Hi. I feel like I’ve been out of touch for awhile now, so it’s about time I’m writing. My Aunt Katherine died a week and a half ago, in Winston-Salem, NC. She was my favorite aunt. I hadn’t seen her in years, since something like 1994. But we kept up with cards and phone calls and Mom kept me posted on what she’d been up to. She was 84 and her health was failing, so it wasn’t a huge shock, but still, when I got the call, I cried for an hour or two. I can’t believe she’s gone. She was preceded in death a couple of years ago by her husband, my Uncle Earl. I have five cousins — their children.
Aunt Katherine’s memorial service was last Saturday in Winston-Salem. My fiance and I joined my parents for an eight hour car ride through East Tennessee over the mountains and on to northwest North Carolina. We arrived last Friday night and found our hotel before going to a local steakhouse for dinner. Then we went over to my aunt’s house, where my cousin Stephen was living. He had cared for his mother for the last three years of his life, and frankly, it had worn on him. She had gotten a rare form of dementia and had turned mean, unfortunately. She had always been loud and bossy, but also loving and warm. Now she was just mean. It’s sad. We visited with Stephen for awhile, whom I had not seen since 1994, and then went back to our hotel rooms. I was disappointed to find out he wouldn’t be attending the memorial service the next day. Additionally, my cousins Susan and Katherine couldn’t make it over from California, so just three of her children would be there. Later at the hotel, Gretchen and I went to the bar and discovered the Winston-Salem Shag Club was meeting and dancing there. It was kind of funny. For those of you unfamiliar with the shag, it’s a Southern dance. Been around a long time. We had a drink and hit the sack.
Saturday morning, I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought that maybe 10 people might show up for a 10 minute service. Boy, was I wrong! A lot of people showed up and the service was long. I first spotted my cousin Jane (with her husband), whom I hadn’t seen since 1985. It was nice to see her. Then her brother Kenneth, and his wife Betsy, showed up. I was really dumbfounded when my cousin Gray appeared. I’ve only seen him once, back when I was a young child in the early 1970s. He was older than me. He dad — my Uncle Tom — had died young. I never knew him. Now Gray was here, and with him a sister — Bunny. I had heard of Bunny for years, but — get this — I did not know we were cousins. I had thought we were second or third cousins or somehow related, but no one had ever told me Uncle Tom had three children (one is deceased). I was stunned to meet a new cousin at my age. It was awe inspiring. I was further excited to see my Aunt Francis, who came up from Savannah, and her son Chan, with his wife Lana, up from St Petersburg. It was a large family gathering — something I’ve never been a part of, as I’ve never lived near family and grew up not knowing any. I guess Aunt Katherine was my favorite aunt because I knew her best, but we still only saw each other two or three times a decade. Isn’t that tragic? I never met my grandparents on either side. They all died. I’ve never known what it’s like to have grandparents. That’s always saddened me.
The service was held in a Lutheran church, where my aunt attended. It was a traditional service. Many of Aunt Katherine’s former bridge partners showed up, which was nice. In fact, there were quite a few people there. It was touching. Jane got up and spoke, as did Betsy. Then my mother — the only remaining one of she and her siblings — got up and spoke. I wanted to, but decided not to as it seemed to be just the immediate family doing so.
After the service, ladies from the church served us lunch, and we gathered to look at old photographs and memorabilia. Gray and I caught up a bit. Like me, he’s a writer and editor, which was interesting. I talked to Bunny for a few minutes. Jane was the life of the party, as she always was growing up. Center of attention, and all that. Her husband, Craig, is very quiet in contrast. After we finished there, most of us headed back to the house, where we gathered together and talked. And ate goodies. Betsy was animated and she and I had a nice chat. It was especially good to see Kenneth, who’s probably my favorite cousin as I’ve kept up the most with him. He even came over to Chattanooga last year to visit, which was awesome. It was great being able to introduce Gretchen, my fiance, to everyone. They all liked her and even though she’s an introvert, she did well and I was proud of her. Many pictures were taken, and some were even decent, although I’m far from photogenic.
Late in the afternoon, we left and drove down to Old Salem, particularly to see the all women’s school, Salem College, where my maternal grandmother attended school years ago. I have a bum hip these days, so walking around was very difficult for me, but it was still nice to see some of these old buildings. When we returned to our hotel that night, we all watched football. I watched Alabama lose to Texas A&M in disbelief.
We left late the next morning, because we planned on stopping in Asheville to visit one of my dearest friends, Ami, an old college friend. She’s now a married mother of three and very busy, so it was nice of her to fit us into her schedule. Her step-mother was there visiting from Maryland, and as I hadn’t seen her since 1990, it was nice to talk to her. Ami looked great! I swear, she looks younger every time I see her. I want to know what her secret is. She came over to Chattanooga to visit me last year, so it was nice to be in her cute home up in the mountains. It was also nice to finally be able to introduce Gretchen to Ami. They had become friends over the past couple of years because of me, and they got along marvelously. When they met in person, it felt like they already knew each other very well. It was too short of a visit, but I’m glad it worked out.
On the way back to Chattanooga, we stopped in Knoxville at the church I grew up in. You could call it a mega-church, although it’s not nearly as big as some. For a mid-sized Southern city, I guess it’s fairly large, with about 5,000 members, six buildings, lots of land, and lots of money, with an operating budget close to 7 million dollars. It was encouraging to see their missions hall chock full of hundreds of big baskets of food items to be given to local missions and charities. It’s a rich mega-church, but they do have good people there and they do a lot of good work. They support more missionaries than any other Presbyterian church in their denomination, which is interesting. They even have six houses where they let missionaries on furlough stay when they’re back in the States. Naturally, my parents ran into a ton of people they knew, which extended our stay there, and naturally, they had to show Gretchen around. I had mixed feelings about being there. I’m generally not a big fan of mega-churches and I’m no longer an evangelical, so I don’t really support their teachings there, but there are a lot of good people at that church and they do a lot of good things, so I guess it’s a decent place. Still, it brought back a rash of memories from my growing up days, not all of which were good. Gretchen seemed to like it, although like me, she’s generally not a big fan of mega-churches. Instead of building two story gymnasiums and Internet cafes and coffee houses, more money could be given to the poor. That’s how we see it. I guess it’s different strokes for different folks. I do miss the size of the church though. My parents are attending a Presbyterian church here with 53 people in it, and Gretchen and I are attending an Episcopalian church here with about 60 or 70 people in it. It’s definitely different.
We got home around 6:30 Sunday night and unpacked. Gretchen and I were tired from a long weekend, so we simply ordered a pizza and watched some football. It had been an emotional weekend, but generally a good one, and it was so good to reunite with old friends and family members, as well as meet new ones. I hope to keep up with these cousins of mine now that I have some of their contact info, and maybe, just maybe, some might be able to make it to our wedding next spring.