Some years ago, Jay and I met Miss Bea Coaxum outside a shop in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
We sat on the porch with her and watched her weave sweet grass baskets. She handled each strip of grass as if she was holding a precious treasure.
In fact, she was. She was carrying on the gift of her ancestors who brought it to the shores of America long ago.
The art of sweetgrass basket making came to South Carolina in the 17th Century by way of West African slaves, brought to the south to work on rice plantations.
Traditionally, the older African men would weave these baskets, making large “fanners” to be used in the rice fields.
Later, women took up the craft, making coiled baskets of different shapes and sizes to hold vegetables, shellfish, and cotton.
Sweetgrass would be gathered along the marshes, dried, and then bundled together and coiled, held in place with palmetto fronds.
Sometimes bulrush and pine needles were woven into the baskets to add decoration.
Miss Bea told us her mother had insisted she learn the trade and carry the gift forward. Miss Bea resisted. She said she felt it was a burden, not a gift.
But, as time went on, she learned a valuable lesson. “What seems a burden to begin with may be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes God gives you burdens to grow blessings inside you.”
She said, “And you got to go back to the beginning. I was not just doing something for my people. God was doing something and I got to be a part of it.”
She held up a strip of grass. “You see this right here. It was made by God.”
She reached for a basket and smiled. “You see this right here. He let me make it. We do it together.”
We sat there with Miss Bea for quite awhile that summer afternoon. Others came and went. Some bought baskets. Many, like us, were mesmerized by watching her and hearing her tell her stories.
When it was time to leave, we bought two baskets. We felt honored to receive a treasure of what God had created, given lovingly through one of His Creations.
But there was one more blessing to come. Miss Bea took a strip of grass and handed it to me. She then took another strip and handed it to Jay.
She then guided us through weaving them together. She then put her hands over ours, smiled and said, “When you have woven the grass together, you become one with He Who created it. And you will be together forever.”
It was a benediction, a promise to take with us, and I felt all of Miss Bea’s ancestors saying, “Amen!”
And God said, “Let the earth grow grass.”The earth grew grass. And God saw that this was good.
From Genesis 1