Somber title about a mostly happy, joyful, and fun weekend. The occasion was the burial of my father-in-law's (Pappy's) ashes in Perry, Florida, on Saturday, March 20. As I have said before, Pappy died on December 31, 2009, having squeezed all the life out of last year as he could. We have all been blessed by having had him in our lives.
(Photo of Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel of Paine College, Augusta, Georgia, taken March 19, 2010 by Ashley M. Calhoun)
Our trip was an interesting one, but a little background first: Perry, Florida is the "ancestral home" of many of our branch of the Calhoun/Barnes/Hendry family (all on my husband's father's side). My husband's great-grandfather was John Caldwell Calhoun (not the one of Vice-Presidential, early-American fame, but named for him never the less). He built a HUGE home in Perry to house his rather large family and relatives. The house at the time had 9 bedrooms and several baths (very unusual for its time in the early 20th century). It was a beautiful Victorian style, and fondly remembered by "Pappy" and his siblings as being a wonderful place to visit his grandparents and assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins. Sometime in the 50's or 60's, the house and land was sold into other hands, and was over the next many years either a private residence or a "Bed and Breakfast," with some modifications done along the way, in order to modernize. A few short years ago the house went on the market again, and the "for sale" sign was noted by Pappy, Ashley's brother Frank, and Ashley, when they had traveled down that way for other business. Ashley took down the Realtor's number and called him when he returned home to tell him some of the original history of the place, and that if whoever bought it was interested, he would love to speak with them and tell them some first-hand stories of the beautiful old local-landmark home. It turns out that the house was purchased by a couple, Chris and Leah James, who were, indeed, very interested to learn of the home. They very lovingly have restored the home, made some improvements, and stuffed it with gorgeous "period" Victorian antiques, which all look like they were made to be there; in addition, they have put their own personal stamp on it, and all-in-all it is a wonderful place to visit (or live!). The James' have become honorary members of the Calhoun family...we are proud to call them our own! Last year, on this very same weekend (March 20-22, 2009), we held the first-ever "Dougald Calhoun (Pappy's Great-Grandfather) Descendant's Family Reunion," something Pappy had wanted to do for a long time, and with a lot of work by many family-members, it came about to Pappy's great joy. We met family that we had never met nor known of, as well as reconnected with relatives we had not seen in a long time. It was a grand occasion. At our request, and the James' insistence, we held the first full day, Saturday, of the reunion at the Calhoun House. We took tours, shared and swapped photos and memories, and had a fabulous luncheon served in the azalea-bloom filled back garden. That night, the First UMC of Perry put on a huge catered dinner for our family in their beautiful Fellowship Hall, for which they took no money (we decided then to give the money we planned to pay them for the meal to their food pantry ministry in thanksgiving for their hospitality). On Sunday, we attended worship services there, where many Calhouns and Hendrys had been active members. It was also the church where Pappy had preached his very first sermon over 75 years ago. He was given some time in the pulpit that morning to share some of his and his family's story, which he did with great inspiration. Following the service, we all scattered back to our various homes. The memories of that week-end were treasured by Pappy for the last few months of his life, and up until the end he looked forward to the next - one of which he is enjoying right now in heaven!
Though many of his former colleagues and students from Paine College attended the Memorial Service in Asheville shortly after his death, the College, of which Pappy was President during the tumultuous Civil-Rights Era, wanted to have its own Memorial Service for him in the Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel, which was partly designed by Pappy, and built during his tenure there. The service at Paine was then arranged to coincide with the time we had planned for traveling in that direction to inter Pappy's ashes. So Friday morning, March 19, 2010, we were present at a beautiful memorial and testimony to the extraordinary work and influence of a truly great man: The Rev. Dr. Eugene Clayton Calhoun, Jr. Many who had been at the first service, also came to this one, and some wonderful stories were told, some beautiful, touching and inspiring memories shared, and some great music sung - especially by the Paine College Choir. What a fellowship!. Following this service, we were invited to "Paine House," home of the College Presidents and their families - (currently Dr. George Bradley and his wife Dr. Tina Marshall-Bradley) - which was also designed and built by Pappy and Mom "C" while they served there. We and several guests were treated to a beautiful luncheon. The house was designed not only as a home for the Presidents and their families, but also as a gathering place for special college social functions including students, faculty and other visitors. It was a splendid day. Ashley and I were particularly glad to have Josh along with us on this trip, as last year none of our boys, because of work conflicts, could attend the reunion. After leaving Paine, we headed on down to Perry, Florida. On Saturday morning at 11 a.m., we buried most of Pappy's ashes beneath the headstone marked with a UMC Missionary medallion, as is Mom C's plot, next to his. We stood around the site and many shared special memories of Pappy and his influences on our lives, followed by a brief reading of scripture and the committal prayer - "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."
