What a whirlwind my life has been the past few days. On Tuesday night, I got a call that our dear Aunt Marie Pope had passed away. She was in the hospital originally for bronchitis, but then the kidneys and her heart became involved. She passed without too much suffering…and I rejoice to say she had secured her place in Heaven long ago!
Joy, Pop and I made plans to fly up as soon as we got the details. So very early Thursday morning, we boarded a flight from Dothan to Raleigh. Ian was going too, so he flew from Birmingham to Atlanta, and met us there. Then we flew on to Raleigh, where Ian had rented us a car. We drove about an hour to get to Clinton. The visitation was that night, so we had flowers to pick out and other business to take care of. But, we were ready and at the funeral home at 6:00. It was a sad time, because the whole family loved Aunt Marie so dearly, but it was a wonderful blessing to see so many of my family who I had not seen in years.
We were pretty tired so we went back to the motel and got some sleep. But up early the next morning to get ready for funeral. We left a little early…Pop wanted to visit the cemetery where some of the people he served in the Navy with and their family are buried. Then we went to the Rowan Church cemetery where my Grandparents are buried…and where Mom and Pop were married….in the church, not the cemetery.
The ladies of the Epwoth Methodist Church had prepared a wonderful meal for us at the church prior to the funeral. Amazing food. While we waited for the funeral to begin, we took the opportunity to make pictures of as many family groups as we could.
….Cheryl, Uncle Elwood Merritt, Aunt Betty, Debbie (missing son,Woody)…this is Mother’s brother
….Tony, Jeannie, Kay, Kim (Warren family…my mother’s sister Della Mae, and Uncle Jefferson…both deceased)
….Uncle Charles Pearson, Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Elwood, Aunt Betty, Pop
Jennifer Pope (married to DeLeon, Aunt Marie’s grandson) and Charlotte Pope (Aunt Marie’s daughter-in law, married to Harry, deceased)
…DeLeon Pope, son of Harry, grandson of Aunt Marie) Lisa Pearson (daughter of Charles and Evelyn) Ian Owens ( son of Tonja)
….Lori Pearson (daughter in law of Evelyn) Aunt Evelyn Pearson ( Mother’s sister)
….Uncle Elwood and Pop
….Ian, Clyde Townsend, and Nicholas Pope (son of Harry and grandson of Aunt Marie)
Tonja Owens and Ian Owens
….Group picture of cousins, (first and second…Missing Chris who was a pallbearer)
We then attended the service, which was beautiful. It included a heartfelt letter written to her by her grandson, DeLeon, beautiful music, words by the pastors. We were all reminded again just how special Aunt Marie was to all of us. She loved and cared for everyone in her path. So many people loved her, as was evidenced by the packed church. This is a country church and the cemetery was right across the road. We walked over, in bitter cold and wind, to hear scripture and prayers by the pastor. But, quickly, we hurried back over to the church fellowship all to greet friends.
Someone sat down at a table, and slowly…it filled up as more and more of the family pulled up chairs. What a beautiful picture of ‘family’…expanding and letting others in…and closing the gap when one moves on. Thanks, Ian for capturing this.
We left the church and all gathered at Aunt Marie’s house. This little cottage has been her home ever since she was married at 15 years of age. It has changed little over the years. It’s tiny…with a small kitchen and 2 bedrooms, one bath. Amazing the food that could come out of that kitchen! Food fit for royalty. And, she had always just cooked something anytime you may happen by. She could move like a magician there. Stove in front…sink in back, one of those old long porcelain sinks with the drain slabs built into each side. She could stand there and reach almost anything she needed and never leave her spot!
I must say, walking into to her house…even though it was full of family…was a cold feeling. For no matter how many people were filling up her tiny kitchen and den…she would leave where she was and go and greet them and tell them to come and get something to eat! The light was not there anymore…the warmth…the “Shug, don’t you want something to eat…I know you’re hungry?” Some of us sat in her living room..a very unusual thing. It was for show…not visiting. But we had to split up due to the number of folks there. We reminisced about the dining table…how it used to look so big! And how we as children only got fed after the adults were finished. Oh, and memories poured. Then we began getting reacquainted with one another and catching up on each other’s lives and children. It had been a very long time since I had seen them. They of course see each other more often as they all live fairly close…but Joy and I had lots to hear about! More pics, too…
all the first cousins minus Tony and Woody…at least we got Chris in this one!
….Chris and Lisa, brother and sister, and Chris’s wife, Lori
And, we hugged and cried and said our goodbyes. And, walked out into the the cold night air to go back to our motel. We had an early flight…and a long ride to the airport.
