Lacrimae Rerum

There are not enough words for the tears in things.

I stumbled across my aunt’s obituary online. Don’t ask which of the names mentioned therein connect her to me.

I remember how in 1965 or so, I was billeted in her house and brought along on the car ride when she went to the wrong-side-of-the-tracks neighborhood to pick up “my ni&&er” for some yard work.

I remember what passed for her husband, rocking on the covered porch as if bereft of anything you or I might call intellect, as if rocking on that porch had always been his only occupation. I remember the stories of the gent she took up with after her husband died; how he died in his turn, burned (alive, they whispered) in a shop fire; how she survived breast cancer less than a year afterward, how we wondered if the shock had brought it on, how one of her sisters washed the sheets two and three times after she visited, in case it was catching.

The year she was born, American women could not yet cast a vote.

I don’t have anything to do with either side of my family, for a lot of reasons, the n-i-double-g word not the least of them.

It still made me cry, for some goddam reason I cannot elaborate.

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12 thoughts on “Lacrimae Rerum

  1. Compelling. Her face looks good. She led an adventurous life, surviving many things until the respectable age of 93 – ergo she was tough. An hereditary trait, it seems.

    • I think the obit may have exaggerated some things in the spirit of nil nisi bonum. I don’t remember her ever reading, for instance; in fact, on that side of the family you were lucky to find an actual book in anyone’s house and at a grade-school age I was universally disparaged by my cousins as “the one who reads all the time.” But I figure it looked good on the page, and I didn’t spend much time around any of those people if I could avoid it, so I might have missed something.

      • By “her face looks good” I meant: “telling by her face she appears like a good person”. But she also looks good. And reading is not all. I guess the n-i-double-g word stuff belongs to some people’s mentality in the South. That of course I cannot like although it stems from history, from the civil war and so forth.

        • Southern racism was and is weird. As we see in the news even this very week. There was an urgency about it, or so I remember it when I saw it firsthand in the 1960’s, and a strange non sequitur quality — as if the very fact of someone’s race constituted an indictment or, sometimes, a punchline of a joke. The N word though was often just normal usage — just a noun like “man” or “woman” in most people’s mouths. Which is jarring to hear when you didn’t grow up with it and knew how hatefully it was also used.

          There was a good deal of tough DNA in that family. The oldest brother, as I remember, fell over like a tree in the forest one morning at 5 am, on his way to feed the chickens, and that’s how they found him, still holding the buckets of feed. Past eighty. We should all hope for an end like that, since there has to be one.

  2. At first blush I’m impressed she died a great-great-grandmother but then I remember how avidly those devout Southerners breed with one another. I mean, I’m all for avid breeding-like activity, but thought of generations of parentage youthful enough to produce great-great-grandchildren leaves me a bit nonplussed. But I’m sure they’re all, as they say, “good people”.

    • Umm, if “good people” means they watch the 700 Club every damn time it comes on.

      As I said, there are reasons I turned my back on those people. Swarms of screaming kids creep me out. And, to pick from a few other members of the extended family, the kind of ignorance that freaks out over Tarot cards as “the work of the devil.” And chuckly uncles who joke that no woman’s been nominated for President because “there’s too many splits in the Democratic party already,” har har. That was a a real thigh-slapper when I was fourteen.

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