Sunday, January 11, 2009

FAMILY FOREST, I


The Who-I-Am, the WE of Me.




I've dwelt mostly on the WOMEN in this tale; they were the profounds, the stars, the strong-shouldered, interesting ones. Their influence, to and through me, has been a passing of several kinds of torch---in some places a bright, fierce light, in others a dark lantern, and others, a small candle wavering in the draft. I have nights in need of all or none, but they're there for the asking. And they're all MINE, and have shadowed who I am, close or from afar.

Great Grandmother Roma---I never knew her, of course. She raised ten children mostly alone from the age of 34, when her husband came in out of the field one hot Mississippi day at noon, drank two dippers of cold water from the stovepipe well and fell dead. The children ranged from sixteen to six months, with one set of twins. I tried my best to channel and emulate her all those years of raising my own children alone.

My Mammaw was about sixth, I think, older than the twins, but younger than Eddie (female—oldest) and Lou and three boys. In the only family picture I have, Aunt Eddie and GG Roma are solemnly ladylike in black high-necked dresses to their toes, their hair “up”---Aunt Eddie’s in a gently loose Gibson-Girl style, while GG’s is in an uncanny precursor of the tight-back poufy topknot I’ve worn for most of my life (and more often than not, there’s a pencil stuck through and maybe some money tucked in).

GG sits beside a small grandson, while Aunt Eddie’s lap is filled with her sleeping infant. The older boys wear ragtag outfits, mostly with jackets and high-topped only-pair-of-shoes-that-year. They are a mere margin to the picture of women---a fence-line of crows perched at the back, tight-lipped and serious beneath their center-parts and dark brows.

They sit unsmiling on the edge of the rickety porch, with the ladies obviously in chairs placed on the ground, and all the smaller children hunkered down in front on the dirt of that bare-worn yard.

It’s at the old “home-place” which Daddy later bought from the heirs, keeping cattle on the land and using the silverwood outer boards of the 1870’s house for his wonderful handwork---I have two of his frames on landscape paintings here now---that wood heard voices and the music of homemade instruments and the sound of the axe, a widow’s midnight sobs and children’s romping laughter. (I know there was some---there HAD to be some).

He also used the old yellow brick of the chimney to cover one wall of the sunroom in our family home, now sold to other people not our kin.

The other girls are Aint Bessie (of The Ole Fly incident), too-young for the hair-up, white dress persona as she sits tiny and shyly contemplating the camera, while Aunt Lo is the tiniest, set off to the side, just beside her Mama’s knee. Her Mama’s right hand is not visible, as if it’s clutched at the back of her daughter’s dress, so she won’t run off or jump up and spit, or do some other disgraceful thing in view of that big glass eye.

Aunt Lo’s black eyes regard the world with suspicion and a glimmer of dread, possibly occasioned by a set of Kahlos unmistakable throughout her life, though she was a laughing, fun-to-be-with woman, buying up loads of Christmas candy ordered from OFF, and owning a pet monkey and a LONG dynasty of wide waddly Pekingese dogs . She also ran true to her younger promise, disgracing the family by her arrest for running a house of ill repute after her second marriage, to a man of equally sordid character---almost but not completely belied by the baleful little face above the white dress in the picture.

Older sister Aunt Lou is spare and quiet as she was in real life, wearing a grayer version of the white blouses of the other girls. I secretly hope it was PINK---a rosy, beautiful pink of her later-in-life paint pots. Perhaps she had grown into more maidenly colors and endeavors than they. She only graduated to the smoke-squint around the ever-present Lucky after she married and moved away from her Mama’s house---the very Mama who would stride into a nine-o’clock parlor and announce, “It’s time all good folks was asleep and rogues was travelin’ ”  to the chagrin of all her daughters and their swains.

Two small boys punctuate the picture, their overalls-galluses bracketing their neck-buttoned pale shirts. I know their names, and I have a gentle pang of regret each time I look at their grim little same-size faces and expressions.   They must have had fun---they MUST have.   I hold the hope that the people in these black-and-gray photos of other times had good lives, enjoyable lives, with laughing and good times which belie their expressions, and that serious-for-the-camera was just expected of them.

And Mammaw, my dearest Mammaw, sits also on the porch, way to the side, her flowing skirt spread wide as a flower across the wood. She looks as ethereal and delicate as her name, Olive Branch--- her pale hair back and “up” in two little peaks above her temples, her dress white and pristine. I never saw her wear white, ever again. It just was not HER, somehow, that keep-it-clean color, that too-sterile garb for such an avid cook and hands-on gardener and hard-working woman.

And of them all, moiré non.

1 comment:

Rhonda Cook said...

What a beautiful picture and as always I love reading your posts.