It seems as though I always write a post like this when the 14-year-old and I take a trip out to check on my parents. See: Our Sentimental Journey Through Hallowed Ground.
We took this quick trip this past weekend in part because 1) we could, and 2) we’ll be missing a family cousins reunion in October. The next time we’ll likely be able to visit is Thanksgiving. My wife stayed home because we apparently can’t kennel the dog without tranquilizers and we didn’t want to do that again so soon.
If you’re an adult of a certain age and your parents are still with you you know the challenge. Truth is, my Mom and Step-dad are still plugging along in their 80s. While their challenges have slowed them down they don’t stop.
I’ve talked about this before. I’m the next to the youngest in my generation. My mother and father (who passed away in 1978) were the youngest of their generation. You miss a lot of family history like that.
I took in some of that history in this weekend. My mother’s sister passed away last November, and my mother now has some of the family memorabilia.
Among that were two memorial books. One from a distant cousin whose connection to the family I could never quite figure out. But in the book my aunt had recorded the eulogy she gave at his funeral in 1994. The best I can recall is that he was a nephew to my great-grandmother. When his mother disappeared and was never found (they even tried to drag the river), John and his father took off to Montana to homestead. After nearly starving to death, John’s father brought him home and my grandparents took him in, on the condition that his father never take him away again. I remember visiting John in Bluefield. He’d spent his life working on the railroad, and I assume that when I knew him, he had already retired.
The other book was from my grandmother’s funeral. I barely knew her because she passed when I was about three years old. I have two memories that stick in my mind. One of a visit to her before she passed. All I know is that I can see her standing in the doorway of a brick building. I don’t know the circumstances. The second is of her making gingerbread in our home. I wish I knew more.
What fascinated me about her memorial book were the names of the people who signed. Among them, my first grade teacher. Of course she and her sister were there. They were neighbors of my grandmother’s family in Ripplemead. Then I saw that the first pastor I remembered had preached the funeral. My dad’s sisters sang for the service. They were for generations known as the “Singing Sisters.” They were accompanied on the piano by the mother of a lifelong friend. We lost Billy to cancer a few years back.
I could go on and bore you with more connections. But here’s the point. These people were significant in the life of my family for decades.
Among the names on the list was the name of the neighbor who lived just above my parent’s home. He walked gently into the arms of Jesus early Sunday morning. He was 90 years old and his health had been failing. Just late last week he went home with hospice care.
My stepfather told me that they had been neighbors for nearly sixty years.
Of course that makes sense because my memories of William go back more than fifty years. For as long as I can remember, he was the music leader at our small town church. I have mental pictures of him at church picnics, at family gatherings, and as our chaperone to an international youth convention in Boston. He was a brave man.
Perhaps one of the most significant memories does the most to tell you about who he was. My grandfather died when I was 10. For the last few years of his life he was in advanced stages of dementia and was bedfast. My dad’s oldest sister, a widow, had returned home to care for him. But nights weren’t easy. So my dad’s sisters and their spouses took turns spending the night, sleeping on a daybed in his room. There weren’t enough of them to cover seven days a week, so friends from the church also took turns. William was one of them. By my best count, this went on every week for three years.
That’s just the way things were done. There were no questions asked. There was no “I’m sorry, I can’t do this.” There was a need. And the need was met.
Most of us don’t have relationships like that these days, with friends or family. That’s a shame.
I realize the melancholy nature of this post. You may just have to accept the fact that you’re going to get one or more of these every time I return home.
The writer inside of me is screaming “These are stories that need to be told!”
Stories of my own I can tell through writing. Stories of others I can tell through acting.
I hope I’m up to the task. I made notes and took pictures over the weekend. I wish I could have recorded some of the conversations because, while I can remember my grandmother making gingerbread, I’m not so sure what I had for lunch yesterday.
Don’t worry, I’m not writing about lunch.
Unless you’re buying.