Me, a stranger among relatives

Published 12:21 am Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Rain came down in sheets as we inched down the road. Between the windshield wipers’ swipes, we watched for the church that was our destination. Just as the sky opened up with another downpour, we spotted the building.

“That’s it,” I said, reading the sign. “That’s Elam Baptist Church.”

We parked among the other cars and waited for the rain to slack up. After several minutes, we moved the car closer to the side entrance of the church. Then dodging puddles, my youngest daughter and I raced for the covered porch.

As I pushed open the wooden doors, I noticed the paint was cracked and worn with age. Inside the church, people greeted me and showed me where to place the plate of brownies I held.

“The dessert table is over there,” said a smiling woman. “I can take it for you.”

“I can manage,” I said, making my way to a table filled with all kinds of goodies.

Then I wrote my name in the registration book and stuck a nametag on my chest. I looked around the place searching for a familiar face, but I recognized no one.

Finally, I saw a woman who looked like she might be the person I’d hoped to meet. So, I strained to see the name on her chest.

“That’s her,” I said to my husband. “That is the other Nancy Folmar that I‘ve exchanged emails with.”

I introduced myself and gave her a hug, which seemed appropriate since she was, after all, a relative. In fact, pretty much everyone in the church was a relative, even though I did not know a one of them.

As I sat balancing a plate of delicious home-cooked food on my lap, I scanned the faces nearby.

“Does that one have a nose shaped like mine?” I wondered to myself.

With the eating done, the picture taking started. The other Nancy called the name of an ancestor and people moved to one side of the church to pose for a group photo.’

“I’m not sure which group is mine,” I said to a man standing near me. “Maybe Nancy knows.”

He hurried off to ask her, and she did indeed know.

“You are descended from James,” he said, “just like she is.”

So, when they called “James,” I joined the others for a picture. There was good-natured kidding and laughing from the James group who had obviously known each other for a while.

Later during the program, I raised my hand when they asked who was attending the Folmar Reunion for the first time. Only one other hand went up in the church.

Yep, I was a newbie discovering relatives I never knew existed. Wandering around the building looking at the pictures and the lists tracing the different lines of the family, I searched for anything connected to me.

Finally, I found it. There were the names of my grandparents. There was where I fit among who married whom and produced what offspring.

Yes, it was interesting to be with people who, like me, descended from German ancestors that came to America years ago. Even if I did not know them before the reunion, they were my kin.

While I’m not much into genealogy, I liked the stories and the pictures. Most of all I liked seeing those names posted on the wall, the marriages, the births, deaths, remarriages, life events that had to happen for me to be standing in that old church. One person not marrying or dying too soon and I would not exist. And that was true for all the folks gathered there.

As we left, a softer rain fell. In the cemetery beside the church, I saw headstone after headstone with the name Folmar.

As we drove passed, I could almost hear their voices.

“Thank you for remembering us,” they whispered, “Now honor us by not wasting one precious, present moment of your life — because soon enough you, like us, will be an ancestor too.”