April 21, 2021

PICKING UP WHERE SHE LEFT OFF

Hearing from a long lost cousin was exciting news!  When Sallie Cate Melton of McKinney, Texas, wrote that first letter to her Tennessee cousin Clifford Cate, she was looking to reconnect with relatives she’d not seen in forty years. His widow Abbie responded to the letter, and soon there was a steady stream of letters and phone calls between the cousins. After a few months, she scheduled a flight to Tennessee for a week of reunions. Harriett invited her to stay with us and began planning the itinerary.  She made lists of places Sallie should see including the family cemeteries and drives through the country to see where her childhood home had been.  Everyone was eager to see her and arrangements were made for lunches with various cousins.

I was caught up in the excitement.  When I told my teacher at school I needed to leave early to greet a cousin “we’ve not seen in forty years,” she reminded me I was only 11! Cousin Sallie was 8 years older than Harriett and in her early 60’s.  She was lovely and had a sparkling personality.  She immediately declared me “the other Sallie” and said I must have been named for her.

The only surviving sibling of her father Sim Cate and Harriett’s father George Cate was Uncle Jim.  She was eager to see him and talk about her father.  Her only brother Buford had died several years before and her family seemed much smaller. These Tennessee cousins helped fill the void!  Harriett rounded up cousins we rarely saw like Neil Varnell whose mother Cordelia was one of the Cate siblings. He and his wife Mae had a lovely big home in Cleveland and they wanted to host a Cate reunion there.  Uncle Jim and his wife Effie (who also lived in Cleveland), Della and Juanita, Abbie, Dorothy and Mattie, Jack, several of the Varnells, Myrtle Boyd (another cousin), Harriett and I spent the day with Sallie at the Varnells and enjoyed a beautiful lunch prepared by Mae.

The week went quickly and we were really sad to see this sweet cousin leave to go back home to Texas. Everyone vowed there would be other visits and certainly letters and phone calls.  Somehow this surprise visitor had made the hometown cousins feel closer to each other, too. However, that would be her only trip back.  

About 12 years later, Harriett came with the Connellys to Houston for Tom’s Ph.D. commencement and stayed on for a few more weeks.  We contacted Sallie and she invited us to drive up and spend the weekend with her. It was wonderful to be in her home where we met her husband Carl and youngest son David (Buddy) who still lived at home. The family conversation continued for a few more days.

All the planning, the rediscoveries and reconnections—it all meant so much to us all.  Yet almost 40 years later, after Sallie died, her son Buddy contacted us. He knew about her Tennessee visit and remembered our coming to McKinney that weekend, but he didn’t know anything about her Cate family!  It seemed like déjà vu!  As we wrote down the answers to some of his questions, I finally understood how easy it is to lose your family. 

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