Family Patterns

I’ve been thinking a lot about patterns, mostly family patterns. Last Sunday, David’s brother Phil Gulley, a Quaker minister, preached at our church.  Phil is also an author. One of his books, If Grace is True, which he wrote with James Mullholland is a meditation on God’s mercy that jellified my worldview a few years back in a way that both comforted and disturbed me.  

His ideas must have affected him in a similar way, because his sermon focused on how some people, including him, are not called to rest in the “good enough” place of comfortable ideas.   

During his talk Phil threw out a phrase that I meant to write down.  I didn’t, so I’m remembering it now as “family habits.” 

He was speaking metaphorically, but the reference to family set my mind spinning.   I started to wonder how I ever ended up living 500 miles away from my parents; me, who cried when my parents left me in my freshman dorm room for the first time. 

My mom’s sister, her kids and grandkids, have never left the town where she and my mom were raised.  They are all settled within 20 miles of each other and are a part of one another’s daily lives.  But my mom married a man, eventually my dad, who traveled to find work.  Soon they settled an hour away from her home, not far by today’s measures, but a world away for an Arkansas farm girl in the early 60s. 

My mom married when she was 18 and for the first several months of their life together she made my dad drive her to my grandparent’s house every weekend until he finally had enough and said she could go on her own, which she did.    

My mom’s family put down deep roots in the Ozark foothills, while my dad’s family moved around quite a bit, mostly for practical reasons.   Sometimes I wonder if my willingness to move and its marriage to a perpetual low-grade wistfulness for home is a fusion of those two types of connection to place.   I also wonder if Southerners aren’t just cursed, or blessed, depending on your perspective, with an addiction to the humid history that makes up their family’s most prized possession—it’s uniquely grand story, the setting of which is often the star of the show.  Moving away means unraveling your personal thread from that tapestry, in my case to the point that I sometimes feel as if I am dangling so loosely that God’s scissors will trim me and work me into another fabric.    

Historically, even my mom’s family has uprooted itself.  If you ever stop by the tiny community of Pangburn, AR you are likely to run into someone related to me.   The remains of our common ancestors can be found beneath a grove of large Oak trees along with a historical marker that tells the story of a 19th century family that ventured as a clan from Appalachia to the Ozarks and birthed this small town.   My Aunt Judy tells me they settled by the Little Red River first, but the bugs became too much for them so they headed for the thinner air of the hills where mountain music echoes better anyway.   

 While the hassle of  air travel today makes going by covered wagon seem posh in comparison, it is true that modern technology has changed how frequently we move and how far away.  I wonder though how different our reasons for doing so are.  Aren’t we still interested in doing better by our family or finding places where we fit better and are not as disenfranchised because we are different?   Then there is the almost religious sense of calling to destiny that has kept the world’s population in motion for at least as long as recorded history. 

But how to keep that family fabric from unraveling?  For me, that’s the tricky part. 

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15 Comments on “Family Patterns”


  1. Very well written Troy.

  2. jennie Says:

    I agree with Dave. Love this well-crafted entry.

  3. Katy Says:

    “Going Home”, Yes, I was very attached to home and my Mom and Dad when I married at 18 and your Dad moved me to Camden Arkansas, the end of the world as far as I was concerned, the jumping off place, about 200 miles from “home”. “Dad” would get up early and go to work, I had no car, knew no one, and could only imagine what all of my family was doing “without” me there in Center Hill. All of those weekends of going “home” were wonderful, I loved it, your Dad got very tired of it and refused to go as often, and I am sure my Mom and Dad wished I would stay at my own “home” once in a while, but if they felt that way they never let me know it. I packed you and Christie up a lot on the weekends and “went Home”. One evening at supper (your were probably six years old) we were sitting at the table eating and I mentioned we would be going “home” this weekend, you looked at me and said ” Momma, I thought this was our “home”. I decided at that point with that very quiet thought and statement, I needed to change “me”. And I did,gradually, we still went to Mamaw and Grandads, but not as often and I didn’t refer to it as “home”, it had passed time for us to stay at our home. I still love that “home” and the wonderful memories there, but the family I loved made it the wonderful home for me. I was and am truly blest by a loving family. Even though you and Christie have moved away, I know you are going to come “home” and we will have time together.
    I still cry everytime you and Christie come “home” and leave. Always will.


