Tag Archives: family

Another Graveyard Reunion

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Saturday was old home day in the graveyard.  All of us who have been to a funeral or graveside service understand that those occasions are, to some degree, social in nature.  The mood is usually pretty somber.  However, that’s not the case on the Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday if you’re in a God’s Acre graveyard somewhere.

I was blessed to grow up in two Protestant denominations:  Moravian and Methodist.  While I am most active in the Methodist church, I still cherish my associations with the Moravian Church.  To put it plainly, Moravians have some cool traditions that other denominations don’t.  Preparing your family’s gravesites for the Easter Resurrection Service is one of them. God's Acre

It starts with the graveyard itself.  God’s Acre is the name used by Moravians for the graveyard associated with their congregation. It’s reflective of our German heritage and means “Field of God”.  Moravians believe strongly in equality, including at death.  Consequently, all headstones are the same shape, size and color (white) and are flat on the ground.  It creates a truly beautiful setting.  If you’ve seen a military graveyard where all the markers are white crosses, you will have a better idea of the impression you get.  I’ve always referred to God’s Acre as the “most un-scary” graveyard around.

This picture is from God’s Acre in Old Salem, Winston-Salem, NC.  It covers the area down to the white car, across the green area and up the hill and to the right.  The first stone was laid in the 1790’s.

Members of the congregation who are buried here are buried in what are referred to as choirs.  This is a mirror of how they sat in church (in the early days) as well as their station in life:  married men, married women, single men, single women, and children.  The graves are laid out in a grid pattern and are in chronological order.  If you are looking for a gravesite, a date of death can get you a long way.  There are paved walkways between the grids and green water pumps scattered throughout.  We have so many relatives in the God’s Acre here that we’ve been using a map for years.  My cousin’s husband Tod is great about updating it as needed; I got my new copy on Saturday.

All extended family members are invited to meet in the parking lot at 10:30 a.m.  Everyone knows to bring buckets, scrub brushes, cleanser, gloves, flowers and stakes.  Then we divide and conquer.  Family members who do not come are the recipients of disparaging remarks for the rest of the year.  Redemption comes when you show up to clean the next year.  We usually end up going by all the relatives’ graves so we can say “Hi” to the loved ones we knew and wonder aloud about the ones we didn’t.  Along the way, we’re checking out the inscriptions and giving our opinions about the flowers and cleaning job done by others.

We run into old family friends, chat with strangers and rehash family memories.  This year, we spent some time in what we’ve dubbed the “condo” section.  This is a relatively new section for cremated remains.  Same type of headstone, just smaller.  Still beautiful.

On Saturday we had 3 generations present:  my 2 paternal aunts, now the family matriarchs; 11 of my generation, my siblings, some cousins and some outlaws – those who marry into our family; and 9 of the younger generation.  This group included 2 soon-to-be family members – Jen will marry my nephew Alex this summer and Lewis will marry my niece Emily this winter.  If you want to get in good with the family, come clean gravestones before the wedding! Graveyard Tailgating

Once all the cleaning and visiting is done, our crowd piles up in our cars and we head for a local restaurant for lunch together.  Some families stay and tailgate.  Why not?  There’s plenty of room for the little ones to run and play…plenty of people milling around for the afternoon.  Just bring the lawn chairs and your food.  If the weather’s as beautiful as it was this past Saturday, it’ll be a wonderful old home day in the graveyard.

Then come back Sunday morning for the Resurrection Service.  Watching the sun rise over the expanse of white stones, highighted by colorful flowers, is more than worth the effort.

 

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What’s Your Name? Who’s Your Daddy?

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Raise your hand if you read the obituaries…in print or on line.

If you don’t, you really should.  While most of them are similar in terms of the information provided, every now and then you’ll come across one that leaves you wondering what in the world the writer was thinking!  I skim them, looking for anyone I might know, but I’m also on the lookout for unusual names.  When I see an unusual last name, I look for where this person was born.  But it’s the first name that’s most interesting to me.

Southerners have a thing for names – first names, middle names and how those names connect you to someone else.  I can’t remember how many times I heard my grandmother ask, “And who are his parents?” We want to know:  who are your people?

Add to that the fact that Southerners are a quirky group.   The way we name our children proves it.

