His name was Hermon Miller, and he owned the grocery store on the street where I grew up. When it was hot and muggy on many summer afternoons, my mom would ask me to “go down to Millers Store and get some pork chops for supper,” or perhaps, “go down to Millers and get some bread for sandwiches, so I can make your lunch. Better get a pound of bologna, too.” I’d hop on my bike and ride down to the end of our street to get what my mom had said I should buy.
Usually, I didn’t need to take any money with me, because at Mr. Miller’s Store, when I was a kid, our household had a running tab, and once a month my dad would go into the store and pay our grocery bill. When I came in to pick up pork shops or bread or bologna for sandwiches, Mr. Miller would carefully note those items and their prices in a book he kept under his counter. He knew my dad would be in, the first of every month, to settle up. It wasn’t a system that would work in today’s world, I suppose. But in the Midwest town where I was born, on the street where I grew up … that system worked just fine, as I recall.
Mr. Miller and his wife ran Miller’s Store all by themselves. It wasn’t a big place. Only a few aisles to navigate. Most often, Mr. Miller could be found toward the back of the store, dressed in a white butcher’s apron. He worked behind what would now be called an old-fashioned meat counter. He personally butchered and cut up all the meat. And when I told him my mom said to get five pork shops, not too much fat, he seemed to know exactly what I was talking about. His massive hands would reach into the meat counter display and carefully choose exactly what I had ordered. He’d take those pork chops and place them on a sheet of butcher paper he had torn off. He’d wrap those pork chops like he was diapering a baby. Perfect. Symmetrical. A neat package. And then? And then, he’d take butcher’s twine and tie it around that package. When I got home, my momma would unwrap the meat, and as she started to cook it — I saw her do it a thousand times — she’d save the string in one of her kitchen drawers.
Poet Donald Hall tells a story of a hermit who passed away leaving behind storage sheds of hoarded stuff. In one of the sheds was a box labeled, “string too short to be saved.”
I have lots of memories of the place I grew up, the sites I’ve seen, the things I’ve done. How about you? Some of them are warm and fuzzy; some of them are like that hermit’s box of string: too short to be saved.
Solomon wrote, in Ecc. 7, “Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.” The Passion translation of Phil. 3:13 says, “I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.” I have come to notice a certain corner of my life where I store and carefully wrap and tie with imaginary twine all kinds of memories; not only the way things used to be, but even more importantly, the way I used to be, until Jesus paid my debt in full.
May I never allow my own package of fond memories to so weigh me down, or draw me away into another time and place, that I miss the opportunity to impact my world Today; a tremendous opportunity to ‘fasten my heart to God’s future for me.’