Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
~ Pema Chodron ~
Long ago, there was this big old round oak tree. Through the eyes of a little girl, it was so wide and round that the base seemed almost too skinny to belong to it. Traveling the winding country road, from a long distance, that oak tree once marked the first hint that you were nearing the location where so many of my family members now rested.
Long before then, at least before I could personally tell you who any of them were, there was a little house that peeped out past the tree. That house belonged to a lady I would never meet. She was my great-great-grandmother. Later in life, hearing stories about her, it saddened me that she died before I could meet her. But, in reality, it was never likely I would. After all; she was my great-great; four generations before me. Still, the stories had me feeling I almost knew her. I did however; get to live fully aware of three great-grandparents. Two barely a memory. These are all family members on my dad’s side of the family.
Eventually, that big old oak tree would be long gone. I don’t recall anyone saying for sure why. But, it’s not unlikely a tornado or hurricane took it down. There is a long-standing history of both in and around the tiny Colerain, North Carolina farming town that I’m a native of. That tree was once the landmark that stood just past the resting place of many family members. Long before I was even a thought, there were many who would be placed there as their final resting place. But as I grew up, from a young child to an adult, there would be so many I now did know. This included a great-grandmother and grandmother, a dearly loved and missed sister, aunts, uncles and cousins.
This particular land; just a small patch in comparison to what surrounds it, belongs to my family. Long ago, my great-great grandmother lived beyond it. Just past the old oak tree. Now; it’s one of two paternal family cemeteries. The other, so tiny you could miss it if you weren’t looking carefully for it. After many decades, far longer than I’ve lived, it’s now full. Still, the location is part of a road with well over a hundred years history linked to my family. That I know of anyway. Maybe more.
Across the road, close to, yet barely noticeable from the road, rests the last of an old wood pile that was once the tiny house my father was born in. I was always fascinated by that. Mostly because my father was the second to the last of eleven children to be born. Actually twelve total, but one was stillborn.
When I was a young girl, the frame of that home still remained. It was in tact enough for me, even as a child, to understand how humble the beginnings of my father’s life must have been. How in the world, many times I voiced in fascination, could at least fourteen people, including my great-grandmother and grandparents, all have crammed up in that tiny house?
One week ago, one of my dad’s eldest brothers died. At almost ninety-three, he was the oldest living sibling. But, many of the last six years or so had not been healthy years. That worsened toward the end. I am happy for him that he is no longer suffering or in pain. He is now well. Reflecting on both the loss and life of him has taken me back through a lot of years. Doing so, highlights the life of so many. I have answers about how hard life was for them. Yet, there was never a lot of complaining.
As I’ve shared, it was a small farming town. Farming was always the primary available work. Tobacco fields! Cotton fields! Corn fields! Peanuts & Pecans! It had everything to do with why my parents, like so many others, migrated further east when I was a young girl. They were seeking better work opportunities so that they could provide their children a different life than they’d ever known. They certainly did just that too. Yes; they did indeed.
In thinking about my uncle, I also think about my dad. My dad’s twin. Sixteen years apart yet, that’s the brother my dad resembled most. Not just in favor but mannerisms too. I found that quite special. I see how all the siblings took after the generations before them. Hard working people. Most of my dad’s siblings still worked at least part-time even after they retired. They found something or another to do. They all wanted to. Being used to working, it didn’t appear any of them found it easy to just settle into retirement mode.
I’m reminded how all the nieces and nephews loved their uncles and aunts just as I did. We all seem to view family as an extension of our own parents and siblings. The amazement in that I guess is that I’m just recently placing any emphasis on that even though the reality was always before me. It speaks mounds about how we were all raised with the depth of love and respect for each other’s parents.
As large as the family grew to be from so many siblings, I don’t recall any issues of jealousy. Yeah, there was a little drama whispered about a relative here or there. Well; ok! Sometimes a bit louder than a whisper. But nothing any number of others ever fed into. No-one else ever got involved in it to any real degree. I think that says a lot also about being sensible and fair. It says a lot about not feeding into matters that were typically, much to do about nothing to begin with.
Born into a strong Christian family, church was where all our lives began. That foundation, along with a good old-fashioned southern upbringing, even despite the fact that other’s of my dad’s siblings with their family and eventually other nieces, nephews, greats, etc. also had moved further east, strongly influenced the outcome of our lives. Where-ever you go, with you, you take what you know.
We all were raised to respect our elders, to be courteous and respectful to all others in general. We weren’t raised necessarily with a lot of talk about the future, how to manage your life, etc. I guess, just a mirror of what they thought was normal. Yet, somehow we got it that we were to take over our life where our parents left off and do well. There wasn’t a lot of discussion about what “well” meant. But, if all accomplished was the extinct of what we’d seen growing up, that, to our elders, likely was enough.
My parents certainly were there to discuss whatever I brought to them, no matter what topic. I have to highlight that because with me, they learned to expect it could be about anything. I took the rein of no holds barred topics and conversations and it’s exactly what I instilled in my son.
No, we weren’t perfect. We weren’t mistake free. But, somehow my father’s siblings children and in turn, their children and so on, truly with very few exceptions considering how enormously big the family is, really didn’t stray far for long, if at all, from how we were raised up. I find that to be truly amazing. Quite naturally, we tweaked the parts we had a bit of an objection to and worked it into what we wanted to try our way, when it came to raising our own children.
The overall message I guess I got out of reflection this past week is to be true to who you are. Like that big old oak tree, all that is familiar will eventually fade and no longer be. One by one; family will leave us. We’ll have to somehow manage a goodbye for now. Take full advantage and get the answers you need while they are here. Get the recipes, the pictures and the most priceless of all; the time and the stories. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a story about an old oak tree in your family. One day memories will have to suffice. I’m grateful to understand that a part of my dad and each of his siblings explains a little bit of me. Each of them is in me. I don’t have to be just like someone else. It was never a requirement for me to be genuinely loved.
It’s always been Ok to be yourself. You’re going to be loved regardless. Differences in and among siblings, in any generation, has always just simply been normal. You are only accountable for the life you live and the stories you leave behind. There’s no need to go around tying to fix something. If it’s broken; it’s broken. Leave it alone. If it’s not, it’ll work itself out.
Fast forward; several generations later, I can say, “Ok, now, we are seeing the signs of different times”. When being, doing, thinking and acting just went and changed somewhere along the way. Small but noticeable and stuff that matters. Things like patience, interest and politeness, etc. now shows itself to be different. Whereas my generation felt no real significant impact, today’s generation would.
Gone are the days where less was more. When you had everything you needed and truly appreciated the little things. From being creative in making up your own games to playing and loving being outdoors and even simple things like riding a bicycle, referring to every adult as Ma’am, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Somewhere along the way, everything went and changed. I wish I could have had more than a memory left to describe to my child how things used to be. Much of it was not broken and the majority of it worked. But, outside of those who were born into those days, it’s all gone now.
I’m not even sure I would want a glimpse into the future to see what is to come next. I am grateful for all that was passed on to me. Even much of what I may have thought, then or later, I didn’t like so much. There was a lesson in there somewhere. I’d like to think I got it. I know I did. I am grateful that I was able to preserve enough to pass along to my son. Now sadly; it appears very little of yesterday is left to pass along to tomorrow. Something will pass on to the next generation. I’m just not sure what. Whatever it is, I hope it holds good, positive lessons to learn from and live by. I hope nothing begins to go away before it has taught us what we need to know. Like the big old round oak tree, there’s a story in there somewhere, and therefore; a lesson.
You’ve got the floor…
What, if anything, do you wish could have stayed the same? Please leave a comment to share your thoughts.