My family is big on the “family” name.  Go to one of our family gatherings, yell “Blair, toss me that tennis ball!” and you’re liable to get a barrage of balls coming your way.   We have a lot of Blairs.  We have had 4 generations of Robert Alexander; no wonder Southerners use nicknames.  I was named after my mom – Cornelia.  It’s not a bad name, but just not one you want as a child.  The classroom teacher would always pause before attempting to call my name aloud in class.  Without fail, the other kids would giggle as I would replied, “I go by Connie.”  My cousin was named after her mom – Erdmuth Dorothea.  My aunt is called Erd (Erd Bird being the family nickname); my cousin managed to come out with the name Dottie.  Older family members, like my great-uncle John Fries Blair (there’s that name again) always used our “full” names.  Fortunately, our parents didn’t.

My good friend Robin has a nice name – short, easy to pronounce and spell.  I’ve never asked her if she feels fortunate, but considering other names in the family, she might.  Her mom’s name is Lodell.  Aunts and uncles include:  Creola, Mundale, Vendale and Lonie.  Then there’s General Delton, General Dolan and John Target.  And yes, you use both names every time.

Another friend, Dennis, tells great stories about a family in his hometown that had 6 kids – 5 girls and a boy.  The girls’ names trip off his tongue with ease, like some kind of poem:  Irene, Ilene, Imogene, Fayrene and Dordene.  Then, bless him, comes Arvil.  Add that name to the end of the line above and the rhythm comes to screeching halt.  Arvil.  Dennis’ father renamed him Tangerine.  Now say it:  Irene, Ilene, Imogene, Fayrene, Dordene and Tangerine; harmony restored!

Some Southerners just keep it simple with what I call the “interchangeable first letter formula”.  One family’s example:  Lonnie, Donnie, and Connie.  Growing up, we had neighbors who took the opposite approach:  all the kids have a name that starts with the same letter.  Imagine…6 kids, all of whom had names that started with the letter T.  With 6 kids running around, I think “Hey you” and a pointing finger probably worked just as well.

We like our Biblical names too.  This week in the paper I found an Obadiah (now deceased) and a Messiah, alive and well at 4 years old.

There are names I have never seen attached to a person.  This week’s entry:  Clorine.  And yes, she had a nickname – Clo.

Then there are names that should never be combined.  One of the 7th grade teachers in my junior high was Mrs. Cain.  Care to guess what she named her first daughter?  All together now!  Candy.  What in the world were her parents thinking? or smoking? or drinking?

Finally, there are those names I call unfortunate.  I see a lot of these in the obituaries.  They seem to be older names that have fallen out of common use – a good thing as far as I’m concerned.  A name makes the “unfortunate” list if it gives me a less than pleasant visual.  One of them is Fanny.  My maternal grandmother’s oldest sister was named Fanny.  I grew up hearing that same word used to indicate one’s backside.  Sure to unleash waves of giggling in the early elementary school classroom.  I’m sure great-Aunt Fanny was a lovely woman, but that name.  Unfortunate.  Bertha; that one makes my list too.

I have never lived outside of the South, so I would love to hear from some of you how your family or your area of the country names its children.  There are bound to be more interesting (and unfortunate) traditions out there.

Extra credit points to anyone who can guess the source of this post’s title.

Prison Kitchen

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My cousin emailed all of us coming to Thanksgiving the other day and asked us to let her know what we were bringing.  I have a large extended family and we try to see each other at Thanksgiving.  This tradition started when we were children.  We used to gather at my paternal grandmother’s large home.  Grandma is gone, as is the house, so we meet at my cousin’s church now.  There’s plenty of room inside (including bathrooms) and the youngest ones can go out and play on the church grounds.  Whenever I start thinking about what I’m going to make for Thanksgiving, I am flooded with memories of those “special moments” cooking for and with a crowd.

I like the holiday season.  I enjoy fixing food for family and friends.  But there’s  nothing like too many rear ends in the kitchen and too many armchair chefs giving their unasked for advice to start the holidays off with a bang.

You know how it goes.  You and maybe a sibling/in-law or two are in the kitchen sharing the duties.  You’ve planned the menu and each family coming has agreed to fix a few things to help out.  You encouraged them to make the items at home and then bring them ready to go in the oven or be served.  But, no one listens to you so they all show up with their coolers and bags of ingredients.  “We thought we’d make it here; it’s so much easier.”  So now you’re on the hunt for extra mixing bowls, utensils, baking dishes, etc.  You’re also on the hunt for that glass of wine you poured when the first group pulled in the driveway.

