Most say it’s the best in the world. All are welcome to visit, to stay. We have opportunities galore, you’re welcome to apply.
What’s that? Well, that’s a long story.
Many grandfathers ago—that’s the way my grandfather put it—the orchard wasn’t the big and beautiful place it is today.
It was wild and harsh back then, but not too wild, not too harsh, to be tamed by the dreams and blood and sweat and tears of my grandfathers and mothers and sons and daughters, standing shoulder to shoulder to work, and bowing hand to hand to pray.
But it wasn’t just our family. We couldn’t have done it on our own. We had help, lots of help, from others. Much of which was from the other side of the tracks—at least that’s what we call it today. But back then, there were no tracks, just wide open spaces, wild and free.
Our granddad, from way back when, cultivated his dream until it grew, like a little tree that sprouted into many others, until he couldn’t keep up with tending the fruit. So, what could he do but look for help. He didn’t have much money, so in the beginning he paid his workers in fruit and food and shelter. They’d come and stay in the barn or under a tree, from sunup to sundown they worked, and in the evening we’d have a feast.
We became family.
Year after year this went on until the little orchard grew into the thriving estate we enjoy today.
It wasn’t all without trouble. We had more than our fair share.
The workers were wonderful, some of our family today stems from the relationships birthed back then. But, some saw our generosity as an opportunity to take advantage. Couldn’t really blame them, at first, so for a long while, we just let it slide. Some folks, with dreams of their own, would use our orchard for their start. They’d set up alongside the road selling fruit from the back of their truck, fruit stolen from granddad’s orchard.
That didn’t bother us too much; after all, they were just trying to make a better life for their growing families. And the Lord had given us more than enough. As long as they showed up for work on time, and put in a day’s work for a day’s pay, we were satisfied to wink at the fringe benefits they took on the side.
But, it didn’t continue that way.
Somewhere along the line the railroad came through. It was, at the same time, a stroke of good fortune and bad. Those tracks became a conduit for our fruit to the world—that was the good fortune part.
The tracks ran both ways, though. “It carried our fruit out—and carried some fruits in” as granddad would say.
More and more came across the tracks, and some, from parts unknown, were riding in on the rails.
Before long there were a lot more folks showing up for the evening feast than those who showed up to work in the field. We didn’t mind that all too much, we figured, once they got their bellies full and settled in with a place to stay, common decency would kick in and they’d repay kindness with a good day’s work…and for most, it was true.
But, more than a few were only there for the fringe benefits, without the work. We hated the idea of asking them to leave, since most were relatives or friends of our workers—who had, by then, become like family. But, instead of pitching in to build our beautiful fruitful dream, they just took, all they could get—to no end.
Even still, being the generous souls they were, my family would’ve overlooked that as well. They wanted to believe the folks only took because they were hungry or in desperate need. But that wasn’t the case; there were those, for whatever the reason, whose sole intent was evil.
They stole—at this part of the story my granddad would always pause and shake his head and add, “I hate to use the word, stole, because, how can someone steal something that, if only they’d ask, it’d be freely given? But, alas, there’s no other way to put it…they stole.” More and more they stole to the point it was hurting the orchard financially. And the children, who once skipped care free to the creek to swim and fish, were now afraid.
Little by little another business grew in the shade of the orchard. Crews—gangs or thugs would be more like it—would sneak in and harvest the fruit of our labor under the cover of night. They threatened any who saw them to keep quiet of suffer death.
Soon the orchard wasn’t enough for their lust. They ventured into our barns and livestock and poultry came up missing. Before long their ravenous lust crossed the line into our very homes.
On Friday nights, all the families would gather around a bonfire behind the barn. They’d laugh and sing and tell funny stories. Three of the girls ran to the house to fetch another pitcher of sweet tea. When they entered the house they were met by four men.
They never made it back to the fire. Two of the girls after unspeakable horror entered a place called Glory, a place they’d just sang about around the fire. One of the girls, twelve years old, didn’t die, but every day for a long long time, wished she did. Scarred for life; and nine months later bore the child who reminded her day after day of the horror…and taught her the beauty of forgiveness and mercy. That baby grew to be a fine man and is my great great great granddad.
The men were never caught.
But, after that, granddad built a wall.
That started a pretty big fight. Grandma said she wouldn’t have it. Said it was “un-neighborly, rude, arrogant, not at all Christian. God accepts everyone, He doesn’t build walls he knocks them down—remember Jericho?”
Grandma carried on and on the whole time, as granddad, for the first time in his life, installed locks on all the doors and windows. She finally planted her hands on her hips in front of him and said, “How can you be so hateful!”
Granddad just smiled, “We don’t hate our friends from across the tracks, or up and down the tracks—our friends are welcome, always will be.” And then he said the phrase that we’re pretty sure he invented, “We know no strangers.”
Grandma pierced him with a stare. “Then what’s all this?…and a wall! It’s downright un-Godly.”
He kissed her forehead and whispered, “God uses a gate. It’s at the end of a road that’s narrow and straight.”
After that, grandma grabbed a hammer, a chisel and an old wood fence panel. It took her weeks but you can see what she made if you stop by for a visit. Swinging over our drive is an old wooden sign with the phrase, “We know no strangers.”
The next thing you’ll see on our drive that’s narrow and straight…is a gate.
What’s that? Our name? Oh, of course, I almost forgot. I’m sure you’ve heard of us.
Our family name is We The People
The name of our beautiful orchard is America
We love you, we welcome you, just please come through our gate.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that enters not by the gate into the sheepfold, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber... I am the Gate. If anyone enters through Me, he will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:1, 9)