Roots to Grow

Welcome. Roots to Grow is a scrapbook for collecting ideas that guide us. It is inspired by This I Believe, a collection of personal belief essays gathered by NPR. My dream is that someday, my daughters Gwendolyn and Chloe will be able to read these essays, understand a little better where they came from, and feel like no matter where life takes them, that they have roots. Cristina Spencer

I Believe in Music by George Spencer

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Years ago a country music composer named Mac Davis wrote a song called “I Believe in Music”. It was an okay song – not a great song – but an okay song. I even learned how to play it. If you listened to that particular song you might think that the words were a bit maudlin, but even if the words do not make a great composition, I would still say that I believe in music.

Of course I believe in a lot of other things. I believe in God. I believe in the love that I have for my wife and my son and my daughter-in-law and my granddaughters but I really do believe in music!

Music has been my comfort and joy to me since I was a teenager. I learned how to sing by listening to my mother. I refined that skill in my church choir. Later I sang in the high school chorus and the college chorus and my fraternity glee club. I listened to The Kingston Trio sing “Tom Dooly” and was encouraged to buy a Gibson guitar at the local music store. I learned how to make chords by looking at pictures in a “Mel Bay Learn to Play the Guitar” chord book. I memorized the protest songs of Bob Dylan . . . and in so doing became somewhat of a rebel myself. I played the chords and sang the songs and found a great deal of joy in the process.

Music has been a faithful companion. It has never left me lonely. When I was away from family and friends I still had a song to keep me company. When I was depressed I could still find a song to cheer me. When I wanted to celebrate I had a song of thanks. When I wanted to rekindle a cherished moment in time a song reminded me.

Most important, songs have given me expression. The tune and the words have spoken for me when I couldn’t express myself. So these are just some of the songs that I would use to express myself:

· “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” by Van Morrison – to my wife

· “Amazing Grace” by John Newton – a song that speaks to my faith

· “That’s My Daughter in the Water”, by Loudon Wainwright III – a song that reminds me of my granddaughters and my daughter-in-law – It makes me smile.

· “May You Stay Forever Young”, Bob Dylan – a wish that I give to my son, my granddaughters and my daughter-in-law

· “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack – another song to my granddaughters (Please find this song and play it to your granddaughters!)

· “Slip Sliding Away” – The third verse reminds me that there is so much I would like to say to my son . . . but I don’t know how. I cry when I sing it.

· “From a Distance” by Julie Gold – my “world view”

· “Take It Easy” by Jackson Browne and Glen Frye and Sweet Baby James, James Taylor – just because I like to sing them

· “Tom Dooly” by The Kingston Trio – the first song that I ever learned to play on my guitar

· “These Are The Days” another song by Van Morrison – a good philosophy for someone who is “getting older” – No one has ever heard me play this song because I feel that I can’t do it justice.

These Are The Days

Van Morrison

These are the days of endless summer

These are the days the time is now

There is no past, there’s only future

There’s only here, there’s only now

Oh your smiling face, your gracious presence

The fires of spring are kindling bright

Oh the radiant heart and the song of glory

Crying freedom in the night


These are the days by the sparkling river

His timely grace and our treasured find

This is the love of the one magician

Turned the water into the wine

These are the days of the endless dancing and the

Long walks on the summer nights

These are the days of the true romancing

When I’m holding you oh so tight


These are the days now we must savor

And we must enjoy as we can

These are the days that will last forever

You’ve got to hold them in your heart


Link to this essay

Immortal Life by Linda Spencer

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I believe in immortal life. I’m not talking about eternal life. We Christians believe that we will have eternal life with God. However, as I grow older I find that I am developing much broader ideas of immortal life in the here and now – ideas of how we are remembered. My daughter-in-law has suggested that everyone in the family create “This I Believe” essays for family posterity. Wonder if I’m the cow’s tail? It’s a daunting task – especially for someone who doesn’t regularly write much. In my head, I’ve composed a dozen essays, but putting even one on paper is totally different. Then I realized that these essays will be a fitting addition to our family’s immortality.

I can see immortality all around me. Recently I have attended the funerals of several friends who were all at least 80 years old. They had lived full, peaceful lives surrounded by friends, family and church. Every time I attended one of those funerals I heard examples of immortality when family members and friends retold stories about their loved ones. Every time I am with my granddaughters, I catch myself reinforcing my own immortality with stories of our family’s history – both ancient and recent. Every time I look at my family I see eternal life in the familial mannerisms and traits of my son, my granddaughters, my sisters and my nieces and nephews.

When I was born in 1947, my only living grandparent was my mother’s mother, Florence Melchor. Florence lived in Mooresville (curiously, Mooresville is only about 20 miles from Concord, where George grew up – but that’s another story!). Mooresville is about 15 miles from Florence’s own birthplace, Enochville, NC. However, both of these towns are about 100 miles from where my family lived at the time, Spartanburg, SC. In the 1940’s and ‘50’s, 100 miles was quite a distance to travel so we only saw Monga, as we called her, once or twice a year – at holidays. In spite of the time and difference that separated us I still remember her. I remember her auburn hair pulled into a bun – kind of fly-away around her face; her long dark skirts and “old lady” shoes; her hot kitchen with the wood stove in what I considered to be a huge house. I also remember seeing the casket with her body in it in the parlor of that house when she died. She died at the age of 67 in 1954, when I was 7. She had a stroke after washing windows.