So with three of you bouncing off each other like balls in a pinball game, you’re managing to prep food and enjoy being together.  About this time, one of the sweet college age family members breezes in to bake the biscuits from scratch.  She’s small, so she sees no problem squeezing in.  This is the same family member who is well known for enjoying the thrill of baking, but manages to be totally committed elsewhere for the agony of cleaning up.  She starts singing some musical show tune as a cloud of flour floats across the stove.

You are trying to multiply a recipe in your head (and for some of us this IS higher math) when a sibling/in-law starts asking where things are in the kitchen.  The train of addition leaves the mental station and you notice your wine glass is out of sight again.  You realize you are gritting your teeth while you look for whatever is needed, an item that could have been brought had anyone listened to your original request.

That new dish you made for this year’s event comes out of the frig to return to room temperature.  You ask someone to go ahead and put it on the table.  And what do you hear?  Is it, “Wow.  This looks delicious!”  Of course not.  It’s “What is this?  I’ve never eaten anything that looks like this.”  And it’s spoken by one of those family members who still, even as an adult, won’t let his different foods touch on the plate.

You are sweating now.  The oven is on and with all the other people in the room, it’s hot.  You strip down to that tank top you were smart enough to put on about the same time one of the armchair chefs walks in.  “Hot flash?” he asks as he starts to laugh.  “Why is it cloudy in here?”  Our baker is totally oblivious that this smart remark is directed at her; she’s still singing show tunes.  Suddenly you hear from the other room, “When are we eating?  I’m hungry.”

The voices grow dim as your eyes spy the butcher knife.  You know the turkey doesn’t need that knife, but there are other options for its use in the room.  You realize your hand is trembling.    butcher knife

Welcome to Prison Kitchen.

Ahh…the stuff of which family holiday memories are made.  Happy Thanksgiving, a little early.

Special thanks to my friend Sharon Holmes who introduced me to the term Prison Kitchen and had me laughing until I cried.

I Wish I Were…

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My mother died in March 1983, almost 30 years ago.  She was 49 and I was 23.

A lot of living has happened in between then and now, joy and sadness and everyday stuff I would have loved sharing with her.  At what age do you get over the ache of wanting to put your arms around your mom, snuggle on the couch together and just be?

I wish I were able to bring her back for a visit.

If I could have 1 day for each year, I’d have 30 days.  Thirty days for her to get to know the outlaws (how our extended family refers to those souls fortunate enough to marry in).  Wanda, Don, Stan and Phillip have personalities and talents she would have liked and interests she shared.  And they could begin to know why we thought she was such a great mom.

Thirty days for her to wrap her love and laughter around the grandchildren she never knew.  Did she dream of having them when we were young?  Kristen, Alex, Emily, Heidi and Blair have heard the stories and seen the pictures, but none of that comes close to making up for not having been rocked in her lap, read to, and cherished as only a grandmother can do.

Thirty days for her four children to show her that her love, her tears, her prayers and her guidance were not given in vain.  I think she would be proud of who we have become, of how we have tried to live up to the standards she set.

And at the end of thirty days, I would let her go.  How could I keep her from the glories of heaven?  Dad would be waiting for her.  After being separated for 20 years after she died, I know he’d be waiting for her to get back to her rocking chair on the front porch of heaven, right next to his. And maybe, just maybe, this would hold me over for the next 30 years.

Complementary Compliments

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I don’t get too charged up about compliments.  It is a nice practice to speak words of encouragement and a simple remark like “You look great today!” can really lift someone’s spirits.  But too often, compliments can be like “the handshake that hides the snake.” *

“Wow, that’s some shirt!” says nothing and everything.  The other day as I crossed paths with a guy on the sidewalk, he said, “Hey pretty lady.  You look good for over 40.”  I laughed; it was funny.  But it was certainly a bass-ackward compliment.

Not long ago, I received what I consider a very real compliment.  I don’t believe my co-worker was aware she was giving a compliment, but I heard it and was deeply touched by it.  We were talking about pet names for loved ones, her great grandchildren in particular.  As she began to share something with me, she started by saying, “I can say this to you.”  She then finished her comments.

She and I are probably pretty close in age, but our ethnic backgrounds and our lives are very different.  “I can…” means she trusts me with her thoughts.  “…say this…” means she trusts me enough to say the words aloud without fearing the possible reaction to those words.  “…to you.” means that we really have a relationship.  That six word sentence made my day.  I have safely tucked it away in my heart with other treasures.

Look for an opportunity to give such a gift.  And pay attention – someone may be trying to do the same for you.  You don’t want to miss it!

*(Smiling Faces Sometimes, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, my favorite version recorded by Undisputed Truth in 1971.)