Remembering Roots

Aunt Doris & Uncle Bob
Aunt Doris & Uncle Bob

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. Psalm 116:15 NIV My Uncle Bob went to be with Jesus a few days ago. He was 90 years old, married to the love of his life for 65 years, and had raised three wonderful kids. My heart is heavy with sadness, joy, and gratitude.

Uncle Bob was a kind and loving southern gentleman. His sense of humor wafted from him like aftershave. When he smiled his whole face became an embrace. He had a way about him that always made me feel safe and valued and so sad to leave. You see, I am the token northerner in our family. My parents, and most of my extended family, are from the south—the deep south. But I was born and raised in the northeast. Not only did I grow up far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I grew up an only child. I was a Yankee kid whose parents had a nice southern twang.

Each summer my mom and dad and I would pack up the car for a two-day road trip through the winding hills of Virginia and Tennessee, on into Alabama. I loved it—all of it. The road became an endless daydream. Ramshackle barns wore splintered wood scarves, rich with decades of sun-drenched patina. Black and white cows wandered fields of blue green grass, moving slow in the thick summer air. Small towns invited yarns to spin in my head—stories of simpler lives took shape, filling each rolling hour with adventure.

Every trip included a much-anticipated visit with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bob. Back home I went by “Beth,” but I was always “Beth Ann” to them. (Use your southern accent here, emphasis on Ann.) I could count on them. Love would flow, a warm embrace. Strong and kind. Faithful and true. Solid. Uncle Bob was a man who loved God and lived his beliefs in a quiet and consistent way. He not only loved his wife—he cherished her. And he popped with pride over each one of his three children.

Over the years, college, work, marriage and the endless responsibilities associated with raising my own Yankee-turned-Midwestern kids has kept me from those regular trips to Alabama. To tell you the truth, from time to time I’ve found it all a bit confusing. Are my parents’ southern roots my roots, too, even though I never really lived there? Or, are my “roots” in the northeast where I grew up and got married, even though I have no relatives, no family history there? Or, do “roots” really matter much at all?

Now I think I finally get it. Yes, roots matter—if you are looking for the right kind of roots. The roots are the people and their collective embrace of love, grace, and generosity. Yes, the biscuits are the best in the world. The bacon is crisp and the squash casserole is delectable. Conversation is easy and the jokes are good. The laughter is free and the home is always warm and inviting. But the roots are in the unconditional, trustworthy, honest love—the kind of love that enveloped me with Uncle Bob’s last hug. I saw a twinkle and a tear, a knowing that we may not see each other again this side of heaven.

So today, as he is formally remembered by so many who loved and respected him, I sit here, far away from those hot, humid, Alabama nights, and I think of him. I celebrate his well-lived life. And I am grateful for how he touched me, Beth Ann, a southern girl.

God places the solitary in families and gives the desolate a home in which to dwell… Psalm 68:6a AMP

by Beth