11-11-11, a unique date that occurs only once every century. Today, approximately fifty-seven thousand couples will tie the knot according to David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest bridal retailer. It is Veterans Day, a day to honor those who have served our country. At precisely 11 AM a wreath will be laid at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. To previous generations, it was Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the peace treaty between the Allies and Germany at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
It is a unique date to me for another reason. One hundred years ago today, November 11, 1911, William James Waters Harper and Fleta Hamilton stood before a Baptist minister near Hillsboro, Texas and repeated their vows. They had six children. One of those children, their fourth child, was my mother. Tomorrow more than fifty of their descendants will gather near Hillsboro to celebrate their one-hundredth anniversary.
Will Harper and his bride were “share croppers.” They never owned any land and had few possessions. They rented the black land that they farmed and prayed that it would rain. When it did, they harvested bumper crops of corn, maize and cotton and bought the things they needed and a few things they wanted. When it didn’t, they went in debt and stretched what little they had as far as it would go. They survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, raised a family and lived to see a man standing on the moon, (though they always doubted whether it was true). They started their marriage farming with mules and depending on a rickety windmill to water their stock. Fleta wrote a weekly column for the Itasca newspaper and served as mid-wife to the migrant workers who worked in their fields.
When we gather we will celebrate family, five generations of family in one room. Some of us will reflect on the first memories we shared as children. Some of us will introduce ourselves to one another for the first time. But we will all share the bond of family. No other social unit transcends the centuries and culture more than the family. No families are perfect, starting with Adam and Eve who suffered the tragic conflict between their sons. But the family has remained the essential unit for nurture, instruction, admonition and comfort. The Psalmist writes, “But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock.” (Ps 107:41).
We will celebrate faith. Those who knew and remember Will and Fleta Harper remember them for their faith. Christ was at the center of their home and local preachers were often at their table. Most of their children and many of their descendants have lived faithful lives in service to Christ. They bequeathed to their family the great legacy the Apostle Paul cited when addressing his young student, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5).
11-11-11 will serve to remind us of those who have gone before: the veterans who gave their lives for our freedoms and the little known men and women, like my grandparents, who bequeathed to us the treasures of family and faith.