Knots on the family tree

Wayne MitchellWe all have our knots on the family tree, I suppose. But some family trees have more knots than others, and I always have thought mine was downright gnarly.

In fact, my sister Donna and I sometimes swap stories about who we would consider “normal” among the many cousins from our childhood, growing up on a farm in north Missouri.

There weren’t many, that’s for sure. Several had more than one brush with drugs and crime, but most turned out to be just run-of-the-mill slackers.

One even built a moat with a drawbridge around a rundown trailer on his family farm. Who knows what went on there? We probably don’t want to know.

Only three or so turn up on our “normal” list. One is a lawyer, another is a housewife and mother, and a third grew up in Michigan and eventually became an industrial engineer.

I only knew Bryant, the cousin from Michigan, a little bit because we lived so far apart. But his parents would visit Missouri each summer and eventually bought a cabin next door to the one my parents had built at the Lake of the Ozarks.

In addition to Bryant, my Uncle Bruce, who was an engineer, and Aunt Edna raised foster children in their Michigan home. Uncle Bruce loved to fish, and mostly what I remember about Aunt Edna was her love of picking wild blackberries near the lakeshore and turning them into tasty cobblers.

In the late 1970s, I moved away from Missouri to follow a career in journalism and I pretty much lost track of them. My Uncle Bruce died many years ago, and the last I had heard, my aunt was living in Florida.

At least that was the last I heard until last Thursday when my phone rang. Bryant, who I had not heard from in more than 40 years, was calling to tell me his mother had died at age 99 in a nursing home in Albuquerque, N.M.

Bryant said he and his wife, Carole, had moved to Albuquerque two years ago when he retired as an engineer to be closer to their children and grandchildren. They had moved my Aunt Edna there, too.

He wanted to let Jenny and me know that the funeral for his mother would be held next Saturday at the small country church in Bosworth, Mo., where I attended as a child.

His phone call made me think about how different our lives are from many of those I have come to know here in New Albany. We don’t have Sunday dinners or even family reunions.

The only relatives we see, other than children and grandchildren, are Donna and her husband, their son and daughter-in-law, and Jenny’s parents. I wouldn’t recognize my cousins on the street.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. I’ve always thought so. But a few minutes on the phone with Bryant made me wonder if I wouldn’t have enjoyed keeping in touch these last four decades. We’re sorry our jobs will keep us from going to Bosworth this weekend. Families – even ones as odd as ours – are something to treasure.

T. Wayne Mitchell, Gazette publisher, can be reached at 662-534-6321 or by email at

About Wayne Mitchell

Publisher of the New Albany Gazette