In the beginning was the Welch’s farm.
As far back as my memory reaches, this farm runs across the planes of my childhood, weathered by the slow decay of time, but weathered in the way that produces rich, black, moist, Midwestern dirt, pregnant with goodness. I loved each visit through the jungle of cornfields and soybeans, atop the mountain of itchy bails in the hayloft, inside the pealing walls of the white farmhouse, up the creaky wooden stairs, around the simple table where the same meal awaited every day.
Mrs. Welch is the silent, steady line that runs through all these memories and binds them together with a fixity strong enough for me to taste the Welch’s farm in every loaf of whole wheat bread I’ve ever eaten in 25 years: her low, soft voice; her sharp, cackling laughter; her handmade posters that covered the walls with rotating Bible verses the family would memorize with “In Jesus Name” written on the top of all of them; her long skirts dirty from the black soil of the gardens and chicken coop; her stories at bedtime. In my mind, Welch’s Grape Juice got its name from my Mrs. Welch; it was her wholesomeness that gave it its nourishment.
Most of all, I remember Mrs. Welch for her prayers. Mrs. Welch was always praying, not in a pious way that drew attention to itself, but in a practical way that made the dirt under her fingernails seem holy. Though Mr. Welch led the family prayers at meals, is was Mrs. Welch who went to each child’s bed (including mine, when I was visiting) and prayed with him and her after the collective bedtime story. It was also Mrs. Welch who led the family aloud, open-eyed, collectively, in gathering the names of those whose salvation they prayed for every night before the bedtime story.
The Welch’s grandmother was always listed in these evening prayers. Every night, they prayed for her salvation as part of the steady rhythm of the day. Just like breakfast, lunch and dinner were cemented into the framework of each day, so was prayer for Grandma Welch.
Over the weekend, on Valentine’s Day, the 27th birthday of the second of the Welch children, Grandma Welch died. Days earlier, the family’s constant prayers for her reconciliation with God had been answered. I read on my childhood friend’s facebook wall, “Grandma Welch went to heaven on my birthday—Valentine's Day. She got to see Jesus and feel His love on the day that celebrates love.”
God is good like the black Midwestern soil, the soil that dirtied Mrs. Welch’s fingers for all those decades and produced a crop, the soil that Mrs. Welch’s prayers went into like corn seeds that expected a harvest, the soil that produced Mrs. Welch herself. Her consistent prayers called on the richness of his goodness, but it was the richness of his goodness that spouted her very prayers.
I sometimes wonder if God answers prayers directly or if he has just manufactured the world to crumble into redemption like the Welch’s farm. One way or another, we pray because he is “Mmm Mmm Good,” and our prayers remove the scales from our eyes to see that goodness.