The past can connect you to your present…This I believe.
My mother called it The Dead Relative Tour, betraying her initial dread of accompanying me. In reality it was a mid-August trek across Texas in search of ancestors. For one week, we were going to be genealogy detectives. With loads of family information and several years of internet research under my belt, I still wanted more. Thus the Dead Relative Tour was born.
When I proposed the idea to mom she said something like, “Um that sounds interesting…you have fun dear.” I was undeterred. Working in my favor, was the fact that she wasn’t employed at the time and therefore had nothing better to do. Giving in she made it clear that the car ride and heat would be unbearable for her, and she wanted plenty of air conditioning and wine! Very excited to have a travel partner, I spouted assurances of every kind. With a map of the state of Texas to accompany my grandfather’s handwritten directions, we planned a large circular route around central Texas, and hit the road.
The goal was simple: find as much primary family information as possible. We had a list of family names and significant dates we were looking for and a stack of one dollar bills for copy fees. I remember the feeling of surprise and euphoria when we found our first link to the past. This was really going to work! The document was a very faded proof of age statement that my mother’s grandfather had to sign it to swear that his wife-to-be, my mother’s grandmother, was of legal age to marry. Seeing their signatures on that piece of paper made them jump to life. We were giddy.
Despite the heat, the cemeteries were our favorite. Here the personality of our ancestors really shone through. The location, the inscription on the headstone, every detail gave us a sense of who they were and how they lived and loved. There is also nothing like meandering through a quiet cemetery with the hot sun (or afternoon downpour) on your back in the quiet of rural Texas. These were beautiful, serene places.
Most of the cemeteries we visited were literally in the middle of nowhere. You have to turn OFF a dirt road to reach most. If there is another living thing around it’s probably a cow. Nonetheless, mom felt compelled to carry her purse with her and make sure I had locked the car door. You can never be too safe.
We still humorously refer to this as the Dead Relative Tour, but it came to represent for me a real bond to my present as well. It’s not often we discover a way to reconnect with someone who you’ve literally known you all your life. It was an experience I will treasure forever and I hope to share with my own children someday. And my mom is already asking when we can take the next trip.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.