Thursday, August 30, 2012

We're All Cousins

Of course nothing has been simple over the past two weeks. Mama had wanted to be buried with her parents in the family cemetery which I could understand at the time. However, after an emotional week with her in CCU, a day of visitation and then  the following day with the funeral, I had second thoughts when I realized granting her wish meant a third day of "funeralizing" and a car trip two hours away to the part of the state she was reared in - the land of tobacco and cotton. So Monday morning, we all headed north east to the town of Centenary, population 1,728, where my Granddaddy was born. 

The family cemetery is a lovely place dating back to the late 1700's, nestled in the tall pines and oak trees. The old Baptist Church on the site has long since burned. In fact I was not even aware that there was ever a church there. We did not expect anyone except the immediate family to be in attendance since the funeral had been the day before but as we drove up, sure enough there were already a few folks milling around.

Now you know you are sure 'nough in the south when everyone you meet has a double name. There was Betty Doris (Mama was born in her house), Carol Jean, and Martha McMillan. Then there was Francis Jean - yes, even some of the men have double names. 

And, there was a bit of confusion. Martha McMillan, who proudly told me she was 89, said they had told her J'Nelle had died (Mama's younger sister who had passed away six years prior). "Lord, I thought I was losing my mind. Why I knew I had been to J'Nelle's funeral." I assured her that she had been to my Aunt J'Nelle's funeral. "Then someone told me J'Nelle had been buried with Virginia (my mother's aunt who was also buried in the family cemetery) and I thought, now was she buried in the same grave? on top of her? And, that made no sense." I explained to her that J'Nelle had been cremated and her ashes had been spread across my uncle's farm in Virginia. "Well, now that explains that. I knew something was wrong there." Then she stopped, "Virginia, why in Virginia? She always was a little different. I guess South Carolina just wasn't good enough for her." I just added, "I'm not sure what the story was there."

Over the course of the next fifteen minutes or so, these nice people were telling me about kin folks who had died or were nigh unto dead. Oh, where was my Mama when I needed her to explain all this to me. She could always tell me who was whom, who they belonged to, and where I had last seen them. And, now just bits and pieces made sense. There seemed to be more folks and names than I ever could remember.

Over lunch, I was asking my uncle, my mother's only surviving sibling, questions about our relatives. His comment was, "Heck, I had to come to your mother's funeral to learn which of my cousins were
still alive. We only had two. Remember only one of Daddy's brothers ever married." "Well who are all these other 'cousins'?" "Oh, those are Daddy's first cousins." "Not your and Mama's first cousins?" "Shoot no." "No wonder I'm confused, I'm trying to figure out where they fit in and I don't even know their parents." "Not unless you know the names of your great grandfather's siblings."

No wonder Martha McMillan just said, "If you're kin, we just call everyone 'cousin'.

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