An ancient tradition says that the tree on which Jesus hung was set in the same ground where Adam lay buried. In a place of thorns and thistles planted by Adam’s sin, Jesus forgives the thief his sins, and, so, all of the thieves — that is, all of us. It is an image of the truth we proclaim, that God brings the rich fruit of mercy even from the barren soil of our sin. Even in a harsh land, even to an arid plain, Christ comes to set us free.
Dressed in Easter clothes, they stand outside the house, ready for church.
I first heard Easter’s good news in a small town in the dusty Texas panhandle. It was taught me by women and men who knew about coaxing green corn and golden wheat from dry ground. They got their bread from the sweat of their faces, it is true, but they were not cursed. They were set free, washed in the Blood of the Lamb.
I hold the photograph, the blacks and whites of the images yellowed and dimmed. There they are, my paternal grandparents, before the war, years before I was born. Dressed in Easter clothes, they stand outside the house, ready for church. Squinting into the sun, my grandparents shade their eyes with their hands and smile for the camera.
My grandfather, whose neck — front and back — was burnt year round into the corduroy red of the “farmer’s tan,” has covered his familiar ruined skin with a dress shirt, buttoned tight, and a necktie. He wears a hat. He always wore a hat, but instead of the daily straw Stetson, here is one made of felt wool, a Sunday hat, its lining unstained by field sweat.
I never saw my grandfather bareheaded outside the house. Indeed, we knew he was home for dinner when we saw the Stetson come sailing through the front door onto the couch, followed by his call, “Woman, where’s my food?” After his death, my grandmother said she missed that most of all: The tossed hat, the teasing words tossed just behind them.
My grandmother is in a belted print dress with a lace collar. I know that beneath the dress, she is in full rigging: Corset, slip, garter belt and stockings. She carries white gloves in her hands. She wears a hat with a short veil jutting like an airy awning over her face. Her purse, which she called a pocketbook, is draped over her arm. She stands straight and still, careful not to crush the net-nested Easter flower pinned to her shoulder.
I remember the story she told of their move to Tulia, Texas, where I was born. It was a desperate move, made after one farm, and then another, and another, had failed in the dry years of the thirties. My grandparents began their journey in east Texas, never intending to wander so far from home. They would settle and plant and pray for rain. When the rain did not come and the crops sprouted and withered, my grandfather would trade that failed farm for the promise of another, farther west and farther north. Tolar, Itasca, Anson: these are the names of small towns where the stinging dust rained in terrible parody of the showers for which my grandparents daily searched the skies. Tulia was their last stop, and maybe their last hope.
They had no money, but my grandmother was determined that she and her only daughter, my Aunt Marge, would not arrive in town bearing the visible signs of their poverty. They stopped in Abilene, where her brother, Jim, owned a dry goods store. She asked for fabric to sew new dresses for her daughter and herself. She would repay him when the crop was harvested and sold. It was a promise. It was a prayer.
I study her dress. I wonder if she made it from Uncle Jim’s fabric. I study the high plains stretched out beyond my grandparents. It is a vast land, dwarfed only by the even vaster sky. There is no grass in front of the house, for who would waste water on that which cannot be harvested, and eaten, or sold? The dirt has been picked free of rocks and weeded, the bare ground raked in neat patterns, but only the farm is planted.
It was, and is, a hard land. In the Texas Panhandle, one can well believe God told Adam and Eve
Cursed be the ground because of you!
In toil shall you eat its yield
all the days of your life.
Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you,
as you eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
shall you get bread to eat.
And yet. Here they are, my grandparents, faithful this Easter morning, as on every Sunday morning. Following the risen Christ, and trusting that even Adam-stained ground can bear fruit, they will sing praises. They will worship. They will give thanks.
– Melissa Musick