classroom crimes, so he burned down the Malone school. Now that’s what I call over-reacting! Once he tasted the adrenaline rush of being the town bad boy, there was no stopping him. My father rolled his eyes as he recounted the tale of Elderberry’s car chase with the Texas Highway Department. The evil cousin’s drab DeSoto couldn’t go above 40 mph, so he lit a dynamite stick and hurled it in the window of the pursuing cop car. From misdemeanor to mastermind, Elderberry’s robberies and scams finally succeeded in placing him upon the U.S. Most Wanted list along with Al Capone and John Dillinger. One drizzly Saturday afternoon, a patrolman pulled Daddy over for speeding. (Of course, he was only five mph over the speed limit!) When the cop saw Pop’s last name and mug shot on his driver’s license, he shook in his boots. Sheriff So-and-So, the brawny Texas lawman, thought he was face to face with the legendary Elderberry Tacker. Dad is not sure if Elderberry was placed behind bars for his many crimes, but he sure led a colorful life. Our family was tainted. Though we had our share of saints and sweethearts, we all knew about the cagey con man that tarnished the family name.

My father wondered if he could have rescued his childhood playmate from his wicked ways. He pondered long and hard about his cousin’s criminal bent and wished he could have seen the signs to save Elderberry from himself. Daddy’s last memory of his errant cousin was a telltale one. Elderberry shivered on his front porch and asked to borrow Ralph’s father’s overcoat. Texas winter winds were biting to the bone and Ralph Sr. worked outside pumping gas in the bitter cold. During those war years, nobody owned more than one coat, so my dad was sure Elderberry would return it right away. Elderberry smiled, winked, and sauntered down the lane. He was never to be seen or heard from again.

We all know an Elderberry or two. However, we also have a little of Elderberry in all of us to one degree or another.

My maternal grandmother, Dora Goodman Tacker (affectionately called “Moy”) wasn’t a bad seed, but she had a few weedy qualities. My Grandma was a ring-tailed tooter. She built airplanes in World War II, she pumped gas in the forties and she was a smooth-talking real estate saleswoman until she was ninety. Yep, those Tacker women were tough as nails. Though we adored her moxy, Grandma Tacker lacked tact. Whatever she was thinking promptly popped out of her piehole unedited and uncensored. Her wit was razor-sharp and her criticism was on the catty side. Such frankness proved effective when she collected the monthly rent from her tenants. And she collected the dinero herself until she was ninety-two! If you crossed Moy, there was hell to pay. Though my Granny was short in stature, she held onto a grudge like a bulldog with a bone. Years later, she’d pull out your scorecard and remind you of your many mistakes. 

That “steel trap” mind of Moy’s also remembered every birthday, every graduation and anniversary. She partied hearty and loved passionately. Dora knew our faults, but often gave us grace. Her tenacity translated into fierce loyalty. She loved God, her family and her Sunday School ladies. Moy taught the Bible with heavenly wisdom until her dying day. But she drove to church like she was headed for Hades.

Most of us are not miscreant ne’er-do-wells like Elderberry. We are a mixed bag of sweet and sour like Moy. Whether you see yourself as Elderberry or Dora, or someone in between, you can be different today. Jesus died for you, warts and all. When you accept God’s free gift of salvation paid for by Jesus’ painful death on the cross, you are born again with heavenly DNA. God trades your sinful seed for the seed of Christ. You are born again. He turns your tares to wheat, gives you a new family and a Heavenly Home.  

God said that the “bad seed” of sin with which we all were born will continue to take root and grow. Our only hope is to be born again, and to have the “seed of Christ” planted deep within our hearts. As we encounter the Elderberry’s in our lives, may we look with deep compassion upon them realizing that without a Savior we would walk in their shoes. We must never fail to share the promise of unconditional love, forgiveness and transformation that Jesus offers.

2 Corinthians 5:17-19 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”


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