Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Dad, a Grandma, and a Hundred New Cousins

Several months ago while spending a weekend at our new house, I looked around at some of the quaint, old details of our 1940s home and thought, "My Grandma Argie would love this house. I would love for her to come visit us and see it!" But Grandma lives in Utah and cares for my 93 year old grandpa and I knew the odds of her coming to visit were pretty slim.

A couple Sundays ago, as I sat in church thinking about my life, I thought about my dad and wished I had spent more time with him when we were in Utah this summer. It made me sad not knowing when I'd see him again and knowing it would probably be after our baby is born in December. That just didn't feel soon enough.

That Sunday night, I got a call from my dad and my Grandma Argie. They announced that Dad was coming to visit the next weekend and Grandma Argie might come, too. Though the circumstances that brought them to St. Louis were mournful, I couldn't suppress my own excitement that I'd be seeing family in less than a week. Later that night, I remembered my earlier thought from church and felt overwhelmed with gratitude that God had answered my unspoken prayer. Heavenly Father works in mysterious ways and blesses us with the secret desires of our hearts when we least expect it.

Dad and Grandma came to attend the funeral of my cousin, Loyce Huston. Atkin and I met Loyce only twice. The first time was at a family reunion back in May. The second time we visited her at the hospital after she had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. At that visit, we discovered that she had also moved recently and we now belonged to the same Latter-day Saint congregation! That felt like another of God's small miracles.

When we moved to St. Louis, we didn't realize we had cousins in this city. I think Grandma mentioned it, but I didn't understand until last May when my parents and Benjamin visited and our black O'Kelley cousins put on a family reunion just for us! We showed up and met all these people who share a grandpa with me. And despite cultural differences and backgrounds and never having met each other before, these people welcomed us into the family as if we'd been there all along!

I wasn't sure what to expect at Loyce's funeral, but it turned out to be an incredible experience. Family is an interesting thing. There is something special about just being related. Of course, we can always choose how we treat the people who share our ancestors. But when we choose to accept even distant relatives as family, there is an instant tie that can only be explained by the fact that we're related. I've felt this throughout my life at family gatherings with cousins and second cousins. My shyness as a kid at Hicken family reunions never stopped me from feeling a strong sense of belonging and family unity every time we gathered. I grew to love my ancestors as I listened to my grandma and her brothers tell humorous, sorrowful, and miraculous stories from the past. I've felt this special bond when I see cousins that I haven't seen for a long time and find that conversation comes easily despite our lack of ongoing communication. It's easy, because we're cousins. At least, that's how it seems to me.

What's different about my black O'Kelley cousins is that we come from completely different cultural backgrounds and the circumstances of our relationship are awful. I come from the privileged white daughter and they come through an abused slave. But somehow that tragic past and our differences don't get in the way of us being family. As I met cousin after cousin at the funeral and started piecing together the family tree, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and love of my newly discovered cousins. I just felt like family. What did God know that I didn't when He guided us to move to St. Louis? Lots of things, including that St. Louis is where we have family.

Grandma spent 30 hours in St. Louis. I wish she had stayed longer, but I'm grateful for that one day. And I was right. She loved our house. Every room and detail delighted her and, in true Grandma style, she expressed her delight with the earnest eagerness of a Southern belle. She set a high standard of enthusiasm for everyone else who comes to visit.

We got four days with my dad. We could have kept him longer, too. I'm grateful for all he did for me and Atkin while he was here, from helping with dishes and weeding our garden (which is actually just weeds right now) to offering fatherly counsel and inspired, spiritual guidance. He is a great man and I'm thankful for his humility to act as an instrument in God's hands.

I know that Heavenly Father cares about the details and the big picture of our lives. Today in General Conference, Stanley G. Ellis taught me that hard is good. It humbles me, strengthens me, and teaches me. Hard is the constant in life and the variable is how I choose to react. That was a significant message for me to hear at a time when life feels hard every day. I also learned from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf that God gives strength to the weary. Last weekend, God gave strength to this weary daughter by sending two miraculous visitors and introducing me into a new, welcoming family. Here's a few pictures from our exciting weekend:

Some of the family at the funeral
My cousin, Joseph O'Kelley and the chart that
helped me start piecing things together.
Grandma was excited to point out that we share the same height genes.
Celebrating Benjamin's birthday with shakes (and a salad).
Those smiles are partly because of our shakes,
but mostly because of my dad.


  1. Love this, Ruth! Fun to hear about what's going on in your life. I'm glad you guys are loving your "new" house :) Love Aunt Annie

  2. Ruth you may be shy about being on TV talking about the family but you are very gifted in writing about us. I just love this article! I'm looking forward to seeing your new home as well.

  3. Loved reading this. I would love to meet those cousins someday. Thanks for sharing, Ruth!