I was thinking about some of my family members who have died, and what we have to remember them.
(Mousing over the pictures will tell you who they are.)
Aunt Helen and I share a morbid little joke about dying. It’s funny how in my family, nobody “dies”. They don’t “pass on” or “pass away”. They just “go”.
“What’s she going to do when her mother goes?”
“When Uncle Ed went, Auntie Jo was a wreck.”
Y’know, that sort of thing. Everybody just “goes”.
So Aunt Helen and I were talking once on the phone, and she was relating how some of the family was placing “dibs” on her stuff “when she goes”. So we’re laughing about it, and she asked, “Where the heck am I going? California?”
So that’s what we call it now. “Goin’ to California.”
I once spent several hours at her house putting post-it notes all over everything I could find with no value to anyone. There were little yellow pieces of paper on extension cords, bags of paper napkins, spare cabinet screws, anything nobody would want. There must have been about 200 of them, all through the house.
They all said, “When Aunt Helen goes to California, this is mine -LBIII”.
That’s sort of my nickname in the family now. There are five of us who homonymically share my name in my immediate family. If someone hollers “Lou”, it’s a bit confusing, so we’ve had to be nicknamed for family get-togethers and such. My grandfather went to California in ’85, so that lightened the load a bit, but there’s still my Dad, me, Uncle Luis (Aunt Helen’s ex-husband), and my cousin Luis (their oldest son). “Uncle Lou” is still a bit of a challenge, as is “Pop”, but we can usually figure it out. So my cousin is often “The Admiral” because he owns a small boat. I’m the youngest of the five Lous, so when I was very young I was Nuie Nuie (apparently I had a bit of trouble pronouncing my name), but later graduated to “Little Louie”. My grandmother called me “Louie da Turd”, but most of the rest of the family bristled at that appellation.
So eventually everyone began to settle on LBIII (el bee three). One thing I guess I’m glad my grandmother didn’t leave me was “Louie da Turd”.
There are some good things she left me, though. Lots of them. Not much in the way of stuff, because our family hasn’t really owned much of anything in a few generations.
Mostly she left me with a lot of good memories. I confess I was her favorite, and I reveled in the glory of that, such as it was. She spoiled me, it’s true.
It’s my grandfather’s fault, though. He was a miserable bastard who hated the very sight of me, no matter how much I tried to show him I loved him and just wanted to be loved by him.
It wasn’t just me, he mostly hated all the grandsons. But I got the worst of it, being the closest at hand, and the eldest son of his hated eldest son.
He handed out shit to the Admiral, too. I think he was second on the target list, but he mostly lived down here in North Carolina and only came to visit once or twice a year.
There was one time my grandfather was on a drunken tirade while my sister, my brother, and I were all there. He was totally wigging out on me for breaking the organ bench leg, which I didn’t do. (Thirty years later, I’m not ratting out the guilty party. It was an accident, and it wasn’t me. That’s all you need to know. 🙂 )
Grandmom Helen was standing up for me, and trying to tell him that I didn’t do it, but the old drunk wasn’t listening. He started hollering and screaming about how a wife should honor and obey her husband and shut her mouth. Turns out, he was quoting from the bible, from Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, chapter 5.
This totally floored me. In all my ten years of existence, I would never have guessed that the drunk had ever cracked a bible once. When I recognized the KJV word for word quote from memory, I think I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.
What I didn’t know at the time was that my grandfather had attended seminary way back in the day when he was young. Who’d a thunk it?
Grandmom was up to the task, though. She quoted the passages he was conveniently leaving out, about husbands loving their wives and such. Now, I knew Grandmom read the bible, but knew it by heart?
This wasn’t as amazing as the old buzzard on the other side of the kitchen table quoting the bible, but still.
Well, anyway, my drunken grandfather said something about taking a belt to me and lining Grandmom up to be next.
Dude. Totally bad idea. Grandmom was never a field lilly.
And she owned all cast iron pans.
She jumped up, grabbed one, and hustled herself around the table in a flash, and was brandishing it in his face before I could even begin to absorb what was happening.
Drunks are never thinking very clearly, by definition, y’know. But alcohol being the great bottle of courage that it is, Grandpop just couldn’t sit there and not make one more threat.
Well, my Pop came home from work several hours later and we had dinner at Grandmom and Grandpop’s. We had fried meat cakes and fried spaghetti, two of Grandmom’s specialties. She let us have cream soda with dinner and we sat around the table and chatted for a while after dinner.
We lived directly across the street, so we just took our baths at Grandmom’s, which was pretty typical, and then Pop took us home and tucked us into bed.
On the way out, Pop asked Grandmom if she wanted him to call an ambulance or take Grandpop to the hospital or something. Grandmom seemed a little worried about him for about one second, and then declined Pop’s offer.
Pop just shrugged, and we all tried not to step on Grandpop on the way out the kitchen door, which was pretty hard because her kitchen was so small and he was laying right in the walkway.
I suppose that might not be a “good” memory for most folks, but in our family you take what you can get.
And after all is said and done, what do we really leave behind when we have gone to California? Memories, mostly. Photographs, sometimes.
It’s funny how incongruous the two can be. Such messed up memories brought to mind by such beautiful photographs.
I hope that when I pack up my stuff and start the three thousand mile journey to California, that the photograph by which I am remembered is this one, and I hope the memories brought to mind with it are as wonderful for my children as this moment in time was for me.