A COUSINLY LUNCH
For most of my adult life, I had little contact with my Cate cousins, especially after Mother no longer lived in Athens. There were Christmas cards and occasional calls from Ralph. He and his wife Joyce stopped by to visit us in Columbia whenever they went to the beach.
When our cousin Juanita died in March, 2005, we were reconnected. She had left no final instructions or any type of will so everything was a total unknown. I had been in regular phone contact with her up until the month before, and was contacted when they found her body. Her neighbor had known she was seriously ill (probably with heart failure) but she refused to go for any medical care. When the neighbors could get no answer at the door, they called the police. My address was on her dining table. I drove to Atlanta (where Patrick and Julia were living while he was in graduate school at Emory) and handled the funeral.
It was a complete mystery and I began the complicated process of going through her things to settle her estate. I hired an estate lawyer in Marietta to help, and the cousins agreed that I should be the administrator of the estate. For the next 15 months or so, I made multiple trips to the house, worked with a “genealogist detective” in Texas to confirm the five of us were Juanita’s closest living relatives, sorted through stacks of documents and papers to track her assets, cleared out massive amounts of papers and old clothes, preserved old family photographs and letters. Many fascinating stories (especially regarding the Underwood family) were discovered.
I wrote the four cousins monthly letters detailing the progress and the findings. The final step was selling the Underwood house. When all was finally finished, the attorney mailed each of us our share of Juanita’s estate.
I had found letters and photographs from their families and had a box of small items salvaged from the house. Delbert and his wife June offered to host a Saturday lunch at their house for us to meet and distribute the personal items and souvenirs. Hoyt and Mattie, Dorothy and Ralph were there. They’d decided they’d like to have take-out fried chicken and fried fish with all the trimmings. We had a wonderful time over lunch, laughing and telling stories of happy times we all could remember with the Underwoods in Atlanta.
It was the last time the five of us were together.