Visiting My Family Roots in the Smoky Mountains: Why Funerals Can Be a Good Thing

Visiting My Family Roots in the Smoky Mountains: Why Funerals Can Be a Good Thing

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Hi, “Kreative” Readers.  I hope you are all doing well.  This week, I’m writing about visiting my family roots in the Smoky Mountains, and why funerals can be a good thing.

(Psst!  Missed last week’s post?  Check it out here.)

What do I mean “my roots?”  I mean where I come from.  My heritage.  Or at least part of it.

You see, this past weekend was bittersweet.  It is with a heavy heart that I tell you my mother’s cousin passed away recently (he was my first cousin, once removed) after an extended illness.  Like many of my family members, he wanted to be buried in the Smoky Mountains in a private graveyard that has been in my mother’s side of the family for generations.  So to the mountains we traveled.

The Homestead and Graveyard

Visiting My Family Roots in the Smoky Mountains, The Family Graveyard, Brown Cemetery, Sylva, NC
The Family Graveyard

The family graveyard is in a little alcove next to what we call “the old homestead,” – a home that was hand-built by my great-great-grandfather sometime around the 1870s.  And I’m not even sure how old the graveyard is.  There are graves there predating the Civil War, and even some that are illegible after years of erosion.

Today, the house is not much more than a shack, and I haven’t been able to go inside of it for years.  From what I can remember, the water supply comes from a spring on the mountain.  The stove is an old-fashioned black iron wood-burning oven.  There is a second floor, but I’ve never seen it because the stairs are too worn out to go up there.  That all being said, I imagine sometimes what life might have been like back when the place was first built: the wooden boards were strong, the farm animals were grazing the fields, and the family lived off the land.

Family Stories

Visiting My Family Roots in the Smoky Mountains, The Homestead, old house, shack, country, mountains, plantation
The Old Homestead

My maternal grandfather, “Papa,” grew up in this house and on this mountain, and over the course of my life I’ve heard many stories about what life was like for this family, many of whom are now gone.  Frightening stories about how my Papa stomped a mountain lion to death that was attacking his dog.  Hilarious stories about a possum getting into my great-grandfather’s peach moonshine that he hid in the chicken coop.  And beautiful stories about my great-grandmother wrapping herself up in a quilt every night, traveling to a big rock up on the mountain to pray for blessings upon her family.

I can only speculate how many of these stories are completely true – I imagine some of them have been exaggerated over the years – but it is so awesome how these stories tend to come out when the family gathers for funerals.

Idealization of the Past

Today, I am so removed from this way of life.  Sometimes I find myself idealizing it, wishing I could escape the realities of today’s busy world.  The view of the mountains alone would be worth it.  I mean, sheesh, take a look at the video below – there’s a reason they filmed the Hunger Games movies around this area.

Then I remember once talking to my paternal grandmother when I was younger about “the old days.”  She didn’t grow up in the mountains like my mother’s family, but she lived similarly, recalling hauling heavy water buckets from the well to the house, cooking everything from scratch daily for the family who were toiling in the field, and scraping up her hands from scrubbing laundry on a metal washboard.  She then talked about now having modern conveniences available, expressing to me, “I don’t miss that.”

So yes, sometimes we have an idealized version in our heads of what the past might have been like.  The reality, though, is that what I now look at as a “quaint life of simplicity” was just the daily grind for my my ancestors.  And while I’m sure there were advantages of living in a quieter time, it was also full of hardships that we can’t even imagine today.

Why Funerals Can Be a Good Thing

I know funerals are not something that we typically like to talk or even think about.  But I think it’s important to discuss every now and then, because they are a very real event in our lives.

My great aunt recently said if she could write a book, it would be called, “Why I Love Funerals.”  It sounds like such a taboo subject.  Yes, a funeral is where we grieve for the loss of a loved one and remember their time here on earth.  But it also brings family members together who sometimes haven’t seen each other for many years.

Picture of Smoky Mountain with River in the foreground. Visiting my family roots in the Smoky Mountains: Why Funerals can be a good thing
The Smoky Mountains

The reality is that the busyness of our everyday lives and physical distance from each other make it difficult to catch up with family without a major event.  So, in that sense, funerals can be a good thing, providing a chance for everyone to drop what they’re doing and come together, exchanging stories like the ones I talked about earlier.  Additionally, sometimes the reality of a loved one passing away can even bring forth reconciliation between family members who have perhaps been on the outs with one another.  Finally, funerals give us a chance to set aside our selfish ways, supporting grieving friends and family in need with a shoulder to cry on, food, or just a familiar presence.

I can’t say that I love funerals.  But there are certainly positive things that can come out of them, providing us all with a little bit of inner peace.

My Ancestors Live Through Me

As I finish up writing this, my mind begins to drift back to my ancestors.  Would they be proud of who I am today?  And I think – I hope – overall, they would be.

We have a lot of creative people in our family – singers, musicians, writers, artists, cake decorators, actors, entrepreneurs.  Many of them have pursued their creative talents in one way or another – whether that meant publishing a book, selling art work, or even (as my own grandfather did) traveling up to New York City with his band to perform at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel where the Postmaster General was in attendance.

Did they make their primary source of income doing these things?  No.  But they found personal fulfillment through the cultivation of their special gifts, which I think is important for many of us to do today.

As for me – a singer, actor, pianist, blogger, cake baker, improv comedian, and more – I am thankful to those who came before me and gave me these abilities and the desire to present them to the world.  I know I can succeed through anything this world can throw at me, because, as my uncle once put it, “I may not have stomped a mountain lion to death, but I come from stock that does.”

I look at this picture into of my great-great-grandfather, who built a log cabin home on a mountain with his own hands many years ago, and think to myself: You live through me.

Why funerals can be a good thing, Visiting My Family Roots in the Smoky Mountains, My Great-Great-Grandfather, Thomas Logan Brown, old picture, ancestor
My Great-Great-Grandfather, Thomas Logan Brown

Stay Kreative,

Jenn

P.S.  What stories do you have in your family?  Do you miss “the old days?”  Let me know by clicking “Comment” at the top of this post.  🙂

 

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