From the archives: June 23, 2001
When my mother died five years ago, my last surviving parent, a good friend wrote, welcome to the society of orphans. She had lost her last parent only a few years earlier. At first, I thought the idea odd--an orphan at my age??
Yet, as the years creep by, so many times the thought has crept through my mind, "I need to call and tell mother this"....and then, suddenly, I remember. I can't.
My family of aunts and uncles, gone now too, was large and close. Mother held the role of family matriarch to my cousins, and chief story teller to us all. Never could a holiday come without us gathered around the dining room table or sprawled on the den floor to call out, "tell us the one about cousin Sudie cheating on the Bible Quiz again", or "what about when Uncle Harry used to drive up to the whorehouses on Saturday nights with a fake siren on his car", or "tell us about greatgrandpa Dickson meeting greatgrandmother Harris because of a promise made to his dying buddy, after the Great Civil War was over".
Sad stories too. My grandmother dying of the flu that devastated our country in 1920, leaving behind mother, aged 13 and her younger brother, only five, the last ones of six sibs left in the household. When told his mother had gone to be with God, Uncle Herman replied, 'Doesn't God know a little boy needs his mother?" Her death was followed five years later by my grandfather's, driven off the road by a drunk driver.
My mother's stories brought flesh and blood to the family who had come before me, to the upper generation of cousins and grandparents I had never known.
It is from my mother that I inherited my love of a good story--read, told, or written. It is the feelings they generated in me that drives my poetry now.
If she were alive today, I would say to her, "Oh mother, now Becky is dying, too," and we would recite together the stories we remembered of Becky from infancy on, weaving her, by those tales, into the heart tapestry of our family already passed.
I have no sibs, no children, few remaining close cousins. Since I can't travel, I wonder if I will ever see any of my blood kin again.
I do know I will never again lie on that den floor, stuffed with fried okra, squash, and country-cured ham, surrounded by family, and hear the stories of cousin Sudie, Greatgrandpa Dickson, or Uncle Harry ring through the room, a room so filled with laughter and love.
I miss her still. I miss it all.