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.
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.