I am, perhaps, three… I remember standing up in the backseat of a car, facing backwards, peering out the back window. All I see is a long ribbon of road lined by pine trees on either side. This view goes on and on and on.
It is on this trip—I think—that the family buries Mate (pronounced Moddy) Dear, my great-grandmother’s second husband, and the man who helped raise my mother. His real name was Roy Marshall, and he worked for the bus company. The story goes that it was my mother, a toddler fond of playing in the front yard, who first struck up an acquaintance with Moddy Dear as he passed by on his way to and from work.
It was also my mother who came up with the name Mate Dear. First she called him Middy Moddy (Mister Marshall)…which eventually morphed into Mate Dear. So my mother was raised by Mama Anne (her grandmother) and Mate Dear. And she called her uncle, LaRue, Brother.
In my mind’s eye, I have a glimmer of memory from this trip that can’t be true…I see Mate Dear lying in state in a funeral parlor. There are rows of folding wooden chairs in front of me, some inhabited by people. People also mill around in front of his coffin.
The part that can’t be true is that I recall seeing him through a clear glass coffin…I see his profile. Maybe his coffin was open, and my neurons have re-shaped the memory in different form.
At another point that day, I recall standing in a backroom of the funeral parlor…There is a red Coca-Cola vending machine against one wall. Across from it, two adults whose faces I don’t remember (but they seem old to me) are stooped down talking to me in that way that adults talk to toddlers…high pitched voices, making a little fun of you. (Do adults realize how often they make jokes at kid’s expense?)
The funny thing is that, years later, when we go to bury Aurelia, my mother’s mother, I notice the same view alongside the road—miles and miles of piney woods. Turns out this is lumber country. Or was, before the lumber companies took it all and split. I also suddenly realize that Aurelia is laid out in the same funeral home Mate Dear was. In fact, the back room and the Coca Cola machine are still there.
My mother and I sit back there, at a table with old family friends, reminiscing. At least my mother reminisces. At one point, my mother asks Aunt Esther (who is not her aunt, but was once her elementary school teacher) about someone she used to know. Aunt Esther says, “Oh honey, he’s died a thousand times.” Just flips that line off, like it’s nothing. I am both awed, and crushed…crushed because that kind of language will never come naturally to me. I am a northerner. Damn.
4 years ago