"Oh, I went down in the river to pray,
studying about that good old way..."
Thursday I traveled to Dahlonega, Georgia with my parents to attend the memorial service for my uncle, Jim. My cousins Joanie (my age) and Jaye (a few years older) were there, as well as Jim's ex-wife Judy, Jaye's daughter with new fiancee, and their assorted family members. Jim was my mom's brother. He lived alone in the later years, but still kept in close contact with my mom and his daughters, visiting often. Lately he'd been keeping more and more to himself until this past Monday Joanie went to his apartment to check on him. She saw him through the window, laying on the couch and having passed away in his sleep. With a book beside him. He'd not been ill, but I suppose it was his time.
"...And who shall wear the starry crown,
Good Lord, show me the way."
Noticably absent was the youngest sister, Jodie, who was killed in an accident about 19 years ago. Her presence was still felt, even though she was just a teenager at the time and was the same age as my younger brother. Noticably present, however, was Jodie - Joanie's 2-yr-old son, who is carrying on his aunt's name and, thus far, personality. He's a beautiful child with ice-blue eyes and a perpetual smile. His presence was a necessary reminder of life's renewal, and that sometimes things are best seen through the eyes of a child. And the memory of a child.
Oh, Brothers, let's go down.
Let's go down - don't you wanna go down?"
Some of the best memories of my childhood revolve around that one family unit. Every summer my parents, my brother and me would drive to Atlanta to spend a week or so with my grandmother and Jim's family. Their house was in the suburbs in Conyers, to my young eyes a fairly idyllic family environment. Vacations at their house meant trips to Six Flags over Georgia, riding bikes in the neighborhood, visiting other nearby family members, staying up late chatting, playing cards... I remember one time their cat, Princess was pregnant and we couldn't find her. Finally Joanie and I searched and found the cat and her new kittens under the porch. It was a very exciting discover for a couple of kids.
Eventually, for many reasons their family split up. Daughters grew and went their own ways. As I went through and out of high school the summer trips ceased and we all created our own lives. Jaye got married and had a daughter. Joanie eventually settled with her husband and three sons she took in as her own, and then had her own son.
Jim eventually remarried and divorced again, but spent a great amount of time helping handicapped children ride horses. He always loved horses... He took trips out west and was an active and loving grandfather. He visited my mom many weekends in Knoxville and was kind enough to welcome my kids as well.
His smile could light up the room and his deep, resonant voice could warm your heart. He was kind, and I always looked up to him. I wish I'd had a chance to tell him about the influences he had in my life, but I suppose you don't even realize or think about them until they're gone.
So long, Uncle Jim. Ride on.
"Oh, Brothers, let's go down.
Down in the river to pray..."
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