MOTHER died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. who doesnt remember that opening line of Camus' "the Stranger?" The distance of the statement, its coldness has been commented on through the years. It has become somewhat emblematic of Americana today, though it was written by a French existentialist. Its loneliness, is really the loneliness of todays world. But things were not always thus...
Today I learned that my great aunt went into hospice care, not expected to live but a few days more. Her body is just shutting down. OK, its a great aunt, and she is 97, the vast majority of people dont even know their great aunts except at the occasional family reunion if you participate in such things. And 97!? She had a rich and full life - it may be time. Afterall, everyones time will come, and few of us will see such advanced age.
Yes, I know. But, for a moment I would like to remember her life in the context of the Kos-verse. In the context of My Southern Heritage - without the confederate flag.
My grandmother and her sisters and brothers were born in an age when horses were the mainstay of travel, news of wars in foreign lands was scarce and was received by word of mouth, and medicine was delivered by a traveling physician that came around every month or so when the weather permitted. It was the Foxfire world of the Southern Mountains of Appalachia. The Waltons would be along a bit later and Andy Griffith later yet. Their communities were formed of extended families and few people had seen a town, much less a large city. Their language was accented with words and pronunciations of old scots gallic, and their outlook on life measured wealth by means we do not recognize today. These were the mountain people.
They were five children born to a family that lived in a log cabin, carried daily water from a spring, on land that provided for daily existence. When people were born in the mountains, they werent born under a sign of the zodiac, they were born under a mountain - the nature of which was supposed to tell the kind of person you would be. Four of those children made it to adulthood, but their mother did not. She died giving birth to the fifth child, she was barely a child herself. So the four children were raised on hard work and self reliance. Each spring they were given a concoction of sulfur and molasses to ward off worms. They received an education - up to 6th grade. They learned of the world beyond for the first time, from a traveling eye glasses salesman. Their grandfather was a part of the underground railroad, helping blacks to the north during the only war they really new anything about. He was caught by the confederate home guard and staked out to die for his troubles. They found him covered with ants and near death, but ever the optimist, he went on to father half a dozen more children. And like their mother and father, the kids grew up with an almost unique mixture of values that helped their fellow man, understood and welcomed the nature of government, but steadfastly insisted on individualism and responsibility. That self reliance was different from what we see today.
My family made its way in the world by any means it could. Many of those means were closely watched by "revenuers." But interestingly, it was people they knew and helped that "busted those stills up." They understood the role of "intervention" in enterprise by the government differently back then I suppose, it didnt separate them because they did need each other. During the depression the government delivered cheese, in huge blocks, to the people living in the mountains. They gave thanks to their creator and their government for their good fortune. They didnt begrudge the help to others - even when those may have be better off. It is hard to describe the life that was theirs, for one I wasnt there - I have only stories told to me by little old ladies sitting around a quilt in the making. For another, so many of the "values" were different that I dont really understand them myself. People had value, whether you were of a given political party, or religion or philosophy. For the aunt that I knew through my life, she knew value in people and she had value. My grand mother (still going strong at 94) said it best - when she said a part of her is dying tonight. The value was in the piece of you that each of these souls represented. It was a connectedness that is only understood through shared experiences and age I guess. But, it is a clear eyed understanding too, of how very reliant we all are on each other. These two wonderful women have seen wars come and go, watched their husbands go off to foreign lands and return to die. Through it all, they still made butter together - the "store bought stuff just didnt taste the same" they would say - but really they had some gossiping to do, and well, you just couldnt do that properly at a grocery. When someone butchered a hog, both families got to eat and family decisions were made by everyone at the table - aunts, uncles, kids. It wasnt much like the Hatfields and McCoys on TV, it was never that one strong mountain man was the patriarch. In fact, if these strong little old ladies wanted something to happen, then it did - one way or the other, and they would make sure that family table caucus swung their way.
Their politics was interesting. They remained republicans like their grandfather - a party that elected Lincoln. But they had a hard time voting for the likes of Jessie Helms or Reagan. These guys just didnt get the "values" of those independent self reliant mountain folk. Interestingly, they laughed together at the recent republican war on women because they could never imagine the idea of a woman not making her own decisions. Afterall, they were just as independent and responsible for their life needs as the men folk.
Their children, grandchildren and great grand children went off to college, became doctors, lawyers, scientists...and they both watched in amazement as each of them walked across the graduation stage.
Each of them were there, through thick and thin, at graduations and funerals, marriages and births. They participated in their lives, they were present - not separated by ideologies that are somehow fabricated by a mass media machine that has lost its bearing in this world. Not separated by the constant twittering and texting, blogging and surfing that our wonders have wrought upon us. And at the end of nearly a century of life, what they remembered together was the freshly cut tomatoes half a century earlier, the stories of little boys and little girls long since parents in their own right, and the piece of each other they both represent.
As we visited with my grandmother this evening, I noticed the look in her 12 year old, chinese, great grand daughter's eyes as she said, they remembered a life worth living.
You know, tonight, just this once, I think I will turn the TV off and put the laptop down. I have a game of cards to play and some stories to tell.
Thank you for letting me share.