This is a post about family. My Aunt Nell died today. We weren’t close; I hadn’t seen her in quite a few years. I remember her as sweet, kind, and soft-spoken. She was the eighth-born child (out of ten) of my grandparents, widowed, the mother of five sons. My dad, her youngest brother, was the ninth child in the family. My grandparents grew up in rural North Carolina, and after starting their family together, later moved to the farthest western part of the state. This was in the early 1900s, so I can only imagine what a rough and long trip that must have been over mountainous terrain with young children. My grandmother graduated from college to become a teacher; I don’t know if she actually ever taught or not before they made the move, began their life on a farm, and expanded their family more. They raised tobacco, had chickens and cows, and grew a lot of their own vegetables, grapes, and had apple trees. They lived by the river, and the kids fished, hunted, and worked around the farm. It was a hard life, and they were poor money-wise, but they were somewhat unique for their time and place living in a poor rural southern county. Seven of the children, including my dad, including Aunt Nell, eventually went on to graduate from college and become teachers, six of them for their whole working adult lives.
I think my love of outdoors and nature came from my dad and from my grandparents, taking walks, the mountains and the river, the swinging bridge and the porch swing, fresh eggs and homemade grape juice. I know my love of cats started on their farm, too. But something else came to mind as I thought about family today. We can’t make assumptions about people based on where and how they grew up, or what they looked like, or what hand-me-down and homemade clothes they wore. Looking at the pictures of my dad when he was a little boy living in Appalachia, barefoot and wearing his overalls, you wouldn’t guess he would later become a math professor at a university, or that he and several of his siblings would be awarded recognition for all their years given in service to education. It says a lot about family, perseverance and hard work, love, sacrifice, humor, faith, and support.
I know, you might be wondering what this has to do with pantheism. For all their outdoor activities and love of Nature, my family certainly wasn’t pantheist. They were Methodist growing up (many still are), and their Christian faith was quite important to them, but it’s not about that. For me, pantheism isn’t just about science and the great outdoors. It’s about life, beautiful and messy, family, everyday things, and death. It’s also about memories and lessons learned, traits inherited, traditions passed down (some embraced, others discarded), and connections. It’s really just about everything.
Aunt Nell was the last living child of my grandparents. It’s the end of an era for my family, but for my five cousins and their families today, it’s the loss of their mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law. As one of my cousins said, “It’s a sad day.”
That’s what I’ve been thinking about today.