Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sadness Mixed With Beauty

Yesterday was one of the hardest days I have encountered in a long, long time.

My son, Clate and I drove up to Corry, PA to attend the funeral for our beloved aunt - Mary Ann Mauk Eld.

If you've been reading my blog for a while now, you've heard my many comments about Aunt Mary and how much she meant to me, how important a person she had been from the time she entered into my family via marriage to my Mom's younger brother, Clarence "Cookie" Eld, back in the summer of 1947.

Walking into the church yesterday was joyful as I saw cousins I hadn't seen in many years but also painful too as prior to the service, the pain of losing such an integral part of our lives was more than evident as we held each other and tears flowed.

The service though which was indeed a celebration of her life, how well she had lived it and especially too, how well she handled her own passage from this world into the next, was one in which the minister pinpointed exactly what a beautiful person this woman had been. The music was equally inspiring and all of this combined to make for a very uplifting service at a time when it is often difficult to see the good of one's leaving this world, family and friends behind.

Aunt Mary would have loved it for all of those things.

This event was the first time I had been together with those four cousins - children of Aunt Mary and Uncle Cookie - since their Dad's death 25 years earlier in September of 1981. It was so great to see my cousin Sue again and how much she looks like her mother. Her brother Tom, who I'd seen last November when he brought his Mom to Pittsburgh to visit me while I was recuperating from surgery at Allegheny General, and I had a chance to talk about a few things relating to family. He told me he has all the old photos that had belonged to our oldest aunt and her husband - both who died in March of 1982 - and he is going to drop that box off at his sister Becky's house for me. Fantastic! Going through those photos is something my daughter Carrie and I are both very much looking forward to in the near future!

Ken - the oldest of the children - looks superb! Very distinquished in appearance now that his hair is all white and sets off his South Carolina suntan very nicely. He looks (to me) like the epitomy of a southern gentleman, for sure. Laura, Ken's wife, hasn't changed a lick - still the quick smile, friendly demeanor as always - and just so great to see both of them once again. Their daughters - Erika and Allyson - are both such beautiful young women now - tall, statuesque, looking like Swedish models with their long blonde hair and fair complexions. Erika had just learned within the past month that she and her husband Wade, will be adding to the Eld Family tree next May, which gave me something else to tease her Dad about - impending grandfatherhood! I've been telling Ken for several years now that having grandchildren is the absolute best thing in the whole wide world and I'm sure come next summer, he will understand fully what I have meant in those preachings to him.

And Becky - the baby of not just that particular family but the "baby" in terms of being the last of the grandchildren to come along to our grandparents - is just a gem. Look at Becky and you also see one of our older cousins - Barbara. These two look enough alike to make one think they must be sisters!

Tom's three children were there - Amie, his oldest, who very much resembles her Dad, I hadn't seen for probably 15 years or so when she used to come to the family reunion with Ken and Laura and their girls and who now is married, living in Michigan and trying to find a teaching position there. Tom's sons - Ricky and Cory - are certainly two very handsome young men too. Cory, like his sister Amie, bears a strong resemblance to his dad too. I was teasing him that he is the "famous" one of the family in that with his birth and naming, we (the Eld Clan) actually now have a real "Corry Eld." OUr family has a tendancy to label each branch of the tree by what geographic area the bulk of them lived in - Aunt Anna Skogsberg's family moved to Greensburg, PA back in the 40's, so they were always referred to as the "Greensburg" people; a lot of Uncle August's family lived up and around the Syracuse, NY area so naturally, they were the "Syracuse" folks. And, since Cookie and Aunt Mary made their home in Corry, PA, they became the "Corry Elds." Makes sense, doesn't it?

I wish there had been much more time available to spend with those cousins to catch up on what they've been doing over the years. We don't correspond near enough, rarely see each other except on occasions like funerals now and that really needs to change if it is at all possible. But, since Sue lives down in Texas, Ken is in South Carolina now, that only leaves Tom and Becky still in good old PA and although we do have much better means to travel around in now than were available to our families when we were kids, we seem less inclined to do that. And that is really sad.

Sue and I had so much fun talking about all the rattletrap vehicles her dad owned over the years - especially the old jeep they had as their family car for a long time back in the 50's! I remember on the occasions they would come back home here for a visit and when they would pile into that heap, how our older uncle, Ralph, would shake his head and say a few prayers under his breath that they would make it back to Corry all in one piece! Times were tough then as Cookie and Mary struggled to survive on the wages a school teacher earned back then while trying to finish building their home up in Corry. It took a long, long time before they finally got that house done but once completed, it really was a beautiful ranch-type house and a very comfortable home.

So many memories come to mind as I think of all my summer vacation times spent at that house up on Carter Hill Road outside of Corry - days packed with so much fun, games, animals, wilderness, playing in the dirt from dawn to dusk and just filled with lots and lots of love! Words are difficult to find to explain those feelings about the place, the people and how much all of that part of my life meant then and still does to me today.

Driving back home, as my son and I passed along the Allegheny River coming down from Warren into Tionesta, we both marveled at the beauty of the countryside there. There is sort of a magical quality about that river as it flows along past quaint camps and cabins as well as larger homes, newer ones, plain and fancy alike and yet, the setting still seems to have an aura about it that makes one able to imagine being an early explorer on the river - a wild untamed scenic beauty that even civilization as we know it today hasn't marred.

Kind of makes one feel the excitement of being on a new journey, into a new land and thus, a fitting thought perhaps as Aunt Mary has now begun her journey into that realm. And, will be waiting to greet me someday too -perhaps with milk and those wonderful snickerdoodle cookies she always made. In the words of the closing him from the service yesterday - "Till We Meet Again!"

Definitely something to look forward to!

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