Elders are linked to the past

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 28, 2005

After the graveside service was over, I walked slowly around the cemetery, reading familiar names on the headstones. Long ago, my cousins and I and our friends played hide and seek among many of these stones while our elders mowed grass and pulled weeds. At midday everyone gathered under the trees for a meal that rivaled Thanksgiving dinner.

Now the trees are gone, and beyond the cemetery fence homes have sprouted where cattle once grazed. The white, wood frame country church across the road long ago gave way to a large modern brick building. It is perhaps an admission of age to admit that I found the old building more attractive.

Engraved on many of the gravestones were the names of my kin, my mother’s family whom we lived among during most of my growing up years. Other stones named residents of our small community that I had known in childhood. Many stones had been added in the years after I left home.

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On this day another family member, Aunt Lodi, had been interred in the burial ground that bears the family name.

And another generation had passed.

I made a hurried trip home for the funeral. It’s funny how the word home passes through the mind. Although I left Lincoln Parish when I went away to college and don’t expect ever to live there again, history always begins tugging at me when I cross the Ouachita River and the flat delta country gives way to undulating hills and tall, straight pine trees.

Here much of me was formed, and here much of me remains. Reminders of the joy – and the pain – of growing up are all around me.

Now my brother and sister and I and our cousins are the elders of the clan.

I visited with my aunt only fleetingly during the years after I left home, but earlier in the day, as I sat in the chapel of the funeral home gazing at the open casket, I recalled a younger woman who had a greater influence on me than she probably ever realized.

Aunt Lodi was young, single and still living at home when I first knew her after we moved next door to my grandparents shortly after World War II ended. She was the only one of her family to finish college, and although she lived most of her life within a few hundred yards of her childhood home, she knew there was a wider world and was curious about it. Even as a young woman, she subscribed to National Geographic magazine and had stacks of back issues, including the war years.

There was no better way to spend a rainy afternoon than getting lost in those pictures from around the world. They whetted a curiosity that grew when I was old enough to read the stories that accompanied the pictures.

Later, a college literature book left on the bookshelf at my grandparents’ house introduced me to such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis.

For better or worse, all of my kin – and many of the others who lie in that cemetery – had a role in shaping me.

I wonder if our generation of elders will be as significant to our descendants. The earlier generations of my family, even those who had moved away, were together often. Christmas always seemed to be a homecoming. We are far more scattered than they were, and we are together less often. I was surprised at the number of second cousins whom I would not have recognized.

For whatever reason, we do not seem to wear the mantle of elder as visibly. Perhaps it is because of better health care. Perhaps it is that most of us don’t work at jobs that wear us out physically at an early age. Perhaps we really do have different attitudes.

There is no training for becoming the elders of the clan. It just happens. Ready or not, we are now the next generation’s link with their past.

Bill Brown can be contacted at 377 Quail Hollow Drive, Dadeville AL 36853 or by e-mail at williambrown1@charter.net

(c)2005 William B. Brown