Sunday, May 27, 2012

Good-Byes and Promises

I went to two funerals last month. My aunt died at the end of April and two weeks later, to the day, my uncle's wife died at the young age of 52. For the second time in two weeks I drove the 90 miles to Tennessee.

Many of my relatives on my father's side still live among the rolling hills of middle Tennessee, where the scenery is picture postcard pretty. I wanted to stop and take pictures along the country roads, but we were in a time crunch. Oddly, I noticed many small buildings overgrown with weeds and grass, when I realized that these little out buildings were former outhouses.

The relatives came from nearby and  from far away. Alabama. Georgia. Virginia.
There was the young cousin from Savannah. Instantly I recognized her, even though we haven't seen each other in 15 years. Sunny (not her real name) is grown now, tall like her father, and has the honey-colored hair of her mother. She also inherited her father's cleft chin.  

Another distant cousin, two years older than me, grins at me, remembering when we were 10 and 12. I was the oldest in my family and he, the youngest. I tell him that he looks like Jimmy Carter, only more handsome. His wife, a pretty 50ish woman,  shares her email address and Facebook page and we promise to keep in touch.

"Jimmy" has a twin sister and she squeezes me in a real southern hug. She is flamboyant, dressed in bright colors, and extroverted. Her Mama, my great-aunt, 80ish, has perfectly coifed silver hair, and soft hands, holds my hands and doesn't let go. She lost her husband six years ago and is in the early stages of Dementia.

My uncle is shaken at the sudden death of his wife. He is lost without her. He has aged, and is thin and frail, and doesn't look like the Elvis look-alike of his youth. The girls were crazy about him and he would talk for hours on the black rotary dial telephone, before call waiting and message machines. His only child is a pretty young woman in her twenties and looks like her father when he was younger.

Then there is Jewel, who just lost her mother two weeks before. She has long, black hair and could pass as a Cherokee Indian. Her daughter, another beauty, graduated from high school this week.

Cousin Rusty stands quietly to the side. He is 50 and doesn't talk much. He is the sole survivor in his family. Thank God for his wife of 30 years. He is proud of his son, who recently graduated from college.

Another cousin, Billy, will perform the funeral. He is a preacher and an evangelist. His older brother has fought the devil his entire life, but Billy turned to God.

My sister and I catch up with everyone, trying to remember names and faces. We listen to stories and share some of our own. We talk nostalgically about long-ago family reunions and childhood memories. We hope to plan a reunion, under better circumstances, we tell each other.

It is night before we leave. One of our cousins and her family take us out to eat before we go. We linger, talking in the parking lot under the street lights. Finally, we say our good-byes. And promise to keep in touch.

I think of all the good-byes I've said through the years, and promises to keep in touch.

And my uncle's wife - she was a military veteran. She served in the Army when she was a young woman and returned home to these Tennessee hills at the end of her tour of duty.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the skies

All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

This Memorial Day may we remember all of men and women who gave their lives for our country. God bless them all.


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