From the Peak
Tales from the Mountain – Charlie
12,633 feet. That’s the tip of Humphrey’s peak, the highest point in Arizona. Six peaks make up the mountain; Humphreys, Agassiz, Freemont, Abineau, Rees, and Doyle at 11,460 – The San Francisco Peaks. Named in 1629 by Spanish Friars in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. They established a mission at the Hopi village of Oraibi. Jump ahead a few years after other people visited the mountain, and the so-called Second Boston Party, while scouting the area, cut the branches off a Ponderosa Pine and raised a flag to celebrate the nation’s centennial. It was July 4, 1876 and Flagstaff was born.
Growing up in a small town in the southwest during the Vietnam and civil rights era meant I was isolated from some of the bitterness of the marches, yet we were still deeply involved as my brother was in Vietnam ‘68/69. With six and seven years separating me from my siblings, it was as if sometimes I was an only child. My grandmother lived in Iowa while the other ‘grands’ were gone by the time I arrived, but I had my great uncle Charlie. He was an uncle twice over because after his first wife, Mildred died, he married her sister Jewel (not sure how many eyebrows were raised over that one).
Uncle Charlie was the closest thing I had to a grandfather and since he lived at the other end of the block, I saw him often. Our whole block consisted of “back door” neighbors – no one ever used the front doors, we’d come and go from the back doors, closest to the kitchen where all the action was and there were no locked doors in those days, in fact, our house had those old “skeleton” key locks but no one knew where the keys were and they had been painted over so many times, I’m not sure you could even fit a key in the hole.
Charlie was already retired when I was a boy so he had time for the “shadow,” a talkative, energetic kid who was in awe of his Uncle. Once in a while, Mom would tell me to go down the block to see Uncle Charlie, “He needs your help.” It was easy to call us, we were on a party-line with them. (That made for some interesting calls after I started dating)
I’d get there just as Charlie was loading his lawnmower in the back of his ’59 Chevy and he’d say, “Hop in, go’n for a ride.” I knew where we were headed; the cemetery. The grass and weeds around the family plot needed tending. The cemetery was an interesting place. It’s where I learned family history, at least the Harper/Rawson side. It was where I learned about the sister I never met because Rebecca only lived a few short hours. Mom & Dad never talked much about her, but somehow, there at graveside, it was okay, the wound seemed easier to tend there while we trimmed the grass and shrubs.
After a bit of work, we’d load the lawnmower back in the car along with hose and clippers and driving out the narrow road, Charlie might say, “Well, you worked hard today, how about we stop at Moore’s?” That was the little drug store/soda fountain on the corner of Leroux and Santa Fe. “We’ll sure, Uncle Charlie that sounds great,” I’d say anticipating, hoping he’d want a treat as much as I did.
I don’t remember much about the soda fountain, but I remember sitting with Charlie who would talk with me about life, about Jesus, and about the Bible. I remember his gentle way of sharing faith and that feeling I always experienced with him – the assurance of his love for me and that he genuinely cared. A few years later, while I was in high school, he had lost all hearing and it was so hard to communicate. I miss your counsel Uncle Charlie. I miss your wrinkled, scarred – and strong hands which helped guide me, but I give thanks for you in my life.
Proverbs 3:22 “Listen to your father who gave you life…” Friends, you never know how you will help shape someone’s life when you offer Christ’s gentle grace. Who helped shape you? What can you give back to someone else? Who can you mentor? As you gather in different places with different people, perhaps with family or friends this Christmas season, be aware for the opportunity to share your faith – all the ways God has sustained and encouraged you. Merry Christmas!