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My Old Kentucky Home

I grew up in the countryside east of Louisville, Kentucky. I went back last week to visit with my brother Embry, to attend the funeral of his dear wife Noreen, and to join in the accompanying reunion.

The ceremony was in the old St. Francis in the Fields Church where I went to school from nursery through the third grade. My brother Embry and I sang in the choir there as boys and were confirmed as well. Our father was the assistant minister there in the early 1960s. Our mother’s funeral was at St. Francis too, about twenty years ago. My own little family went to many of Christmas services there with Embry and Noreen.

It’s terrible to see a loved one’s remains go into the ground, and to feel how heedlessly the greater world spins on. A death leaves a hole that’s initially too big to take the measure of, too big and ragged for the bereaved to readily explore.

At the funeral I encountered unexpected faces from the past. A woman who’d been in our neighborhood gang of kids in 1949, and whom I’d admired like a star. One of my brother’s old friends, telling a story about how they’d drag-raced the friend’s Corvette on River Road in 1958. The doctor who had my spleen removed after I ruptured it in 1960.

Kentucky was lovelier than I’d remembered. The early evening sun on the rolling pastures with their tidy fences, the glare of light on the early morning dew, the burgeoning density of the vegetation. I took a few walks in the woods, astounded at the huge, floppy plants, pumped up with rain.

In California, where it hardly rains at all, the plants are fibrous, woody, glazed. In Kentucky, the plants are more like water balloons. Nearly every day we had a thunderstorm, often at night. The flash and boom, the rain falling in sheets.

Before and after the funeral, our assembled families ate endless meals, sitting on the front porch of my brother Embry’s farmhouse. Talking, sometimes laughing, reminiscing, slowly beginning the process of grief.

We had six grandchildren there in all—it was comforting to see the new shoots starting up, the saplings beside the fallen tree. I’m a mastodon compared to the grandchildren, an ice-age behemoth. The Reaper has moved down to my generation.

Funerals are really for the survivors. The departed isn’t there, at least not in any obvious way. But I’m always willing to entertain the long-shot thought that the deceased is on the scene in some form, perhaps as a butterfly, or as a puzzling light at night, or even as an invisible ectoplasm. But in any case, I doubt they’re worried about the formalities. It’s the people they would care about, the loved ones who are there.

We’ll miss you, dear Noreen. You were wonderful.

3 Responses to “My Old Kentucky Home”

  1. siofra Says:

    sweet uncle ru, thank you for this – it’s beautiful and moving.

    love

    siofra

  2. cindy lee berryhill Says:

    Beautiful descriptions Rudy. So sorry for your families loss.

    I had similar feelings to your “deceased on the scene..” thoughts. My mother died when I was 8 years old and I’ve contemplated that loss and her transition in someway ever since. I had an idea a few years back that has been the most comforting to me for some reason. An image of her in the form of energy that moves from atom to atom and has by now, moved light years to far off star systems “seeing” these amazingly beautiful configurations of matter and light. Weird to say the thought is reassuring, but it has been.

  3. Maureen Says:

    Hi Rudy and Sylvia,
    Greetings from Ennis. Really enjoyed your piece about Kentucky and the funeral. It was lovely to meet you all, just a pity it was under such sad circumstances. Hope you are all keeping well and still thinking of planning a trip to the Emerald Isle sometime. Weather is horrible here at the moment. It was lovely for a while after we got back from Kentucky but now we have had lots of rain for the last few days. We are just hoping it will stop and that it will be nice when Michael and family arrive here in two weeks time for a holiday.
    Bye for now,
    Maureen & Barry Smythe


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