I attended a funeral early this week - one of those real world, real life events that I research and document. A phone call, a text to my daughter to come take care of the dogs, quick laundry and we were out the door.
Ten hours across Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska looking at the hills, plains and sky I hadn't seen in 25 years. Breathtaking. Ten hours passing spots where this ancestor or that appeared on a census, married or died, wishing all the while we could stop for just one hour, one cemetery, one photo. Frustrating. An evening visiting with close, but distant kin, embracing and embraced.
He seemed a gentle man, though I didn't know him well, and it became clear over the day we were there that he had been a force to be reckoned with in many lives. Much loved by his wife of 34 years, my husband's aunt, and her family. Admired and loved by his own children and the community he lived in his entire life. Between her family and his half the church was filled - 10 surviving children, 31 grandchildren, 58 great-grandchildren. A gigantic Deere tractor led us to the cemetery - fitting for a life-long rancher and equipment salesman.
A long life, well lived. All lovely - except for the complications. Divorce, strained relationships, family members meeting one another for the first time. What impressed me so was that there was space for mixed feelings, acceptance that we are sometimes bruised by one another, respect for the full range of emotions involved. The smiles were polite, and sincere, and even rueful. The warmth was genuine.
We met another aunt for the first time, a dynamic, engaging woman that I hope we meet again. She resembles her mother rather than her father, which can only be a blessing. I am, it seems, not as gracious as the rest of the family. But for his sins - and they were many - her father had some wonderful children who built lives the best they could. Plenty of bruises along the way, plenty of mixed feelings. But lots of warmth and laughter, too.
And then we left. Ten more hours back home looking at the sky and listening to Cliff Lee dominate the Yankees, admiring his talent and hating the results.
I've new information to add to my data. Some names and dates. But they don't paint the full picture that the direct looks, rueful smiles and hugs did.