The plan changed Thursday night when my father called to say that his first-cousin-by-marriage, Nat Jones, had died in Jacksonville, Florida of complications of Parkinson's Disease. Even though we never see much of this part of the extended family, we enjoy them (and vow to get together more often), so my weekend plan changed to include a trip to the funeral. We got to my father's about 9:30 Friday night, then he and I left Saturday morning at 6 to drive to Jacksonville Beach. The drive only took a little over 3 hours (we'd thought it would be close to 4), leaving time to drive up and down A1A a ways looking at the new development in that part of the world. Well, it's all new to me, as I've never spent any time in northeast Florida. But my father knew the area well many years ago, and likes to see what's changed.
We eventually went to the church about an hour before the memorial service was scheduled to start. After strolling and looking at the church--especially the stained glass windows made with grout, not lead, between the pieces--we found that Daddy's cousin Mae Frances (Nat's widow) and her daughter Mae had arrived. The family gathered in a parlor until the service, and we all tried to meet those we didn't know (especially the children) and catch up with the lives of those we did. Then there was a lovely service. Nat had been very fond of music and sang in his church choir until the Parkinson's made it impossible, so Mae had decided that what she really wanted for the funeral was a particular soloist. This soprano is apparently well known in Jacksonville, and Mae and Nat had followed her like groupies to any concert she gave. Amazingly, she was available and willing to do the service, and even (at the reception afterwards) told Mae that she remembered seeing Nat at a concert--she identified him from some photos that the family had brought along and put on a table near the door. (Nice idea, that.)
The other memorable feature of the service was the associate minister reading most of a letter that Mae had written to her father, about all the things he continued to be an example of (kindness, cheerfulness, and so on) even as the Parkinson's was restricting his activities.
I last saw Nat 2 years ago, I think, at the annual gathering of family that tends to take place when the bank in my home town has its shareholders' meeting. Many of us own some stock in the bank, and so the cousins have made it a habit to come to the meeting and the reception that follows, then visit a while before leaving town. Nat was a tall man, though hunched from the Parkinson's. He always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye--that's such a cliche, but really describes him. He was one of the genuinely nice people of the world.
After the funeral service, the church had arranged a reception in their fellowship hall. Many of those who came to the service came and spoke with the immediate family, and of course, those of us in the extended family had more opportunity to visit. The assorted children made multiple raids on the spread of sandwiches, fruit, and sweets, and then Anna Leigh and Kate (ages about 7 and 5, I think) wandered around with 2 boxes of chocolate candy to share, to remember their grandfather who always shared his candy with them.
When the crowd dwindled to just a few family members, I changed into comfie clothes and Daddy and I said goodbye, got back in the car, and drove home. We got there about 15 minutes before Robbie and the girls got in from the gym meet. I was not as wiped as I expected, though my tail-bone was complaining of too much sitting on car seats. I'm typing this on my laptop as Robbie drives us back to Atlanta, but as soon as we're there, I'm minimizing my time in vehicles for the rest of the day.