Last week my Aunt Stella passed away. Okay, Great Aunt, but I’ve never been one to specify too much for particulars when it comes to family. She was a great lady. She loved jokes, and had many jokebooks she would read aloud from and share with us whenever she had the chance. Stella was always the one to break out board games, card games, or start a game of croquet out on the lawn, before the mosquitos got too bad, that is. she loved her God and she loved her large extended family. And we loved her.
Stella lived her entire life on the family farm in Goobertown Arkansas-yes, that is the real name of the town and if you poke fun I will fight you. She never married or had kids of her own, but loved children and made everyone who visited the house feel like they were home. I should probably explain “the house” because this particular house was pretty much one of a kind.
Well, not the house itself, there are lots like it all across the country. This house was special due to its occupants and what it meant to so many. This house was where everyone gathered for many years, longer than I have been alive. My great grandparents lived on that farm and raised twelve children there. Most of them married and moved away, but Stella and her twin sister Clara did not. Two other sisters returned to the farm as adults and stayed as well. After Great Mom died Stella, Clara, Marge and Naomi lived at the house, took care of the farm, and over the years, hosted many visits from their extended family from all over the country. There were times I remember as a kid when there were people in every room, on couches, mattresses on the floor, and pretty much anywhere we could fit.
That house holds memories of cousins playing in the fields, counting the cows, picking and canning vegetables, games that would stretch for hours (“Rook”, Dominoes and “Aggrivation” being the ones I remember most), egg hunts, Christmases, running to the pond and back, walking the gravel road out to cross the highway and get a snack at the general store, church services in the small little New Antioch Baptist Church (which has now more than doubled in size), some AMAZING Southern cooking, and so much more. It was a house full of life, love, and family, family, family.
Now, things have changed. Stella was the last of the sisters to live on the farm. As “the girls” as we called them got older, cousin Jennifer moved in and helped take care of them and the house, and I am so thankful for her presence there. The house is still in the family, but it is the end of an era to be sure.
Much to my chagrin, I was not very good at visiting as an adult, and my kids had never visited. My wife has been, and I have visited for funerals, sadly, but the kids were never able to come along. So when this funeral happened on a MonDave, sorry, Monday, since I was off work and the kids were off school I made sure to take whoever was available. That’s how it came to be that Monday morning the girls and I were off to Arkansas.
I am glad I went for several reasons. For one thing, being a Monday a lot of people could not attend, so it was good to be able to be there. It was nice catching up with some cousins and great Aunts and Uncles I don’t see much. The service was performed by cousin Terry and he did a lovely job.
After a walk through the family plot and a few stories shared, we all ate together and I finally got to take the girls to the farm. Their cousin Barbara took them on a tour of the grounds via a golf cart which she apparently mistook for a formula one racing car. Barbara drives fast and maybe a little reckless, but she comes by it naturally, since her uncle once drove me around on a three wheeler in much the same fashion, only this time nobody broke their arm. Anyway, they had a blast and I was glad they had the experience.
It was a lot of driving (about three and a half hours both ways), and a sad occasion, but as tends to happen when you spend time with those you love, it wound up being a good day with a pleasant memory attatched.
Treasure your time with family, folks. Especially the ones you don’t see as often as you like. Tell the people you love that you love them. Hold them in your heart until you see them again.
I’ll see you next week.