Tuesday, November 10, 2015


A Memphis visit to see kinfolks was usually about a monthly thing with us when I was growing up---Daddy’s three sisters and one brother had moved up there when they each married, and I had ten cousins somewhere in my age range.

AuntCilla’s house was the most visited, with its silky green walls and graceful small living room furniture, and the elegant meals served at the shining dining table.    Aunt Ossie’s house I don’t remember at all, though I’m sure we might have gone over some, but since Uncle Doc was usually a bit under-the-bottle and dozing in his undershorts on Sunday afternoons, that vision has totally eclipsed any memory of their home itself.  Aunt Ossie and cousin Rina usually came to wherever we were.

Uncle Earl and AuntBillie were the most loving, affectionate couple to each other that I’ve ever seen before or since, and they and their four children seemed to be a little island all to themselves, content in their own company.   Though we were always warmly welcomed at their house, I don’t remember ever having seen them anywhere but their house and ours.  

My Aunt Meggie was very ill by the time I reached my teens, so we “went by” on every Memphis visit, just to see her for a bit.    I remember her as such a sweet woman, easily shrugging off her rowdy, wrestly boys, all shouts and elbows and dusty-butt shorts, as she squinted up through the wavy thread of Kool smoke drifting toward the ceiling.   They had lived down the street from us for a short time before moving away, and I think she must have been terminal in all the Memphis Memory I have of her.  But they’d visited us from time to time, pouring out of one rattly old car or another, and I so well remember the time that my Mother almost had a stroke when she saw her emerge from the car in white short-shorts, holding a bottle of Pabst---right there in our front yard.  Mother rushed off the porch, grabbed her in a big pretend hug, and hustled her into the house before the neighbors could see such a “tacky” sight, right out there before everybody.   I thought she was gorgeous, with her peroxide blonde hair and Sandra-Dee figure, and to me, she was way Kewl.

 Her Memphis house was a compact little thing, with a small, foot-stomped dirt yard like so many of the old home-places back where we lived---the dearth of lawns in some neighborhoods attested to the great numbers of children romping and stomping down any blade of grass.  The house felt as if all the furniture in the hard-used place had been made of old Venetian blinds, rattly and loose.   The four tube-armed lawn chairs with the woven nylon webbing were brought in and out from yard to living room, as the crowd ebbed and flowed.  I can still see the thin ropes of sinewy arm muscles of my five cousins, as they answered the call for chairs or fans or to run to the market for ice.

Also in the living room with her narrow hospital bed was a small yellow-ivoried TV---one of those deep-bodied Jetson things like ET’s head, set onto one of the several TV trays with the elongated roosters in tans and browns.   They served as side tables and ashtray stands, and dining table itself, for all I know, for we never ate there.  The trays also made a neat high-sided little arena for racetracks or pick-up sticks, if we could “keep it down” in deference to grown—up conversations and Aunt Maggie’s rest.

One Sunday we dropped by later in the day, having had dinner with Aunt Cilla and Uncle Jeb, and I remember so well the heat of that yard, that tiny, stifling house, the scratchy yellow nylonny stiffness of the dress I wore, and the anticipation shared with Cousin Bonnie Gail---the only girl besides ME in that house---that ELVIS was going to be on Ed Sullivan in less than an hour and pleasepleaseplease let Daddy not say it’s time to go home before he sings pleasepleaseplease.

And so we waited, with the hour ticking on---we both even went into “her room”---a bed beneath an alcove, with a curtain on a string stretched over the entrance, and primped up a little bit, putting on fresh lipstick and running her hairbrush the length of our long ponytails, and dabbing a little of her Cotillion on our wrists.   Well, it was ELVIS.

We all stood around the adults in the sling-chairs, ticking the clock down, and then---the show, the commercials, the audience screaming, the introduction.   And at that minute, Uncle Ev rose up, grabbed tray, TV and all, and turned it so it was facing Aunt Meggie’s bed, and only she could see it.   “She needs to see her boyfriend,” he said, as he sat back down.

And so we listened, watching her dulled face and sleepy smile as she watched for that last time.  And you know, that momentary dismay brought a realization of the REAL of things—the fleetingness of things and the temporary of them and the knowing of how insignificant were our little teenage wants in face of that life in its final flickering.

Oddly enough, just a short time later, my friend Linnette’s Mom took us to Tupelo to see The RealThing, but that MOMENT of revelation in that hot, close little house remains as vivid a memory as the vital young man in his black velvet shirt.



Chronica Domus said...

Another wonderfully written post full of vivid imagery of a time gone by. Thank you for the reminder of the fun I too used to have with my own cousins back in England, and our monthly visits to them. Also, your metal tubular chairs reminded me of a time we were gathered in the garden for food and a somewhat plump uncle pulled up a chair (legs of metal) which proceeded to give way under his weight (at least the back legs did). Oh how we children laughed and laughed!

The King is also my father's favorite. I can only imagine the anticipation of seeing your idol on your little telly (how lucky you were to have had access to one). Is it still operable? It is a little marvel.

Patsy said...

So sweet are the memories you do bring back with this post.

BeachGypsy said...

You make the memories come flooding back!!excellent post....loved it!

donna baker said...

Rachel, how did you get a picture of my new chairs in my city house?

Jeanne said...

Hi Rachel, I am thankful to have some time to read another one of your wonderful family posts. I love your stories so much. It gives one a vivid picture of the lives of the most interesting people. Or is it that your words make them so interesting. Smiling here. I think it was a good thing you did not eat on those rooster trays. Oh my word.

When Elvis came to Miami when I was a teen I couldn't go downtown to see him. (too expensive) I was so sad about it but I pretended that I didn't care. Such is life. I was a huge fan believe me.

We are finally getting back in the swing of things. Thank you for you kind words about us coming home safe. You are a dear friend even though we have never met in person. One day hopefully.

Much love, Jeanne

Kim S. said...

Beautiful memories, my friend. I've played in many of those dirt-yards, too. We used to go to Memphis to see family from my grandparent's farm in NC. I remember an old amusement park near my grandparents house. But not much else.

Beverly said...

I relate to how this event niched a place in your memory. I remember the encounter of anticipated death when I was about the same age. Those memories are also well niched for me, too. Life has a way of showing us how to move forward, doesn't it?

Oh, my dear Rachel, I can't believe I am so far behind visiting you. Visiting you is such a treat for me, and I treasure my time with you. It seems that I am so involved with my mother and her dementia that I seldom take the time to enjoy pleasures. Today I decided that I needed Rachel time. Sending love from me to you, dear friend.♥