By RAHN ADAMS
MORGANTON, N.C. (Oct. 6, 2019) – I was hoping to see chrysanthemums on the altar at church this morning, it being World Communion Sunday. I wanted an easy connection to this chapter. But no such luck—just some candles, a cross, white linens, gluten-free bread and grape juice.
Our pastor reminded us that Christians around the globe began observing World Communion Sunday last night, first in China where followers of Jesus had to meet in secret to avoid arrest. I bet those folks had some chrysanthemums on their altars, because that’s where the “golden flower” came from.
The chrysanthemum is symbolic in China. According to FTD.com, the flower represents vitality, long life and good luck in Chinese homes, as it possesses cleansing properties. Also, on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month—Monday, Oct. 7, 2019—the Double Ninth or Chrysanthemum Festival is celebrated.
As I write this passage on Sunday evening, it’s almost 8 o’clock on Monday morning in Beijing, China, where people are preparing to observe the traditional festival by visiting the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects, by eating chrysanthemum cakes, and by drinking chrysanthemum wine. They will also go for long walks and, if possible, climb a mountain. All are symbolic acts, like communion.
When I got home from church today around noon, I wondered how to make this section of Rutherwood relevant and how to connect it with this chapter’s featured flower. I hadn’t learned yet—not until maybe an hour ago, actually—that tomorrow is the Chrysanthemum Festival in China. That was serendipity.
On my way into our house, I stopped and snapped a few flower photos, including several of our mums. We have yellow, orange, violet and white ones. Inside I plopped down into my easy chair and started surfing the Web in hopes of finding something to use here. The first news photo I saw was of two world leaders seated next to a large pot of, you guessed it, chrysanthemums. Again, it was just coincidental, I’m sure.
One leader was our president. The less said about him, the better. The other leader came to the United Nations in New York City and met our president there for the first time a couple of weeks ago, though they had talked on the telephone two months earlier. I’m guessing you’ve heard about that conversation. It’s been in all the newspapers every day and on all the news broadcasts every night lately. It’s big news.
And since this won’t be the last you’ll hear about it—not for a long, long time—I’ll just keep my mouth shut until we see how it all shakes out.
I do wonder, though, whether or not we look at some things the same way our forefathers did. I’m not just talking about America’s Founding Fathers—you know, good ol’ George “I Cannot Tell a Lie” Washington and those 37 other guys who gathered in Philadelphia and signed our Constitution in 1787. I’m also thinking about two other presidents who had signed another important document 11 years earlier, a piece of parchment that had declared our then united states as a sovereign nation—yes, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
Never mind what Jesus would do. What would John Adams and Thomas Jefferson have done if they’d been faced with what has been going on in our divided United States for the past three years? Did you know those two fellows were political rivals, that they both ran nasty presidential election campaigns in 1800, that their rivalry ended their former friendship until years later when they took up a written correspondence that continued until their respective deaths, which occurred on the very same day—July 4, 1826? Yes, you probably did know that.
I’ve also always wondered whether or not I’m a descendant of John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. If you’ve ever seen our portraits—mine and the two Johns’—you’ll agree that there’s an apparent family resemblance (we suffer from male pattern chubbiness, as well as baldness). And since my father was John Adams and several great-uncles were John Adamses, too, I’ve always joked about having a presidential pedigree. Dad even had a German shepherd named Quincy.
So I whipped out my cellphone and looked into that, too. And what did I find out? Technically, that I’m not even an Adams. I’m an Adam. Huh?
In an e-book that I downloaded—Genealogical and Biographical Annals of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, published in 1911 by J.L. Floyd & Co. of Chicago—I learned that my oldest American ancestor was a poor Palatine potter named Andoni “Anthony” Adam, who arrived in Philadelphia on the Snow Molly from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Oct. 26, 1741. He was 25 and apparently single.
Seven years later Andoni Adam acquired 136 acres of land in Berks County near Philadelphia, later another 135 acres in another section of the same township. One of his sons, Nicholas Adams, moved to Northumberland County, my dad’s home county. Nicholas’s son, Gideon, moved to the very township there with which I’m most familiar, and he dropped the S that his father had added to his own surname.
The book describes my great-grandfather, Emanuel Adam, as “a prosperous farmer living along the Mahantango creek in Lower Mahanoy township.” He owned the two big farms that my grandfather, Milton Adams, eventually purchased—where my father, John, lived and worked on and off until he eventually graduated from college around 1950, moved South, married my mother in 1952 and became a preacher.
So all my forefathers—whether they were an Adam or an Adams—were farmers at one time or another, not presidents. And the e-book says they were all Republicans. Dad was, too, even though he claimed to be an Independent. I’m not a farmer, never have been one. And I’m a yellow dog Democrat—or will be in the 2020 Election, anyway. How did that happen?
Still, I do wonder how great-great-great-great-grandfather Andoni, from “the Fatherland,” felt when he arrived in America. I’m guessing that, being German, he didn’t speak English very well. He didn’t own any land for seven years. The e-book also said he probably fought in the French and Indian War. How long did it take for Andoni to feel at home here? Or did he feel like a sojourner in the New World even after he owned a fairly large part of it, a foreigner whose homeland lay across the sea?
When did Andoni become Anthony? And why? Was that his way of showing he was now an American?
The psalmist writes: “I am a sojourner in the earth; hide not thy commandments from me.” We all want to know that the rules of the game we play are fair, whether we ultimately choose to follow those rules or subvert them. We all want a chance to win the competition; we don’t want to lose the race or be cheated out of what is rightfully ours.
According to Wikipedia, the old Chinese poem “Remembering My Shandong Brothers on the Double Ninth” by Wang Wei of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) is often recited during the Chrysanthemum Festival: “Being alone as a stranger in a strange land, I spend this holiday thinking about my brothers who are far away climbing mountains of their own without me.” That’s my own interpretation.
On Monday, even though I’m not Chinese, I think I’ll celebrate the Chrysanthemum Festival myself, at least in some small way. I’ve already eaten the bread and drunk the wine—I did that this morning within my own tradition. It’s all symbolic, anyway. Right?
I will always have a lot of questions. But now that I know myself from Adam, all that’s left for me to do is find another mountain to climb, one step at a time.