Monday, April 11, 2011

Losing stories

I heard very recently that my aunt, Alice Good, died a few Sundays back. There was a certain amount of surprise involved:  Not so long ago, she was being treated for what everyone thought was persistent and nasty arthritis when a full-body scan revealed her body shot through with cancer. She was right up to her 80's and wasn't interested in fighting it with the usual poisonous methods. She decided to let the disease run out, which it quickly did.

I'm sad, of course, to know that she's gone.  As I said just recently, Ree Ree (as we all called her) was one of my father's aunts that he grew up with as a sister, the one with the powerfully big laugh that fixed her forever in my childhood mind.  But some time ago she moved down to the New Orleans area and I set up a life in New York, which means I didn't see her with even the infrequency of some of my other relatives who stayed around Bourbon County, Kansas.

Though I'm not exactly sure why, Ree Ree was someone I wanted to get to know as my older self.  Looking back from the height and distance of my current age, I can see that she spoke to me, reasonably, as an aunt speaks to a child — always with big joy, forever blessing my heart. But over the years, I have picked up bits and scraps of a harder life, or at least a life with more angles than I can now plot, some of which my father subtended.  Now she'll remain for me as she was for me so many years ago. I love her like that, always will, but I wonder what stories she would tell the mid-life me, the one familiar with loss and grief and the pleasures of parenthood. Perhaps stories about my father coming into himself, the sun just over his shoulder, the parent I know now a shadow out in front of him. Many of those stories are lost and will stay lost.

When family members go, even distant ones, I also find myself wondering about how they could have participated in my kids' lives, and vice versa.  I'm proud of Q and The Boy, not so much of their accomplishments,* but of how they conduct themselves between the tests and the trophies. I think that's why we talk about being "close" to those we know well, as if emotional and physical distance maps 1:1.

Knowing the disease and her peace with it, my father, Uncle Larry, and Aunt Peg went down to New Orleans to be with her not long after they heard.  She slept much of the time, my father said, but she talked with them and knew they were there, which was the point.  My father told me about the drive down, about how the closer they got to the gulf, the hotter they all became.  When they finally reached Ree Ree's small town, they met up with her son, who greeted them with cold beer. Dad said he had forgotten how good a cold beer tastes on a hot day.

It's funny what turns out to be the best part of the story.

*which, of course, are many and notable