But Florence (Monga) lives on. Monga and her husband, Harry, had seven children. The oldest was Virginia. Margaret, my mother, came next, only 11 months later! Then came Louise, Harry (who everybody called Buster), Dick and finally the twins, Dolly and Don. My grandfather, Harry, was a traveling hardware salesman whose mother lived within shouting distance of their house on Academy Street. (It is said that Harry’s mother accompanied Harry and Monga on their honeymoon.) Monga drove a car, which I think was pretty unusual for women to do in the early days of the 20th century. (Her daughter Virginia never learned to drive!) She was a charter member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mooresville. I don’t know if Monga ever thought about her immortality but I can see it in all of her children. I can see it in me.

What does the average person think about immortality? Does the average person even think about it? I believe that eternal life, immortality, whatever you call it, is more than “life after death.” It’s more than my soul. It is more than what will happen after I die. I believe that immortality, or eternal life, is what I am – it’s my genes. And my genes are evidenced in my descendants.

I have one photograph of Monga. That photograph is clearer than any memories I have of her. I see lots things when I look at that picture – family, my mother, the Victorian times they were all a product of. But when I think of her, I am more aware of her and her immortality if I consider the 4 generations of family who have lived since her lifetime. When I look at that picture of Monga, I see my mother. I feel my mother’s and Monga’s eyes in me when I squint at something to see it more clearly. Sometimes I feel Monga in me in the way I walk or stand. How can there not be immortality when I look at my sisters and see our mother; when I watch my grandgirls’ mannerisms reflect their father’s – my son’s – mannerisms; when I see a small piece of family in one’s eyes or chin? How can immortality be separate from eternity when, across 5 generations I see family so clearly? How comforting it is to realize that, maybe 5 generations from now, my great-great-great granddaughters may look at a picture or video of me and see themselves, or their mother, tucked neatly into my eyes or nose or hair. I didn’t know my grandmother very well at all, but I can feel her in me, and I can see her in my grandgirls. And that is something I believe.

Link to this essay

Images and the Heart's First Opening

Sunday, February 03, 2008

                                                                      By Katherine Wattiker Olivetti

     "...the work is nothing more than this long journey through the labyrinth of art to find again the two or three simple and great images upon which the heart first opened."
                                                                                                                     Albert Camus

          I believe in the mystery and power of the images that opened our hearts.
         When I was a little girl, Grandpa Gilman had a boat.  She was called the Irene.  On weekends Grandma buried bottles of coca cola and cans of beer in a rusty cooler filled with ice.  She bundled up some sweaters and kerchiefs, and threw in a bag of Wise potato chips, and we set off from the house in the woods on Weeks Avenue for the boat.
         It was a hot July day with a blue sky and still air.  I was sweaty and my shirt clung to my back.  We loaded everything onto the boat, and Grandpa turned on the engine.  Its roar was loud and made it hard to talk much.  Irene sped across the Great South Bay toward the strip of barrier beach, Fire Island.  She cut a nice wake and as we flew across the open water, the wind picked up.  We put on our sweaters, and Grandma and I battened down our hair with kerchiefs.  The sea spray tasted salty and made me thirsty.  Grandma pried the cap off a bottle of coca cola whose blue green glass was sweaty with cold, and whose color nearly matched the bay.  The coke fizzed, and the feeling in my mouth was prickly and explosive.  The fumes from the engine mingled with the fresh sea air and the sweet, kicky taste of the pop, and together the sensations created a feeling that meant summer and belonged to the beach.
        Once we arrived on the other side of the bay, we tied up at a small dock and walked to the boardwalk, a trail of old weathered slats, nearly buried in the sand, that followed the curve of the dunes.  It was hot again.  The summer sun beat down, scorching the sand and giving us sunburns.  I was carrying a tin pail and shovel or perhaps a beach chair.  Walking up the hill was laborious.  My little legs got so tired.  They felt heavy, very, very heavy, and I wondered if this long, long walk was worth it.  Slowly, slowly, putting one little foot in front of the other, one more step, and then another.  Up, up, up the hill until nearly at the top, the steps became easier.  The blue of the sky met the pale sand and wispy dune grass, and suddenly there appeared a stripe of dark blue.  With each step, more blue, and more blue, until at the crest of the dune, it opened.  There it was!  The Atlantic Ocean!  Blue.  Dark and sparkling.  Vast.  As far as you could see, there it was, the ocean.
       Now my little legs flew across the hot sand.
       As I got closer, the churning rumble of the waves grew louder, curling and tumbling over, pounding the shore.  Louder and louder as I ran,  faster and faster, until I could feel the cool mist of the surf on my face, the hard, cold, wet sand beneath my feet, and the chilly sea water tingling my legs.
       Waves, breaking and foaming, swirling and lapping around me, swirling, ever so insistent...relentlessly...drawing me forever toward the ocean.

