Roots to Grow

Immortal Life by Linda Spencer

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I believe in immortal life. I’m not talking about eternal life. We Christians believe that we will have eternal life with God. However, as I grow older I find that I am developing much broader ideas of immortal life in the here and now – ideas of how we are remembered. My daughter-in-law has suggested that everyone in the family create “This I Believe” essays for family posterity. Wonder if I’m the cow’s tail? It’s a daunting task – especially for someone who doesn’t regularly write much. In my head, I’ve composed a dozen essays, but putting even one on paper is totally different. Then I realized that these essays will be a fitting addition to our family’s immortality.

I can see immortality all around me. Recently I have attended the funerals of several friends who were all at least 80 years old. They had lived full, peaceful lives surrounded by friends, family and church. Every time I attended one of those funerals I heard examples of immortality when family members and friends retold stories about their loved ones. Every time I am with my granddaughters, I catch myself reinforcing my own immortality with stories of our family’s history – both ancient and recent. Every time I look at my family I see eternal life in the familial mannerisms and traits of my son, my granddaughters, my sisters and my nieces and nephews.

When I was born in 1947, my only living grandparent was my mother’s mother, Florence Melchor. Florence lived in Mooresville (curiously, Mooresville is only about 20 miles from Concord, where George grew up – but that’s another story!). Mooresville is about 15 miles from Florence’s own birthplace, Enochville, NC. However, both of these towns are about 100 miles from where my family lived at the time, Spartanburg, SC. In the 1940’s and ‘50’s, 100 miles was quite a distance to travel so we only saw Monga, as we called her, once or twice a year – at holidays. In spite of the time and difference that separated us I still remember her. I remember her auburn hair pulled into a bun – kind of fly-away around her face; her long dark skirts and “old lady” shoes; her hot kitchen with the wood stove in what I considered to be a huge house. I also remember seeing the casket with her body in it in the parlor of that house when she died. She died at the age of 67 in 1954, when I was 7. She had a stroke after washing windows.

But Florence (Monga) lives on. Monga and her husband, Harry, had seven children. The oldest was Virginia. Margaret, my mother, came next, only 11 months later! Then came Louise, Harry (who everybody called Buster), Dick and finally the twins, Dolly and Don. My grandfather, Harry, was a traveling hardware salesman whose mother lived within shouting distance of their house on Academy Street. (It is said that Harry’s mother accompanied Harry and Monga on their honeymoon.) Monga drove a car, which I think was pretty unusual for women to do in the early days of the 20th century. (Her daughter Virginia never learned to drive!) She was a charter member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mooresville. I don’t know if Monga ever thought about her immortality but I can see it in all of her children. I can see it in me.

What does the average person think about immortality? Does the average person even think about it? I believe that eternal life, immortality, whatever you call it, is more than “life after death.” It’s more than my soul. It is more than what will happen after I die. I believe that immortality, or eternal life, is what I am – it’s my genes. And my genes are evidenced in my descendants.

I have one photograph of Monga. That photograph is clearer than any memories I have of her. I see lots things when I look at that picture – family, my mother, the Victorian times they were all a product of. But when I think of her, I am more aware of her and her immortality if I consider the 4 generations of family who have lived since her lifetime. When I look at that picture of Monga, I see my mother. I feel my mother’s and Monga’s eyes in me when I squint at something to see it more clearly. Sometimes I feel Monga in me in the way I walk or stand. How can there not be immortality when I look at my sisters and see our mother; when I watch my grandgirls’ mannerisms reflect their father’s – my son’s – mannerisms; when I see a small piece of family in one’s eyes or chin? How can immortality be separate from eternity when, across 5 generations I see family so clearly? How comforting it is to realize that, maybe 5 generations from now, my great-great-great granddaughters may look at a picture or video of me and see themselves, or their mother, tucked neatly into my eyes or nose or hair. I didn’t know my grandmother very well at all, but I can feel her in me, and I can see her in my grandgirls. And that is something I believe.