Every once in a while, I venture down to Florence, Alabama, and when I go I always pass the house that once belonged to Arthur Patrick and Rebecca O’Kelly Rogers, my great uncle and aunt on my mother’s side. It was a small, white frame house, surrounded by the fields that Uncle Pat farmed for years, neatly maintained by Aunt Becky and always welcoming. As a child I made the trip with a great deal more frequency since the only place my mother could find clothes to fit my toothpick-sized brother was Rogers Department Store in Florence. If we behaved (which you know we always did . . .), there was a trip to the soda fountain at Woolworth’s afterwards. That’s where I developed my life-long love of vanilla sodas. But I digress, as I so often do.
If summer was drawing to an end and school clothes were required, we would return to Savannah with a trunk full of watermelons, graciously loaded by Uncle Pat from the ginormous pile that rested beneath the oak in their front yard. Aunt Becky would always invite us in, always offer her hospitality, and always seem genuinely happy to see us. She was slight of frame with her graying hair pulled back in a bun, a direct contrast to my uncle who seemed to tower over me. They were good, hard-working country people who spent a lifetime in the same place and never strayed far from each other. Times had not always been easy and they had borne more than their share of heartache with the loss of four of their grandchildren to a house fire in September of 1941. Three of them died as a direct result of the fire. Their daughter was pregnant with the fourth and lost him as a result of the trauma. Although Myrtle and her husband went on to have another son and three more daughters, I knew the loss of her first family had to weigh heavily on them, and there would always be reminders of the children and their fate, but Pat and Becky never allowed their pain or their grief to make them angry or bitter. If anything, I think it must have made them kinder . . . gentler . . . and closer than they already were.
They had been married almost 71 years when Aunt Becky died on November 10, 1986; Uncle Pat grieved himself to death, following her on January 3, 1987. I remember him leaving the cemetery after her body was committed to the earth, a daughter to each side, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief as he crossed the grounds. I knew then it would only be a short time before he joined her. They had never been apart for very long.
Every time I drove to Florence, I passed the road to Macedonia Cemetery, and every time I told myself I was going to turn right. A little over a month ago I finally did. It was a winding country road that led to another winding country road—but fortunately for my directionally challenged self, there were signs pointing to the church that sat next to the cemetery. It took a bit of searching but I finally found their resting place, marked by a monument of pink granite. Standing there, I read their names and dates of birth and death—and marveled at what I knew lay beneath my feet and how strongly I felt their presence. They were a part of my history, a history I didn’t fully appreciate until long after they were gone. Whenever I would take the kids to Florence, I would note the church where their funerals were held. I would always call attention to the little, white frame house and tell them of their great-great aunt and uncle. It may be my history, but it is theirs, too. And I wanted them to know that history.
As I stood in the cemetery that day I was humbled by the people they had been and the life they had lived, and saddened because I wanted to know so much more. The years melted away, and at that moment, more than anything else, I wanted to spend time with them again—time to listen . . . time to learn . . . time to understand and appreciate the value of their presence in my life.