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Friday, July 8, 2011

Conversations With the Dead: Circa 1974, Greenville Texas

Dear Teresa,

Glad to get your letter, and glad Mac is fine.

The kittens have disappeared. There are some new kids in the neighborhood and we just hope they got them. They must have, for both of them to disappear, at the same time.

Not much news I guess. Like I told you when you were here, I was hoping David could stay with me when he leaves the hospital, and your daddy called me the other day and asked if I could take David. So as soon as I can get a place of my own he can come. I just wish he didn't have to stay there, to wait. But it can't be helped.

I got a letter from Charlotte the other day, and she said she had been pregnant, but she lost it. I sent her a birthday card and some money yesterday. Maybe they'll come back for a visit before long.

As soon as I get some of the pictures Nanny took while you were here, I'll send you some.

Well honey, I guess that's all for now. Be sweet and remember I love you. I sure do miss you.


This letter has no date on it, no envelope but it must have been written in August for you to be sending Charlotte a birthday card. She must be in Hawaii or wherever Necho was stationed to be far enough away to "come back for a visit". That would make it around 1974. I had spent several weeks in Greenville, Texas with you and Nanny while you recuperated there from Sonny. So you're writing from Greenville and more than likely, David is having to wait with us - me, Michelle, Dad and Patty, the evil redheaded stepmonster. David has body lice and will give it to me and Michelle. He will threaten Patty with numchucks. She will tell Dad he can't stay with us. I won't see him again until 1981.

The theme of this letter is lost kittens and children. Your son is mentally ill and in limbo, your youngest daughter has just left you again. Your eldest is too far away and even when near is so hard to reach. Charlotte is such a stone. How difficult for a mother to feel so helpless with three spiritual umbilical cords tangled in thick briars and across too many miles.

You will send me a photo of me and Nanny riding her lawnmower. We are both wearing halter tops, our shoulders are bare. We are smiling like idiots, her smile perhaps obligatory and for the camera, me because of the perfect summer, the smell of cut grass, you nearby and tomatoes ripe for picking. There is nowhere else I want to be.

I've been thinking that I'm too hard on you all these years later. But anger is a stage of grief and I didn't feel angry at all for the longest time. I missed you like a lover. I remember knowing I'd be seeing you when I was nine or ten, dressing in the bathroom, packing a suitcase. I looked in the mirror, my stomach a tumble of butterflies. I couldn't stand still, contain my joy. A deep sense of longing was established as the primary component of love. This would cause many problems later in life, a series of untouchable men who could not love.

There is a birthday card in the saved letters with a cartoon of a fat orange kitten surrounded by orange daisies, green eucalyptus and pink butterflies. In it you wrote:

I don't know when I'll be able to come up, but I do know I get a couple of days off for Christmas and am coming up then. As soon as I find out the exact days, I'll let you know. I'll stay with Doris and Granddaddy (or maybe Betty or Dorothy) and if it's okay with your daddy, maybe you can spend the night and we'll have our own little Christmas, okay? I'm sorry I couldn't get you a better present but by Christmas I'll have more money. I love you tho, very much. I'll call you.

Love, Mother

You wrote me a poem:

She was so tiny and so warm,
This jewel that to me was born,
Truly a gift from God above,
I thanked Him, my heart full of love.

Many hours of joy she gave,
A brightness in darkness she made,
And she's still a star in my eyes,
Brighter than all others in the sky.

I'm thankful for those few years,
When I could rock her or dry her tears,
And pray that God will help her know,
To me she's more priceless than silver or gold.

For Teresa
From Mother

I don't know if we ever had our own little Christmas, unless it was the one we spent with your Aunt Blanche and Uncle Joe. Betty and Dorothy are lifelong friends. Betty will one day sing at your funeral and her husband, James, will officiate. James will do the same at David's funeral. You and your son are buried together in Rosehill Cemetery. I have not visited since 1992 when David was buried because neither of you are really there. There is only marble, dirt and fake flowers. Nothing more. Nanny was nearby but her husband Windy had her body moved. I don't know why this is so sad to me if the graves mean nothing. Maybe because you were so separate from your mother in the last years. It seems you should be buried together now. You only survived her by a year.

Granddaddy is your father who will die of cancer in 1976. Doris is your stepmother whom everyone will blame for enabling Granddaddy to drink. I remember visiting him in the hospital before he went home to die, Doris walking him to the bathroom to urinate despite his having a catheter. His constant urgency might have been a missed infection, and Doris could not convince him that the toilet was not needed. He was out of it, a ghost of himself, a shuffling figure with a large swathe of gauze taped to his neck where the throat cancer and surgery had left a gaping hole. I never saw him alive again except for a brief moment at his home, in a hospital bed at the back of the house, hidden. Doris nursed him in the last days. What a horrible room to die in, so small and dead already.

I will always remember 1976 as the bicentennial, my last year of elementary school, the year Grandaddy - Seabourne Andrew - and Elvis Aaron Presley died. A few months later my guinea pig, Mac, would die in a hard freeze and I would decide that things left or died in my world during even-numbered years. I haven't trusted them since.

1 comment:

  1. There are much stronger echoes in your comments here of an adolescent holding desperately on by reciting, almost through gritted teeth, just the facts, and absolutely refusing to allow emotion to overwhelm you - desperately sad.