“Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
— Thomas Wolfe
‘You Can’t Go Home Again’
They are all gone now; we have watched the passing of a generation.
My paternal grandfather Raymond was the oldest child born to Herbert and Ethel Young in 1906, followed by Sam, Cora, Earl, Anna, Mary and Emery. They joined Herbert’s two older children, Nellie and Ralph. They grew up working and playing in the fields, valleys and creeks that would become home to those of us who followed.
I think of how different the countryside was when they were growing up at the home place. The Eckley Cemetery, a serene and sacred place, was where they went for picnics, because it was the closest thing they had to a park. Entire families, all now gone, are remembered by only a few of us.
Life moves on, the once vibrant lives now just shadows — the way it has always been, the way it will always be.
Emery, the youngest of his family, born in August of 1921, passed away at his home in December at age 91, surrounded by his wife and their three daughters and their families. Mary Dell, the youngest of the girls, who would have turned 94 this summer, died Feb. 8, the last of the siblings to go.
Because my father’s parents lived under the same big roof on the family farm, there were great stories of his childhood involving the youngest of his aunts and uncles.
Uncle Emery, 10 years old when my dad was born, shared a bedroom with his kid nephew, and it became his job to accompany the little boy on the bus when he started school in 1938, and it was Emery who was reprimanded when the little boy repeated words that his tender ears should not have yet heard.
When Emery married in 1943, his nephew found the house incredibly quiet.
Mary had eloped with a neighbor boy, driving to Kentucky in his yellow Chevy convertible with a rumble seat, lying about their age in order to be married by a justice of the peace. The young couple moved back to the home place when it was time for their baby, the first of Mary’s three sons, to be born.
My dad, a preschooler, remembered being sent out to the barn bank to watch for the stork to come, bringing a baby. He took his day-long job seriously, and was forever incensed that the stork arrived through the front door of the house, never even giving him a glimpse of it.
When I was writing historical pieces about the old Eckley community families and all of the tragedies of that place and time, it helped me to see that sorrow is to be overcome, and joy is to be sought, treasured. Times were hard and lives were sometimes incredibly brief, noted on old, fading sandstone monuments.
Often, if I were to ask my dad about a particular family buried there, he was able to tell me which farm they had called home, even if it had been 100 years before his arrival. That type of knowledge is a passing jewel.
It was a community that became in a sense a family, as all of the old communities were back then. They leaned on one another to get the work done, to birth the babies, to educate the children in a one-room schoolhouse they all had helped to build, to marry and to bury, to find reasons to go on when life had to have seemed mighty bleak.
The strong prevailed, taking steps toward an unforeseen future, and yet it can be said that a long life can become a lonely life, filled with too many good-byes, innumerable challenges forcing each to seek strength and fortitude in a changing world.
It is during those times, I am sure, that those who remain will long for a land more kind than home, in a place where reunions will carry incredible significance.