Every family has its stories. Some are tragic, some are hilarious. Some of the stories are told frequently, and others, just when a condition is right, and everyone is ready to remember the incident. Parents of course carry so many of the experiences of when the kids were little, but even the children bring a special corporate memory forward. Like when we came back from Australia and spent a few days in Hawaii – it was there that I tasted pineapple sherbet for the first time. Or when we spent some time with the cousins in St. Paul, and took sofas cushions and rode them down the stairs like a sled, without breaking our necks.
Like I said, every family has and holds those memories. When I was five years old, or even a little younger, Dad sent away for an 8mm film camera and projector, to take with us in our two-year stay in Australia. It was really a stroke of genius, because he knew the entire family of eight of us, at that time, would never take another epic trip like that again.
Of course, the camera wasn’t limited to foreign soil, and Dad used a number of occasions to test it out, and learn the ropes of “Cecil B. DeMille” ing. The movies were shot on 3-minute rolls, which then Dad would splice together to give us a full-length movie experience, chopped up and changing locations and situations in rapid succession. There was the movie taken on Christmas morning, when all of us opened the presents of PanAm travel bags, which cemented our place as world travelers – in pajamas.
Also, before we went abroad, perhaps the signature, most significant movie ever shot on 8mm – even more important than the Kennedy assassination film – became part of the Cross family lore. For years and years, it was known as “The Mud Party.” The setting was simple – it was most likely one of those soggy Spring days in South Carolina, as the rains moved through like a monsoon. In their wake, they left huge puddles on the lawn – especially in the spot where the grass didn’t seem to want to grow, so instead of wet grass, we were presented with a mud pool.
Now, it’s a well-known established scientific fact that little boys love mud. Not just appreciate it – they adore it, they seek it out, and they most of all, love both the idea and practice of getting muddy. That spring day, the finest, sloppiest, messiest mud event presented itself. I’m not quite sure how it all evolved, but it went from the three boys in our family, to involving somewhere around ten neighborhood boys, who understood the historic significance of this much mud. What turned out was the equivalent of more than a dozen two-legged piggies frolicking and totally coating our entire little bodies with sticky, oozy mud. Everyone of course was just wearing shorts, with no shoes or shirts, so that the event could easily have been assumed to be on some foreign continent, in preparation for a sacred dance.
Enter Roger B. DeMille. Dad apparently grabbed the camera with a new roll of film, and began to document the historic event. The picture is a little grainy, like they would have been in 1962, but the content is easy to figure out. Dad lined up all of us in a line, and panned the camera slowly from one end to another. Then, without sound, you notice all the mud boys listening, and then of course, turning around to show their muddy backsides, which again was captured on film in a slow progression across the line.
It was one of those perfect films, that captured what it meant to be the sons of military personnel, left to their own devices. Like I said, for years and years, when we would have family movie night, with the great director also in charge of running the projector, we would endure the films of walking around in Sunday clothes at Swan Lake Park in Sumter, South Carolina, feeding the black swans that were there, and seeing the pictures of the irises and azaleas and magnolia blossoms. We even watched the birthday parties and the sitting around outside in Australia in the back yard. However, the excitement built as we anticipated another favorite screening of “The Mud Party.” We didn’t need sound, because everyone in the room talked at the top of their voices, narrating the film, and laughing over and over.
Of course, even the film couldn’t catch all the history of that day. After the camera was set down in a safe place, it was necessary to make sure that the mudboys were not going to track the mess into the various houses on the street. Dad moved from filmmaker to executioner, it seemed. By that time, the mud had caked pretty well all over us, and so ol’ Dad turned on the hose with the jet nozzle, and one by one, we lined up again, so the loving father could blast the mud away with water that was probably three degrees away from ice. It was a strange sensation, to have both the sting of the water, and the freezing even on a warm Spring day.
Fast forward more than 55 years later, and all those memories and movies became even more cherished with Mom’s death. As we worked to clean out the house, the question kept being raised, “What happened to all the family movies? What happened to the Mud Party?” The sad realization came forward. Apparently, our oldest brother, Ray, at some point, had taken all the movies, with the idea that he would transfer them onto DVDs, and maybe even get a copy to everyone. That of course was the explanation offered. Unfortunately, a few years before Mom’s death, Ray suddenly died as well, and with most of his family estranged from the rest of us, the Australian Air Force Flag, the ammo box that held many toys, many of the Australian relics and the old library table seemed to no longer exist – their whereabouts were sketchy. As well, all the movies had vanished. The unhelpful assumption was that one of Ray’s children simply confiscated what he wanted, and perhaps just threw away the rest, with them having no value for his life.
So, as we have worked to gather the pieces and memories of the family life, we have had to come to the sad realization that the Mud is gone. It does feel as though someone stole the family silver, or something just as cherished and valuable, but there is really nothing we can do.
Except remember – to recall, and laugh at the memory of those images watched over and over, and to do so not in mourning, but in joy for what belonged to our family for a time. I hope that you have things to cherish from your own family, whether they are present any more or not. More powerful than the “things” of our live are the memories that are shared and recalled, and passed down for as long as they can be. Don’t let time go by without taking the time to either write down or verbally share the stories with others. Most of our families won’t be remembered by the great feats and accomplishments, but we can “remember” what has been between us, and to those who follow. That’s quite the treasure to have entrusted to our care.
Word for the day: opprobrium. Pronounced uh-PRO-bree-um. It sounds Latin, doesn’t it? It indeed comes from the Latin opprobare, which is translated “to reproach.” Further whittled down, ob, which is “before, or in front of,” and probrum, which is “disgrace.” When something is publicly disgraceful, or scurrilous, or full of reproach, or reprehensible, the noun that describes it is opprobrium, as in “He lived an opprobrium for his way of life.” It’s really a bad criticism for someone who has unfortunately earned it…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.