Voices raised in unison, we sang, “God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever… Lord, grant while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure through-out all generations.”
While we sang this hymn, accompanied by the same pipe organ that has graced Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Courtland for 114 years, I sensed the presence of those who had gone before us. In the music, in the stained glass windows, in the polished pews, I felt the closeness of family.
“You have a great heritage of faith,” said the Rev. Wayne Bernau, as he welcomed those of us gathered for worship this past Sunday morning. Afterwards, we would meet for a Bode family reunion in a day of food and talk and sharing of our history, here, upon this soil where our forefathers settled, farmed the land, built this country church, and now lay buried in the adjacent cemetery.
The pastor read, his tongue tripping over the German words inscribed upon the tombstones of my maternal great-great and great grandparents. I strained to hear and understand the German I had once learned, had spoken, had now mostly forgotten, this, the native tongue of my ancestors.
Later, in the cemetery, several of us would try to decipher the German: “Das blut Jesu Christi des Sohnes Gottes macht uns rein von aller sünde.” The blood of Jesus Christ, the son of God, makes us clean from all our sins.
We gave up trying to translate a bible verse from the book of Psalms and instead laughed, then apologized to our great-great grandparents, Karl and Luise Bode, for our language lapse. We posed for a photo behind their tombstone, laughing some more, hoping they appreciated our joyfulness, even in a graveyard.
Again, that closeness of family prevailed, as we recited the books of the bible in an effort to determine the source of another gravestone verse. Recitation. Good Lutherans remembering their memory work, just like the good Lutherans before us.
And then, across the grass we walked, past numerous tombstones chiseled with the Bode name. Bodes everywhere. Some from our branch of the family; some from others.
We paused before the graves of Karl and Anna Bode, our great grandparents. More photos.
And then, a snake skin discovered, picked up. The mood turned playful as a slithering baby garter snake was snatched from the grass, passed around to some, shunned by others. Again, we felt, not disrespectful, but embracing of grandparents who likely would have valued our humor.
Later, we sat elbow-to-elbow beside our Bode relatives, dining on grilled pork chops, potatoes and an assortment of other food. Then, for dessert, the absolutely perfect choice—ice cream with “skunk cookies.”
Fudge-striped cookies to most. But to those of us who are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Lawrence and Josephine Bode, “skunk cookies,” a name derived from the chocolate stripes that slice through the store-bought cookies grandpa always kept in his kitchen after grandma’s death.
Memories. Family. Blessings.
Heritage through-out all generations, shared on a Sunday afternoon in August at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, during a reunion of about 150 Bode family members.
© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
(Return to my blog for more photos of Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, the home congregation of my forefathers.)