Cousin’s funeral brings family together in happiness

My husband’s favorite cousin died the other day, and her funeral brought the family together for a happy time to remember her in Georgia where she was born and reared.

Bill and his cousin Margene Branch Gerfen grew up in the Atlanta area almost like brother and sister because each was an only child. Their mothers, Robbie and Elzora, were very close sisters, and remained so throughout their lives.

Margene and Chuck Gerfen after their wedding, with her parents, Tom and Elzora Branch. Gerfen family photo

Margene was just about the last of the girl cousins on the Randall side, and her passing was definitely the end of an era. She was the keeper of the family history. I was glad to see one of her daughters-in law, Jennifer, is keeping up the genealogy, and cousin Randy Skelton had a family tree with him, too.

Although Margene was 84, she died unexpectedly after an apparently successful operation to put a stent in her heart so she would have more energy from better blood flow.

“We were able to see her after she came out of surgery, and laugh with her and tell her goodnight,” said her oldest son, Tom, who lives in San Francisco where she had moved from her beloved St. Louis, Mo., 18 months ago to be closer to two of her four sons.

Then the family got the phone call that she had died during the night.

As funeral gatherings go, Margene’s was particularly joyous. She wanted to make sure all her family were able to get together and spend time. When we asked about the cost of overnight stay at the Emory Conference Center and Inn, No. 2 son Chip explained, “Mother’s taking care of it.”

Many of us hadn’t seen each other in 30 or more years, or had never met. As happens with families these days her four boys had grown up and spread across the United States, from Chris in Lexington, Mass., to Chip in Bethesda, Md., to San Francisco and Earl in Palo Alto, Calif.

They had married and had babies, one of whom, Jennifer, is now working on her doctorate degree in genetics at Emory University. Tom’s daughter, Katie, is an editor of an architecture magazine in Washington, D.C.

There were nieces of Margene’s late husband, Chuck, who came from North Georgia and Tennessee and Louisiana, and cousins from other parts of Georgia. Some Stephens College friends of hers came to the visitation and I think, some she had gone to E. Rivers School with in the Buckhead area of Atlanta where her parents had built one of the first houses on Peachtree Battle.

I’ll never get all the cousins straight, but it was fun to try.

Pink was Margene’s favorite color, and it was everywhere: the granddaughters and daughters-in-law wore pink pashmina scarves; sons wore pink shirts or pink-patterned ties. Even the littlest, Zach, who is about 3, had on a pink tie. I forgot to tell you that there were 22 years between oldest son Tom and youngest Chris, who came along as a bonus baby when Margene was 42.

Huge arrangements of pink roses, gerbera daisies, star gazer lilies and too many other varieties to count flanked Margene’s casket. Of course, she was wearing a pink dress. We had plenty of time to share Margene stories, talk about what a gracious lady she was and what she had taught us. At the reception following the funeral Saturday – where there were orchids (Chuck was famous for his orchids) accenting the food – we had time to catch up with what’s going on in our lives, to eat roast beef – another favorite she always served – eat pink cupcakes and drink wine, and look at photographs of Margene when she was a girl. She loved magnolias, which were out of season, and gardenias. There wasn’t a gardenia to be had at the florists, so her children bought a gardenia plant and plucked a fresh bouquet for the visitation and another for the funeral to place in her hands.

Her sons and their wives had thought of everything. There was time to laugh, and cry a little, too. I’m sure Margene was pleased.

She was laid to rest in the same Westview Cemetery where her parents and my husband’s parents are, and with Tom’s help in finding the site, we were able to visit his father and mother’s graves, too.

And afterward, Bill and I had time to visit with the living: good friends Frank and Carolyn who live in Marietta, and on the way back, with Martha, whose late husband, Albert, was Bill’s best friend since they were in fourth grade together.

We even managed to get to the original Atlanta Krispy Kreme donut bakery when the hot sign was on. We pressed our noses against the glass while watching those hot morsels come through on the conveyor belt and drop into their sugary coating. Aaah, happiness.