11.11.2007

I actually have roots

I denied it for decades. A broadly-educated, cosmopolitan adventuress doesn't do roots.

I've just returned from Aunt Midge's funeral and memorial gathering. It was an unexpectedly satisfying and reassuring experience, one of the few times in recent history that my sisters and I have interacted with that branch of the family, as my father was a minister and pastored churches far away for a good portion of our lives. In spite of our limited acquaintance with Aunt Midge's husband's family, the day gave us a welcome opportunity to get to know our various cousins and their offspring.

It was daunting, absolutely, at least at first. How could counting the number of surviving family elders on one hand, and finding oneself in a benign but slightly alien scenario not be daunting? Participating in conversations and listening to stories revealed that we had in common a rich, enduring heritage that typifies the spirit of those tough, durable ancestors who migrated to Texas in the 1800's in the hopes of carving a decent life from the earth.

Two octogenarian women sitting behind us in the chapel whispered to each other as immediate family filed out at the conclusion of the service. I'm quite sure they didn't realize that their conversation was clearly audible--they unconsciously compensated for impaired hearing by whispering louder.

"That Roy Junior is a handsome young man." (Roy is at least four years older than I am, which puts his age between 65 and 70)

"Oh yes he is--a very handsome young man."

Adorable. My heart swelled with pride and love for a family that I've been away from for too long.

Ordinary? Yes. We come from hard-scrabble farmers who worked themselves to death in the struggle to survive and flourish in a frequently hostile environment, rarely completing more than a few years in school. They were needed to keep the farm producing. At times, the only option was everlasting physical labor under brutal conditions. And when Ol' Boll Weevil brought King Cotton low, these hard-working people turned to less risky, more dependable employment in the local butcher shop, grocery store, or filling station. A microcosm of an agrarian populace adapting to the changing world.

Extraordinary, certainly. These descendants of the original Texas settlers inherited and passed along the more useful traits of their sturdy ancestors: courage, resourcefulness, love and husbandry of the land, determination, the importance of family, honesty, and a natural wisdom sufficient to thrive.

Today was a marvelous, gorgeous, warm, late autumn Indian Summer gem, gentle, stray breezes giving notice of an impending cold front. Midge was buried in the Young's Prairie Cemetery with many of her ancestors. Earlier this afternoon, our little gang visited our Daddy/Papaw, grandparents, and other family spirits in the tiny Elgin cemetery, recounting childhood stories, with occasional interjections to clarify the relationship for my niece's benefit.

The late afternoon sun saturated the cemetery and surrounding farms in a soft, golden light. A profound, peaceful stillness settled over the land. Pecan shells crunching underfoot, we wandered among the old and new headstones as the service proceeded, our attention focused on the solemn ritual unfolding under the small, open tent, even as we processed the experience--one foot grounded in the earth, the other connected to the small group of people huddled together near the casket.

My sisters in our usual style--quietly making irreverent quips to one another, unobtrusively pointing out the cultural artifacts particular to Central Texas--headstones decorated in the school colors and symbols of the oldest college football rivalry in Texas: The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College, better known as the tea-sipping Longhorns vs. the hard-drinking Aggies. A visceral manifestation of a long-standing Texas tradition.

Delicate tinkling sounds bubbled into awareness, drawing us close to an old pecan tree close by, where four silvery wind chimes danced in its wind-rocked branches, adding a pleasant, high-pitched polyphony to the minister's simple, elegant homily; weaving a magical contrapuntal progression into the murmured prayers and responses.

After saying our last goodbyes to Aunt Midge, we re-convened at a local family-owned Bar-B-Q establishment renowned for their smoked meats. We enjoyed the traditional two-meat dinner plate, with pinto beans, potato salad, sweet or unsweetened iced tea, onions, pickles, two slices of foamy, white bread, and a taste-tingling infusion of two humble ingredients: ground chile peppers and vinegar. Each bottle carries a warning label for the tender of foot or tongue. One of the grand-daughters brought a scrumptious, home-made lemon pound cake--a companionable finish to a Texas-style dinner.

Small town Texas, country goodness. Robust tales of days gone by. A gentle and reverent gathering to honor the passing of a well-loved and accomplished elder.

8 comments:

sharryb said...

So enjoyed reading both posts regarding your leave taking of Aunt Midge. I'm from Texas also, Ft. Worth. My sibs and I recently held a 180th birthday party for my parents--both turning 90 this year. I've been an Oregonian most of my life now, but I still know I have those Texas roots. The few funernals I've been able to attend have been so meaningful, just as you discribed.

Blessings,
Sharry

joared said...

Lovely tribute to family and your roots. I think I am most aware of my aging when I realize how few family members are left, and I'm the older generation, now.

Alice said...

Sorry about Aunt Midge.
The b-bque reminds me of that delicious stuff you get at Salt Lick there in the outskirts of Austin. Yum yum. Almost as good as okra.

Suzz said...

I’m sure Aunt Midge would be very proud to have such a lovely tribute. Thank you for letting us share her memory.

kokopelliwoman said...

Thank you Sharry. Even though I have a love/hate relationship with Texas, I do have a very strong family here, and that always brings joy.

kokopelliwoman said...

joared, as I come to that same realization, it just reconfirms the importance of living each day fully, gratefully, and mindfully.

kokopelliwoman said...

Hi, Alice, bbq is ubiquitous in Texas. Texans use beef, beef ribs, chicken, pork ribs, and sausage, always drenched in some red sauce, either tomato or chile based. Quite different than NC bbq, which is usually pork, with a clear, vinegary sauce. Can you believe I've eaten at most every bbq joint in the Austin area EXCEPT the Salt Lick? Probably because it's served family style, and I've never gotten a group together to go. I pass it coming and going to my sister's home outside Wimberley--extra careful driving there, to watch out for the Salt Lickers or rubber-neckers :)

kokopelliwoman said...

Suzz, I am lucky to have such very lovely relations. It all boils down to that one common thread of humanity in all of us. Thanks for your kind words. Reinforces the commitment to express love to those you care about RIGHT NOW. I love the old bumper sticker "Life is not a dress rehearsal."