Mary Ann Ellis

Last week I met my sister Sarah Nell in Hazlehurst, our hometown, and we then drove together out to Union Springs Church for a funeral. My cousin Ronnie’s wife had died suddenly, leaving the whole family in a state of shock. As we turned right on Kirkland Still Road, I looked for signs of my childhood when every Sunday found us on this road, headed toward family and food and fun. Before all that though, Uncle Roy loaded us all on the old school bus and took us to Union Springs for Sunday school and preaching. 

As a child, I sat in that church, usually on the front pew, and pondered about the size of the church. It seemed huge to me. In summer the windows were left open for fresh air and gnats to come in. I don’t remember any mosquitos, but I do remember those gnats. How could I forget. I sat in a row with whichever cousins happened to be there that Sunday. Our stomachs rumbled as we dreamed of Grandma’s big country table that Grandpa had built himself. It would be loaded with the best of foods—a ham from Grandpa’s smokehouse, fresh vegetables from the garden, and always Grandma’s hot fluffy biscuits from her big black wood stove. At the time I had no idea how much talent those biscuits required. I just knew how delicious they were. 

After we ate, all the cousins ran outside to play. We’d explore the farm, looking for new babies. Sometimes we’d find a new litter of kittens, sometimes a calf. We’d climb trees and play tag. Sometimes it was hide and seek. We never sat around and complained of being bored. We cousins enjoyed each other’s company. We knew each other—really knew each other. 

As I drove, I saw practically no signs of childhood. The clay roads of my young years have long since disappeared under the pavement. Most of the bad curves were cut down. When we reached the site of my grandpa’s old house, I didn’t even recognize it. Sarah Nell had to point it out to me. The house has been gone for years, but I thought I’d surely recognize the place. I didn’t. 

When we arrived at the church, it was packed full except for two seats in the choir. The funeral director led us old ladies to them. I sat there, looking over the crowd. The windows were closed, of course, and the air conditioning worked quietly and efficiently, breathing cool air into the sanctuary. I wondered how I’d ever thought the church big. Then I realized that I’d been looking through the eyes of a child.

As I let my eyes roam over the congregation, so many faces looked familiar to me. Names almost came to my tongue, but not quite. Were these people classmates? Relatives? I had no idea, but that vague familiarity taunted me. Sadness suddenly overwhelmed me. I realized that chunks of my life had disappeared. So many of those cousins I’d run and played with were gone already. And the others had lost touch with each other. Life interfered. We’d roamed around, moved away, lost touch. We’d had families of our own and got busy raising children, working, and running households. It seems to me that we’re busier now than my parents were in my childhood. Perhaps that’s the perspective of a child, too. I’m not sure, but on Tuesday last I felt that I’d lost something truly important—a big chunk of my family. And I missed them.

As we walked to the grave site, we passed a multitude of family graves. Grandpa’s and Grandma’s graves are practically at the entryway. Uncles and Aunts lie nearby. Now and then a child’s grave catches my attention. And today Linda joins them. My heart aches for her family and for those I’ve lost. And Time marches on.