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Picture of the day - September 2, 2006

The Empty Swing

The swing where "Aunt Cel" used to sit.
Click photo to enlarge

She would always be sitting there as the tractors pulled up in front of the house with their trailers loaded down with her precious family and dearest friends. The stop at the house is something of a ritual - an opportunity for folks to join the hayride at the last minute or to simply wave and see the others off as we embarked on our yearly trip down memory lane.

For many in the Thomas clan, the annual hayride along the narrow roads winding through the hills and "hollers" of the Lodi, Friendship, Rush Creek and Widener Valley communities is the highlight of each Thomas Family Reunion. And so it was for one very special woman...

"Aunt Cel" Cook was one of the kindest, most loving women I have ever met. Ever since the day Cheria first introduced me to her, she made me feel like a life-long member of the family, opening both her heart and home to me like few others would have. But then she was that way with everyone, always gracious and accepting of others regardless of their background or status in life. She was certainly opinionated - she spoke her mind when she felt the situation called for it, but she always did it with the love of the Lord and her fellow man in her heart, never out of spite or vindictiveness. She was truly a good person.

I came to know Celia Cook late in her life, long after the years had begun to take their toll on her body and restrict her ability to get around. I only had the privilege of knowing her for about 3 years, but during that time I came to understand why Cheria loved her so much.

You see, Aunt Cel had always been in Cheria's life. One of my favorite photographs shows a 6 or 7 year old Cheria looking into a mirror with her Aunt Cel standing in the background, obviously happy to be a new member of the Cook family. When I look at that picture, I can almost feel the love these two special people had for one another, and that love never faded as the years and miles separated them from one another.

Aunt Cel always loved the Thomas family reunions because they allowed her to see her precious family and friends at least once a year. She also loved the hayrides with their trips down memory lane and up Rush Creek where she grew up so many years ago. But eventually she became too weak and frail to endure the challenging ride, so she became content to just sit in the swing and see the others off as they embarked on their annual pilgrimage through the southwestern Virginia countryside.

This was the first year since I began riding along with them that Aunt Cel wasn't sitting there in the swing under the shade tree. That swing looked so empty today, and I noticed more than a few tears in Cheria's eyes as we pulled up in front of the house to let the remaining few board the farm trailers. But come to think of it, that swing probably wasn't empty at all. Aunt Cel was probably there in spirit, once again watching her loved ones take off on the journey that was always so special to her... and wanting everyone to understand that she is by far the happiest soul at this year's reunion. She is now in the presence of the Lord.

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