We’re heading to Oakwood, Georgia today for the memorial service of Louis Propes, a second-cousin who finished his time on earth after 87 years. In preparation for seeing seldom-seen relatives, I’m reading the Propes family history that was well researched a number of years ago and recorded on color-coded pages for each branch going back to my generation’s great-great grandparents. I’m fascinated by the information and to read that my great-great grandfather, George Dallas Propes, was a veteran of the 43rd Georgia Infantry Company F CSA in the war of northern aggression, which may explain the innate sense of history and Southern pride I’ve felt during all this recent debacle over the Confederate flag (and misuse by those who didn’t understand its origin). However, I digress.
To see my connection to the page as simply one name, Gladys Propes, my grandmother affectionately known to my sisters and me as Mema, is both a point of pride and a bit unsettling. Mema died when I was in the ninth grade, 1976, so long ago that most of the cousins barely remember Aunt Gladys. But to look back at that one name and to think of all the family members who came after her stirs something strong inside me. It’s a connection to a part of my history I do not want to disappear, to be erased, or scrubbed off the side of a mountain. I know my sweet mother loved her Propes relatives in immeasurable ways—perhaps since she was an only child—and held on to her cousins in a way that kids with siblings barely think about. Perhaps that thing inside me comes from acknowledging my mother’s desire. It’s why I made a point to become acquainted with more of my third cousins over recent years. I don’t want to lose that connection. I do not want my family history erased. I do not want to be isolated.
This purple page of the family tree could be expanded, and it would take a lot more paper to complete it, since these people believed in big families back then. But the more contemporary relatives are not listed in the report. My mother and all her many first cousins for example, go unnamed. The names in bold print on this report are the great-grandparents of today’s youngest adults (as in my children). They don’t feel this connection in the same way I do, so it’s my job to keep that conduit alive as long as I can and to tell him that gal in the seat next to him at the university is his distant cousin. (That actually happened a few months ago.) That’s when it all comes full circle. Each emboldened name is much more than that—it’s a life, a complete story, all with intertwined pages sewn up to the same spine.
So today as I visit the church and the adjoining cemetery where roots of my family tree run deep, I will feel a sense of pride and connection to those who have come and gone before me perhaps in a broader sense than ever before. And I will make it a point to meet as many of the relatives as I can. We are the living legacies. We are bound together on the Propes family tree.