Sunday Afternoon Rocking

When You Can Almost Touch the Day

Sometimes I can reach hardly at all, and almost touch the day. I find myself thinking, "Oh! I must call Aunt Kay and tell her this!" and for just a moment I can hear her infectious laugh on the other end of the phone line, hear her slow southern drawl telling me to "get myself down there". It is so real I can almost touch the moment. And then I remember. I think of Gin, and I can hear her soft whispery voice, can see her spreading icing on a cake, can hear her bid me to get her a "Coke-Cola" from the fridge. And though I suppose in a way I said goodbye to her long ago, since for a number of years before her death, her mind had not been in the present, it is so real I can almost touch the day she was herself.

They were my aunts. There were four of them, and three of them never with children, and so I was their surrogate, and a surrogate for the other too, when she lost her only daughter. I was the only daughter of their baby brother, and he they lost first. Because there were so few of us, we were entwined and close. My aunts, the two that are left, are as interested in their great great nieces and nephews as if there were no "greats" in the description. Indeed if they are reminded of it, they look startled, as if they wonder when so many generations had a chance to "hatch". Our blood
family members we can count on the fingers of two hands, literally.

The sheer knowledge that there were so few of us was a part of the closeness, and so was the tragedy of our lost legacy. For this family was one of the many who lost the legacy of their ancestors, the home place of generations to LBL. It was a scar that never quite healed, and I grew up in the shadow of the knowledge of what it was. For those who were not intimately involved, let it be known that the story will never be written in books of scholarly and academic intent as it was, will never appear in the public records of the sales and auctions as it affected a people. And in my mind, I can go back, and swing on a front porch, walk down a dusty road, and almost touch a place now a wilderness as it was when a people lived and loved there.

They will be 90 and 91 this fall, these two who are all that are left of a family. I hear from them most every day, and several times a month will make the journey to see about them. In some ways they are not so different as they must always have been. The sibling rivalry that began in 1911 is clearly still in evidence, as one aunt clasps her "baby" protectively and the other snorts and tells her that is the "ugliest doll she ever saw!" I imagine that to be somewhat the same conversation they might have had in 1918. The spirit of fierce independence is still in evidence as one warns the other that if she does not eat better "they will put that tube in your belly!" The other reminds her quickly that permission must be granted for tubes in a belly, and "they won't be getting it!" I imagine they must have bickered in much the same way about getting one another in trouble with Mama or Papa. The good humor is evident as they laugh and clap their hands in time to the singing Santa Claus I decorate their rooms with at Christmas. I remember a letter their own Mama wrote telling of them diving like "greedy little pigs" over a package of sweets their Papa had sent at Christmas time when he was away visiting his own mother in 1917. When I read that letter, and others, I could almost touch the day, though it was long before I was even thought of.

My aunts have lived long and they can tell stories of times and places and people that no one living remembers. They can remember an uncle going away to fight in the Great War, and never returning. They can remember Prohibition and they can remember the Depression. Though they may falter over what was their morning meal, they remember with startling clarity all of the great events of the 20th century. And they remember all of the smaller parts of history that had little to do with what was written in a history book, but much to do with history of the common people. They can tell you of their mama sitting to make a shroud for an aunt using her old treadle sewing machine, and they can tell you of family gatherings in the yard when the circuit rider came. One can tell you how it was to teach in a one room school, to board with a family while doing so. She can tell how she canoed her way to a school where she was not just the teacher but also the fundraiser, the cook, the janitor, the stoker of fires, the nurse and the counselor. One can tell you how it was to own and operate a corner grocery store in the days of the Depression. She can tell you how it was to extend credit to folks knowing they had no way to pay it back, but also knowing one could not turn his or her back on neighbors. Hearing them talk, I know that for them it does not seem so long ago really, and they can almost touch the day.

Because I know the time is drawing nearer now when all I will have is "almost touching the day", I store up their stories, listen carefully to their words, study their faces and try to memorize their expressions. They have been my family now for night on half a century, and they are the roots that have held up my world for so long I cannot imagine standing without those roots. But as long as I can "almost touch the day", I can make it live for the "greats" my aunts are startled to realize are "greats", I can make it live for me, and I can foster the roots that held up my world, that they will hold up the world for those yet to come in our family. As long as there are stories, as long as there is a link, as long as there are ears to hear and a heart to speak, we can "almost touch the day".

Just a thought,

Copyright ©2001janPhilpot



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Thanks, jan)