My Uncle Tom’s reburial happened Oct. 11 during a fall blizzard, preventing half our family who’d planned to come from attending.
Just weeks before, on a warm September day, Mom called with the surprising news of an upcoming reunion and the late-planned event prompting it – the reinternment of dad’s second-oldest brother.
I was deeply touched to learn of it, knowing little about Tom, except that my father, the youngest son of nine kids, had wept upon realizing he couldn’t get back for his brother’s funeral in December 1967 in New Rockford, N.D. It was just too far from Wyoming, where Dad, an English teacher, was residing with Mom and their new baby, my sister.
The Beauclair men didn’t easily show emotion, but as it was told, tears burst forth anyway, with an embarrassed apology. “It’s okay,” Mom had assured. “He’s your brother.”
Then, in 1987, a woman, Lynne Beauclair, appeared with her daughter at our summer family reunion in Bismarck. Though curious, I never got the full update on her origins; only that she was a cousin who’d recently reconnected, traveling from Florida to join us.
It wasn’t until her death earlier this year that the idea to rebury Tom with his three brothers at the Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in Mandan surfaced. The youngest of Tom’s four, Lynne was small when he left, and a young teen when cancer ended his life. But her quest to connect had begun a slow re-grafting of this branch of family, long ago cut away, back onto its trunk.
My father’s youngest sister, now in her 80s, attended Lynne’s memorial, meeting Tom’s eldest, Tom Jr., who held only a faint memory of his father. Dressed in his little-kid cowboy attire, gun caps in his pocket, he’d accompanied him to a bar, and, sitting on a stool, slurped down a strawberry drink.
I knew nothing of these first cousins until last week, when Tom’s oldest two, now in their early 70s, flew in from the West to lay the father they barely knew to rest, some 52 years after his death, near his brothers. Discovering my long-lost cousins has been a wonderful experience, gently filling a gap I didn’t even know existed.
The burial itself included a brief ceremony at the cemetery chapel. My mom read Scripture, I sang, and together, we all thanked God for this rare gift. Later, we drove within viewing distance of an excavator, which worked in the wind-whipped snow, lowering and covering Tom’s body anew.
Following that, we enjoyed a cozy reception lasting two days due to the storm. Gathering around tables splattered with old photos, we patched together pieces of a still-unfolding puzzle, forming and reforming bonds.
And throughout, I sensed two brothers – nay, a whole family – rejoicing, tearless faces beaming. For I’d read that very morning in Isaiah 25:8: “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” Noting the miracle brought by his hand, I take him at his word.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Oct. 21, 2019.]