What do you say to a family that you love who has just lost its matriarch. I certainly couldn't come up with those words Sunday afternoon when I went to the funeral home with my lovely wife, Lisa, to pay respects to the family of Carolyn Brown.
I can't begin to explain the web of relationships that exist between her family and mine. I didn't really appreciate all those relationships myself until I sat down Sunday night to reflect on her amazing life.
The first contact I had with her family must have been a district MYF rally, back in 1967. It was so long ago that I might be the only person on earth who still remembers my first meeting with Joanna, the youngest of the Brown daughters, and her sidekick, Lynn Sims. But I remember. And our paths crossed in college, too - but what happened at UGA will forevermore stay at UGA.
Joanna and I lost touch after we graduated, but then I met Lisa, the lovely Conyers resident that would become my bride, and Joanna and her entire family would reenter my life.
Lisa's grandmother, Claire Cowan, and Carolyn Brown were the closest of friends, as were Lisa's aunt, Renee Marrrett and Carolyn's daughters, Mary Stone and Harriett. And of course, Dr. Joe Brown, Carolyn's husband, was a Conyers icon. He brought Lisa into the world, in fact, and there are thousands of "Old Conyers" people who could make that statement.
It took me a while to put the puzzle pieces together and figure out who went with whom, among the Brown clan. There were the Chattanooga members of the family; that would be Mary Stone and her husband Tom Tidwell and their children, Tate and Rachel and Anna.
I got to watch them all grow up - one week a year - at Salem Camp Meeting. Tate was the cocky high school football player and die-hard Tennessee Vol fan. And the girls were little bundles of joy who grew into snaggle-toothed tomboys and are now beautiful young women. Once a year - that's all I ever see them - but they feel like a special part of my life, nonetheless.
And then there is Harriett and her husband, Tommy. We had an immediate bond because of the red and black blood that flows through all our veins. I got to watch their two sons, Brian and Clayton, grow into manhood, too - from swimming lessons at the Honey Creek Pool - I was doing the teaching; they were doing the screaming - to the athletic fields of Heritage High School, and both have grown into fine young men.
And there is the son, Chris, whom I didn't get to know until later. But he became a friend, too, and I have watched his sons, Andrew and Alex, grow up with my kids. When I say grow up, I mean grow up. Andrew, who is a college freshman now, is one of the few kids I know that is as tall as my son Jackson.
I have had close and semi-close relationships with all of Carolyn Brown's family for the past 26 years - but not as close as the relationship I had with her. She was a great lady, a truly great lady - and so supportive of me in every endeavor I attempted, because I was Claire Cowan's grandson-in-law, and that was enough for her.
Whenever we were sitting on the porch at Salem she always went out of her way to draw me into the conversation and acted like my opinion was valuable to her, whether the conversation was the arts - of which I knew very little - or Georgia football - of which I knew a lot.
When I decided to become a photographer, she frequently brought and sent her children and grandchildren to my home studio to support my fledgling business and I was proud to see two portraits I had done of Carolyn herself on display at the funeral home. My favorite was the one in which she was wearing her tartan plaid skirt, because she was a Monroe, from Kentucky, you see, and the Kentucky Monroes were from the Clan Munro - a fact of which she was very proud. She loved visiting Scotland and, in fact, had Joanna take her there just last year - when she was 88.
When my first book, "Need Two," came out, Carolyn bought dozens. I think she gave one to every person on her Christmas list that year - just to support me.
The last time I saw Carolyn alive was in July, at Salem. She was celebrating her 89th birthday and most of us believed in our hearts that it would be her last trip to Salem, but you would have never known it by talking to her. She was as gracious and positive as ever, and so proud to be at camp meeting and surrounded by all of her family.
And as I stood beside her open casket Sunday and gazed down at that great lady, I knew that she was somehow still with us - and still so proud to be surrounded by all of her family.
Conyers, Georgia, has lost a great citizen, but she has left behind an amazing legacy - her family. And I know she was as proud of them as they are of her. I wish I had thought to tell them that Sunday - but I guess it is better late than never.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.