Monday, June 17, 2013

Goodbye My Sweet Cousin!

Last week, I lost one of my genealogy buddies.  I first “met” Loretta as I have many of my other genealogy friends…through email.  Some correspondence is limited and finite…but other contacts grow to be something a whole lot more…and Loretta was one of those.

When we first started corresponding we were excited because neither one of us had had many Dollar cousins to correspond with.  It was great relationship where we traded information back and forth as well correcting the inevitable mistakes one makes when entering genealogical data.  Soon, we started talking on the telephone.  Not sure those first few conversations were completely comprehensible by either one of us.  I’m from Lewiston, ID and feel that I speak quite clearly and am easily understood.  To my ears, Loretta spoke very differently and used words and phrases that I had only occasionally heard out of my mother’s mouth.  There was a southern lingo that my mother had learned from her grandmother…and Loretta was from the same region as my great grandmother.  It always took me a short period of time to get a full understanding…but what fun to learn about another region of the country…and place that my family had come from not all that long ago.  Soon after a few telephone conversations, Loretta invited me to come down to Tennessee and stay with her.  She had such plans for the two of us and convinced me that it would be a wonderful adventure.  I wasn’t sure about going across the country and staying with someone that I had never met…but I went with my gut and next thing I know – I was on a plane heading towards Tennessee.
As soon as I came off the plane and found Loretta and her husband waiting for me…I felt as if I was with family and someone who would be a lifelong friend.  All along the two hour drive back to her house, we couldn’t stop talking…Loretta’s husband was very patient with both of us and just let us rattle on.  As soon as we got to her house, we figured that we had so much more to talk about and talked late into the evening.   The next morning we took off on our grand adventure.  We headed over to the mountain to Shady with Loretta pointing various places out along the way.  It is strange, but I have always felt that Tennessee reminds me of my own Idaho.  As we headed over mountain into Shady and then over to North Carolina…some points along the way looked for familiar.  Loretta and I went over to West Jefferson, NC and visited a cousin of mine.  Soon after we started visiting, Loretta patiently waited as I scanned old family photographs and was just as excited to see them as I was.  When we left, Loretta and my cousin traded addresses and phone numbers and promised to stay in touch.  The next few days – Loretta took me to see some of the sites in Elizabethton, TN like the old covered bridge and the court house.  We spent time exploring the library and the courthouse documents and helping each other search for new information.  We went over to the Andrew Johnson National Historic site because Loretta knew it was something I badly wanted to see….and during that trip she took me to a part of the county she didn’t know very much about, just so I could go visit an old cemetery.  We didn’t just visit one…but several and she was my partner in crime as we explored the land that my family had lived on over 150 years before.  We made yet another trip over to Laurel Bloomery to meet up with another cousin, so I could show him the house that my great grandmother was born in and his father had been born in.  Some of my most wonderful memories of my genealogy trips involved that 6 days that I spent with Loretta in Tennessee.
Loretta and I had never lost touch.  We always emailed fairly frequently and talked on the phone.  I called her when we lost my mother to cancer…and she called me when she lost her mother to old age.  We told each other our family news both good and bad. After staying with her, I knew about the deep  devotion that both she and her husband felt about the “Vols” or University of Tennessee football team.  I enjoyed watching them watch the game on TV.  I can’t say enjoy…because it was too intense for the two of them.  That Christmas, I sent Loretta an orange and white crocheted Christmas tree.  She was delighted and put it up on Vol’s shrine.   Last year, I noticed that my sweet cousin hadn’t emailed for a while and hadn’t posted on our Dollar Facebook group…so I gave her a call.  I was so sad to learn that Loretta was battling breast cancer…but she assured me that she had a good prognosis.  A few months later, she was a little more low and battling tiredness – but she told me that she had plans to go over to Shady and check out a few gravestones and she was so excited that her husband was retiring and they would be able to spend more time together.  I urged her to think about visiting me out here in Idaho.  I wanted to show her the same hospitality that she had shown me. 

When I called Loretta about six weeks ago, she told me that she was tired but was doing ok.  If I had lived closer and had been able to see her with my own two eyes, I would have known that she was not doing ok.  Loretta worried more about my feelings than her own and didn’t want me to feel bad for her.  I learned last week that Loretta had died of breast cancer and while I knew that she would be deeply missed as a wife, mother and grandmother – I was mourning the friend and cousin that had meant so much to me during the past ten years.  I think that the best compliment that I could give Loretta was that she was the epitome of southern hospitality.  As my sister pointed out to me…Loretta now has the chance to find the answers to all the questions that we had about our family.  I will miss my cousin…but more importantly, my friend.  Rest in Peace!