More than just a sugar bowl

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I repaired a sugar bowl last Sunday afternoon. It had made it for 125 years without damage until I slammed the front door after bringing in firewood. The door slammed, the wall shook only slightly, but it was enough to dislodge the sugar bowl from a shelf and it fell and broke.

The break wasn’t too bad and it’s possible that few will notice the repair unless they are really looking. I am grateful for Gorilla Super Glue.

Inside the sugar bowl was a handwritten note penned by my dad sometime before his death in 1996. The note said:

“This sugar bowl belonged to Betsy Ann Courtney Epps, wife of Rev. George W. Epps. She bought it in 1896. They are my Mamo and Papaw. My mother’s parents — Bill Epps”

So, the sugar bowl was purchased by my great-grandmother. As far as I know, it may be the oldest item I have that was owned by a direct family member.

It’s not impressive. It probably cost very little. The Rev. George W. Epps, my paternal great-grandfather, was an ordained minister in what was then known as the Primitive Baptist Church — a “hard-shell Baptist group,” by my father’s definition. I don’t recall memories of either one of these great-grandparents.

I do have the Rev. Epps’ handwritten ordination letter, complete with mis-spelled words, that was issued in Hawkins County, Tennessee. It is my understanding that the Primitive Baptist ministers were required to carry it with them and surrender it for inspection by the elders of any church they were going to preach in. A safe-guard, I imagine, against a false teacher or a “self-ordained” pastor. I even have the envelope it was carried in.

I know extraordinarily little about them although I have been told that George ministered as far away as Oklahoma. Someone once said they ministered on the Cherokee reservation, but I have no idea if that is true or not. Oral family histories get muddled with the passage of time.

I have considered, and am still considering, getting information from Ancestry.com or one of the other genealogical services. My own attempts at retrieving information via Google have been in vain.

In the intertestamental book of Sirach, chapter 44 is known as “The Hymn in Honor of Our Ancestors.” One verse could well describe George and Betsy Epps:

“Some of them have left behind a name,

so that others declare their praise.

But of others there is no memory;

they have perished as though they had never existed;

they have become as though they had never been born…”

The only tangible physical evidences I have in my possession that they existed are the ordination letter and the sugar bowl, damaged after 125 years due to my carelessness. I, of course, along with scores of family members, their descendants, scattered from California to Florida, are also testimony and evidence that they existed.

If I consider myself as the patriarch of this small branch on the family tree (not counting my brother — he is Patriarch in his own right), there are 24 of us, including spouses, and a baby boy on the way (our great-grandson). That doesn’t include all the descendants from my dad and his seven siblings or any others in the family tree.

And, yet, so little is known, by me at least, of George and Betsy. And, yet, as I lay my hand on this antique sugar bowl, somehow there is a connection to a woman who used it daily and the man who sat at the table. It becomes much more than just a sugar bowl. It is a link to family.

Sirach continues with other verses, that follow the above verses, offer several more encouraging remarks, especially for a pastor and his wife who likely led a hard and financially frugal life:

“But these also were godly men,

whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;

their wealth will remain with their descendants,

and their inheritance with their children’s children.[c]

Their descendants stand by the covenants;

their children also, for their sake.

Their offspring will continue forever,

and their glory will never be blotted out.

Their bodies are buried in peace,

but their name lives on generation after generation.

The assembly declares[d] their wisdom,

and the congregation proclaims their praise.”

I, for one, stand on their shoulders. To misquote Luke Skywalker, “I am a pastor like my great-grandfather before me.” I have a son who is also ordained. Is this part of the inheritance mentioned above in Sirach? Is this part of their glory that will never be blotted out?

Well, damaged and repaired sugar bowl aside, at least today, their name lives on in this, my generation. I will tell what I know of them to my sons, and to my grandchildren, and, if I am permitted before my own chapter closes, to any great-grandchildren.

In any event, “their offspring will continue forever.” And, eventually, someone else will get the sugar bowl.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemics, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]

1 COMMENT

  1. In Japan they have a tradition called kintsukuroi (金繕い), or “Golden Repair”, in which broken things are repaired, but the fractured parts are painted with a gold-embedded lacquer. It is based on a belief that an object has its own embedded history – perhaps unknown to the holder – and that the breakage is one of the most important moments in the history of that object. In our throw-away society that is curiously obsessed with the new at the expense of the old, I think we could learn much from that tradition.