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Monday, February 20, 2017

Memento mori

Once upon a time in the Sandhills of North Carolina, the Presbyterian Church made a century-long commitment to education in an isolated part of an isolated state.

Scotland, after all, was equally stony ground: a collection of grass-covered rocks the Presbyterians converted into some of the best-educated people in the world.

Flora MacDonald College, and Presbyterian Junior College for Men, were outposts of that effort, and gave my family a leg up in the world. Five of my uncles were PJC graduates; my mother- the only girl in a farm family of eight kids- took her degree from Flora Mac.

In the 1950s the colleges were merged into the new Consolidated Presbyterian College, now St. Andrews University. There a slice of the next generation- several cousins and I- got our starts.

The Flora Mac girls are few now, and one less with the death of my mother, Margaret Comer Thompson, Class of 1952, on February 5.

We had a memorial service for her February 19, a few yards from the farmhouse in which she was born August 5, 1930.

It was a nice service. There were remarks appropriate to the occasion, and a piper from the St. Andrews University Pipe Band. My mother's freshman year college roommate came. "Your mother spoke of you often," she told me. "She was very proud of you."

I thanked her for her kind words. It's what one does at funerals. Everyone comes to one with different needs. Most leave with what they came looking for. The rest? Well, maybe the answer wasn't there. It may be somewhere else. Meantime, don't spoil someone else's event.

My thoughts on hearing the eulogy is that it helps to be told what to say, rather than having to draw from personal experience.

I walked around, in the time there was, thanking people for coming and learning who the hell they were. It's what my dad would have expected. I was Head of the Family for Three Hours.

Mostly it was like being a French exchange student: I could follow the literal version of what people said, but the nuance and context were beyond me. Everyone's lives had moved on without me, then intersected for an afternoon, and then returned to separate orbits once the observances were done.

I was gathered up for one photograph. I chuckled while being herded into place. It was the first time I could remember when I was not being told to go change something I'd worn, or brush my hair.

Robert Frost wrote, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in." Edward Abbey wrote, "Home is where, when you have to go there, you probably shouldn't."

I was grateful to be invited. It was my first attendance at a family event in a quarter century. It was my first extended visit to the farm in fifty years. I was glad to see it again. It has not changed much, but that will not last. Little by little, we are dying off, our little constellation, and the longleaf pine forest will reclaim us all in the end.

I was sent home with a big plate of barbecue. It's what we do.

1 comment:

  1. My condolences, Waldo. Your eloquence says much, particularly given how difficult the passing of a parent is, not to mention the additional struggle of being treated as an outsider for so long.

    It sounds as though you handled it with much more grace I would have. I suppose one cannot change those who do not wish to be changed, or who do not wish to accept others as they are.

    One thing is certain: your mother had good reason to be proud of you. Take care.