  4. Katy, you are making me cry at work.

  5. bigskymind Says:

    Keeping in mind that all my people hail from the Deep South, moving is all we’ve ever known. Both my Mom and Dad grew up in families that worked in construction, moving constantly growing up. That was our life growing up as well. They have lived in Indiana longer than they’ve ever lived anywhere in their entire lives. I guess we are just a different breed.

  6. kara Says:

    Actually, after high school I was gone from here for 15 years. We were living in Cordova, Tennessee when it came to the point that we didn’t want Kaley in school there. So, we moved to Searcy so she could start 4th grade. It was 3 months after that we found out I had cancer, so I’ve always believed it was God’s plan that we moved back to Arkansas. We couldn’t have made it through everything without our family and friends to help us each day.

    I think because we saw your family so often as we were growing up, it made the four of us (i.e. you, me, Christie & Howard) very close. Some of my best memories from childhood are the four of us playing at Center Hill. I think there are alot of families who don’t stay in touch, which I think is sad. So maybe it isn’t the distance that makes you close to one another, but the strength of the threads that bind you together.

  7. catch Says:

    good stuff and well said…i think that this post really hit a nerve with me because i just got back from a mcclain weddin’

    btw, thanks for adding me to the “roll”; i will try not to let you down 🙂

  8. gunstreamgirl Says:

    oh boy oh boy, you are striking a chord with me, too.
    i’ve really struggled with moving up here for almost 4 years now. somehow i think i am being selfish by living up here and doing my own thing. not being there for my family. but then i think that i have to take care of myself andfollow my own path at the same time. the family connection is always there. and maybe the distance makes it seem sweeter. but then i think, why walk away from a good, solid thing? i don’t know, i don’t know. i’m just happy that i have family up here close by (ahem, that’s you).

  9. Susan Says:

    Great post…this could be published especially since it made a lot of your readers cry. I love that… Family ties are always going to unravel a bit, but everytime you come back together there is that sense that you never really left home. Its part of growing up and life changing. There is something bittersweet about growing up and moving away from home. My family moved when I was in the 10th grade from Oklahoma to Arkansas…I was devastated, but now that I look back 14 years later I wouldn’t change one thing. God always has a plan and its usually great even though it makes our hearts ache.
    A great family friend of ours lived in Pangburn…their last name is Uth. Beautiful place to live even though its still really remote.
    Again great post..and thanks for the refreshing tears.

  10. Troy Says:

    Susan I think you’re right-I do always feel like I never left when I go back, and since I’ve always lived by the calling I hear, I have no regrets. Fortunately I married someone who is the same in that respect. I guess if technology can spread us out, it can also help us keep the threads strong, like Kara says.

  11. Citizen D Says:

    I read this yesterday and thought I would write a full response on my blog. Sadly the frustrating interference with daily called work has prevented me from taking the time. I’ll get to it sometime.

    For now, let me say that this is simply one of the best posts I’ve ever read. It is well written and describes an emotional experience to which many relate but does so without insipidity. That is a difficult thing to do.

  12. Susan Says:

    You so need to send this in to Readers Digest, Oprah, someone!.Its great!

  13. Katy Says:

    Close and dear friends are our family, the special thread of friendship is wound thru our lives, as is that of our family we shared our lives with. I like the “thread” thought, that is good, Kara.
    Dave, didn’t mean to make you shed tears, a tender heart, for sure. Me too.

  14. adam j Says:

    great post, troy… i was so moved by your writing here that i finished my cup of coffee and went to the bathroom for a nice… never mind (one probably didn’t have anything to do with the other). but a great turn of phrase with ‘perpetual low-grade wistfulness for home’. man, do i get that sometimes… i often wonder if it would have been physically possible for me to move farther away from the place where i grew up, china being on the opposite side of the globe and everything (maybe had i moved somewhere in the southern hemsiphere like new zealand or borneo i could have been farther away).

    but i often find myself waxing philosophically with friends about the virtues of growing up in a small southern town and how i, in some ways, envy people like my grandparents and many of our batesville friends whose whole lives were spent living within 20 minutes of family and friends they went to kindergarten with. at that point, i usually tell a story from batesville lore which friends sit politely through, pretending, though not very convincingly, that they haven’t already heard it… i gotta get a new crowd, or some new material. just a heads-up that i will be reading everybody’s blogs, mining them for good material and then passing them off as my own… no offense. just be careful with your stories if you ever come to china…


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