Link to this essay


Thursday, December 20, 2007

By Cristina Olivetti Spencer

I believe in celebrations. All the predictable ones: Birthdays, Anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and holidays of all kinds. And the not so predictable ones: first tooth, last nursing, the day our pear trees and tulips are all in full bloom at the same time, among others. To me, these occasions are all opportunities for being with the people I love and feeling what its like to be connected to the unstoppable flow of life.

The first time I noticed how important these kinds of moments were to me, was when I was planning my wedding ten years ago. From the beginning I had a sense of relief that there was an established way of marking the occasion. There would be a ceremony, a dress, and a party with people I cared about. In contrast, other transitions had happened in my life without obvious ways to recognize their magnitude. My parents had divorced, I moved cross-country, I found my first job, bought my first car, had my first apartment, and while I experienced all of these moments, nothing contained them in a way that said what they meant and how life would be different. And so they all sort of evaporated (with the exception of a worn polaroid picture of me in front of my brand new Saturn station wagon), in a way that was starting to make me feel like my life lacked a kind of continuity or connection.

So when it came to the wedding, I ran with tradition. I let myself sink into a pattern that was there for me, and I tried to use the opportunity to invite my family and friends to do the same. And as I did, I realized that the pattern created a context for all of us to experience some fundamental connection to life's big and mysterious picture. I learned that when we gather together to honor life, love or family, by listening to the sound of a trumpet marking a moment, or by making a toast, or by filling dance floor with our sassiest moves, we are connecting--to each other, and to the mystery of our being here. At my wedding we did all of that, and the connection was really there.

Since then I've been on a quest to explore opportunities for this kind of connection. Among other experiments, I came up with this idea of Roots to Grow, to be a place for us to share our ideas, specifically for each of us to share thoughts about what brings meaning and happiness to our lives. If we can do this, i think this little corner of the web will be its own kind of celebration--a place for us to feel a part of the big picture by telling young people who are following in our footsteps a little bit about what it means to be a part of the unstoppable flow of life.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

I expect to hear from a number of special people in the New Year. Most proudly, I can report that my Uncle Eddie (a Roman Catholic priest, age 94), the oldest living relative on my mom's side of the family has offered to contribute. I sent a copy of This I Believe to him and to his companion Jean, both of whom responded immediately. Their responses follow:

December 15, 2007

Dear Christina:

I want to thank you for the book you sent me. It is a very interesting piece. Page by page, it brings back the fact that Our Lord is to be honored, loved and obeyed. It takes part by part where the faults are and gives us the answer to what is right. I thank you very kindly for your thoughtfulness and the reason you gave it to me.

With much love,
Uncle Eddie

December 15, 2007

Dear Christina:

I also want to thank you for sending me This I Believe book. Your uncle has been reading it little by little and enjoying it. For myself, right now with the holidays, it is making it a little difficult for me to sit down and read a few pages. Things will calm down after the holidays and I should be able to read and enjoy the book. I know your uncle will be writing an essay and I'll send it to you after he does it.

Thanks again.

Link to this essay


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anyone is invited to contribute an essay to this collection. An especially eager invitation is extended to family and friends, neighbors, teachers and other people who know my family. The basic rule is to speak for yourself as much as you can, and to refrain from using the "royal we." Keep it short, be specific, but most of all have fun.

Here is the original 1950's invitation from

The Original Invitation from 'This I Believe'

This invites you to make a very great contribution: nothing less than a statement of your personal beliefs, of the values which rule your thought and action. Your essay should be about three minutes in length when read loud, written in a style as you yourself speak, and total no more than 500 words.

We know this is a tough job. What we want is so intimate that no one can write it for you. You must write it yourself, in the language most natural to you. We ask you to write in your own words and then record in your own voice. You may even find that it takes a request like this for you to reveal some of your own beliefs to yourself. If you set them down they may become of untold meaning to others.

We would like you to tell not only what you believe, but how you reached your beliefs, and if they have grown, what made them grow. This necessarily must be highly personal. That is what we anticipate and want.

It may help you in formulating your credo if we tell you also what we do not want. We do not want a sermon, religious or lay; we do not want editorializing or sectarianism or 'finger-pointing.' We do not even want your views on the American way of life, or democracy or free enterprise. These are important but for another occasion. We want to know what you live by. And we want it in terms of 'I,' not the editorial 'We.'

Although this program is designed to express beliefs, it is not a religious program and is not concerned with any religious form whatever. Most of our guests express belief in a Supreme Being, and set forth the importance to them of that belief. However, that is your decision, since it is your belief which we solicit.

But we do ask you to confine yourself to affirmatives: This means refraining from saying what you do not believe. Your beliefs may well have grown in clarity to you by a process of elimination and rejection, but for our part, we must avoid negative statements lest we become a medium for the criticism of beliefs, which is the very opposite of our purpose.

We are sure the statement we ask from you can have wide and lasting influence. Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent. Your belief, simply and sincerely spoken, is sure to stimulate and help those who hear it. We are confident it will enrich them. May we have your contribution?

Link to this essay