The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying those of the family who were able to come, along with other friends who shared in the occasion. Having Josh with us to show him the "sights" of Perry was a lot of fun, and another house, also owned by the James' called "The Gray Stone House," was also toured and enjoyed...it is known as being haunted (as is the Calhoun house, apparently), so we all returned there on Saturday night and conducted our own "exhaustive" Ghost Hunt! It was great fun, and while we may have captured a few "orbs" on the photos we snapped, we weren't fortunate enough to hear any voices or see any apparitions. But we have yet to listen to our digital recordings in which we may hear some "Electronic Voice Phenomena." We'll keep you posted! We attended worship services at First UMC the next morning, a day the church was celebrating their 140th anniversary. We poignantly remembered then that both Pappy's first and last times in the pulpit were at the same church!
Above, I said that "most of" Pappy's ashes were interned at Perry. Just after the initial Memorial Service in Asheville, some of his ashes were spread at "Rock Tree Ranch" the home he and Mom C had built when they moved to Clyde, NC 36 years ago. They lived there until moving to the Givens Estates many years later. A piece of his heart always remained at the "ranch," because he loved the mountains of North Carolina, and the mountain vista from their house was and still is beautiful to behold. We also saved out a few of the ashes for another mission - one which we are praying will come about.
Shortly after Pappy died, we found one of his journals, this one which he started at the beginning of their second mission voyage to China in 1946. At the beginning of this journal he is writing of his anticipation of and joy at returning to the mission field, especially because he and his family were forced out by the Japanese during World War II, and they had to leave behind the work they had begun with the help of God and God's Church Universal. After the war, they were allowed to go back to China to continue their mission, where they remained until they were forced out by the Communists. In his journal, Pappy speaks of "going home." He had come to feel that China was his home, as much as anywhere else on earth, in spite of long absences, and he deeply loved its people and their culture, the opportunity to share the Gospel of Christ with many (a number of which "labor in the vineyard" to this day!), as well as to learn from them. Therefore, we saved the rest of his ashes for committal and a scattering in the region of East China where they had served. In communication with the inter-denominational church leadership in China, Ashley has learned recently that the prospect of this happening are looking very good. We are all thrilled at the possibility! We are also happy knowing that at the end of the so-called "Cultural Revolution" in the 1980's Pappy was able to visit China twice. Once with other leaders of the church, and the second time with his beloved Frankie, and several other former missionaries.( At that "pre-9/11/01" time, Mom was able to carry a few of the ashes of their eldest son Eugene Clayton Calhoun, III, with them [hidden in a packet in her shoe!] to scatter there. China was a place near and dear to his heart as well.) How wonderful to know that part of Pappy's earthly body will rest in a place he dearly loved.
So, I close...ashes to ashes, dust to dust; from home to Home, from love to Love. Thanks be to God!
I wish you all the same joys in life, and enough...
I started out wanting to be a physician, changed that to becoming a musician/actor/performer, changed that to whatever came to mind - a gifted hairdresser, perhaps, or a great auto mechanic - wouldn't those things be useful, even if you do other things for a "living?" While I am a musician of varying degrees of capability, I am also, to my surprise, a wife of a pastor (who is now retired), a mother to three extraordinary sons, and last and most certainly not least, a child of God, a daughter to the King, daily hoping and praying for God's Will to be done - the prayer that never ultimately fails, and always seeking to, somehow, become the Gospel, even as I live my own.