All in all for the Townsend family, our trip to Clinton and back took exactly 60 hours. But, oh, the tears, and joys, and hugs that were crammed into them!
A beautiful wreath of fresh flowers on Aunt Marie’s front door gave passerby’s the information that someone very special lived here. But, almost everybody that traveled highway 701 knew the Popes!
We walked around her little house earlier in the day and remembered.
This was, for Joy and I, the place we learned that there was a different way of life that the one we lived in Dothan, AL. This is where we learned about getting up too early, and going to ‘work’ with Uncle Arthur Lee. We’d ride to the store and get a pack of ‘nabs’ and a mountain dew…and call it breakfast! (If mother only knew!) Then we drove all over the area to pick up the ‘hands’. Back to the field to pick tobacco, or hang tobacco, or stack tobacco, (Probably don’t have those terms right) Then we had to go and check other barns to see of there were any problems with them. And, when we were older, he put us to work to do some of those things ourselves. Don’t remember that that lasted too long, though! So, we just rode all morning…called it working…and got filthy! But, it was nothing short of wonderful! And, so different from the life we lived in Dothan. Granny Merritt and Aunt Marie would start cooking when we left before day. Getting lunch ready! And, it was a feast, let me tell you! Harry and Uncle Arthur and maybe one or two others would eat an enormous amount of food…then relax and watch All My Children…and back out to do it all again. Joy and I tended to stay home for the afternoon! We learned about combines and tobacco pickers, and tractors in general. We learned about people who work the land for a living.
….Marie, Della, Eloise, Evelyn
….Grandmother and Grandaddy Merritt at home in Wilmington
….Aunt Marie and Eloise
We went to Vacation Bible School in the same church Aunt Marie was buried in . We went to church on Sunday. And, when we weren’t in the fields or eating…there were always beans to snap, or peas to shell or corn to shuck or some unknown food source to be dealt with. Didn’t mind the shelling…didn’t ike the picking! And, always…ALWAYS…lots of family dropping in several times a day! It was a time of playing with cousins, learning from my grandmother, and Aunt Marie, and visiting with the Warrens and Pearsons, and Merritts ,as well! Little community stores dotted the road…with delightful offerings for a hot, thirsty child. And, there were always chickens…millions of chickens at the Warrens, and goats and pigs…BIG pigs…along with cows and donkeys. We would usually move around a little to see everyone a while. It was an idyllic part of our childhood.
So many memories in those yards between Aunt Marie’s house and Granny Merritt’s trailer, and up the road and down the road.
But, yesterday…the trailer is gone…only the steps remain…and the little house where Granny stored some outside things. No one lives there anymore. The birds are not in the trees, because the bird feeders are empty and gone and the flower gardens are not dug up and spaced around so nicely. This land has long since finished being dug up, planted, swept up, lived on by our Granny.
But something is coming to life there. Something is budding out and getting ready to enjoy the bright wonderful world. Planted by loving hands…long stilled…but growing and blooming still and bringing beauty to an empty yard full of dead leaves and grass. Just as our memories bring beauty to our hearts when we remember.
And, even though Aunt Marie’s house is still and quiet…there is the love and care we felt from her oozing out every window and door! We will never drive past her house without feeling it and remembering how great it was to be loved by her.
And, just look at THIS house…in her front yard tree awaiting a new family who will sing the songs of joy to the Father that she used to sing. How fitting!
And, a few pictures from several years ago of all the brothers and sisters together before some of them moved to Heaven.
….These following were made in Dothan, 9/8/07
….Harry,( Aunt Marie’s son, deceased), Tonja, Lisa, Joy
Rest in Peace, Aunt Marie. We are all better people for having known you, better for having learned from you, and better for being loved by you. You remain forever in our hearts.
What a beautiful and moving tribute to your Aunt Marie … I know she and your beautiful mom are smiling down on all of you from Heaven.
This was so interesting, Tonja!! I loved hearing about your dear aunt and how it was to stay at her house as a child. And the pictures! Have you ever been told that your cousin Kay and you resemble each other?
Thanks for taking the time to share this wonderful tribute!
Tonja!!! Great pictures and touching sentiments about the recent trip for Aunt Marie that you, Joy, Ian and Uncle Clyde traveled. You explained everything in such a heartfelt manner. You did a good job of summarizing the life that we all have shared and some of us still experience to this day in Clinton, NC. You should write a book girl!! It was so good to see all of you from Alabama. Thanks for all of this and lets do a better job of staying in touch. Love you all !!!