23 December 2008


My family is fading to black.

I don't mean my immediate family of husband, children, parents, siblings. I mean my cousins. Specifically, my father's first-cousins: Violet, Penny, Jim, Deskar, and Clorine.

It was hard for me, as a child, to understand that one could have cousins older than oneself. In my childish mind, the aunts and uncles were older whereas the cousins were my age or younger. This is how my father's first-cousin became my "Aunt" Clorine. She and her husband, my "Uncle" Deskar, were my favorite family members from my father's hardscrabble, coal mining family. I would spend a few days each summer roaming around their Beckley, West Virginia home, quietly reading in every corner of their brick house. Aunt Clorine had a West Virginia drawl, made raspy from a lifetime of smoking while Uncle Deskar's World War II, shrapnel-induced whispers made all of us keep our voices low so that he could be heard. I miss my father's cousins, not just because they are my last connection to West Virginia, but also because they are my last connection to my father. These cousins are the vessels who hold memories of my father as a child and young man.

And they are slowly, inexorably dying. One by one the people who knew my father are fading into the shadows. Uncle Deskar walked to the side of his house to apply fertilizer to the grass, fell when the heart attack hit, and never got up. Violet begged me to bury my father's ashes rather than scatter them, so that she could visit him. And she was dead within the year. Penny slowly slipped away after her husband's passing. She had no need of this life after Charlie's exit from it. And Jim? Well, he is just gone. Poof. One minute, I was addressing a Christmas card to Molly and Jim and in return, I received a card from just Molly, telling me of Jim's passing. In October. Dead for nearly two months and I didn't know it, didn't even feel a ripple or a sense that someone I love is now missing.

Clorine is currently going through chemotherapy. She sounds sad in every letter I receive from her. No matter how many times I try to sound upbeat on the phone or in my letters, a piece of her is missing. Several pieces, actually. And those pieces are with her brother Jim, her sisters Violet and Penny, and my Uncle Deskar. I don't think there's enough of her left to live on this Earth much longer.

And when she is gone, a piece of me will go, too. And I will then continue the journey begun with my father and Uncle Curtis. Another piece of me will go to the ground with her and remain until it is my time.

I miss you, my family. Be happy, wherever you are.


Avitable said...

You paint a very vivid picture of your favorite cousins and it makes it easy to understand why you feel the way that you do.

Molly's Mom said...

I hate, hate, hate getting older right now. My dad was the last of his immediate family...it is so very hard to take sometimes.

Keep your chin up. And BTW, did you get a UPS package recently??

RiverPoet said...

I know, I know. Every one of my aunts and uncles is gone except for one, and she's in bad shape. My cousins are still around, but they are in their fifties and sixties now. I know what is to come.

I wish your cousin, "Aunt Clorine", peace and gentleness whatever happens.

Peace - D

Gypsy said...

It's it awful? It does feel like we should know, like we should feel it.

I'm sorry, hon.

Also, their names? Are awesome.

Anonymous said...

Heather, you've got it muddled - it is not a piece of you that goes with them to the ground waiting for your inevitable arrival, but rather a piece of each of them that continues living in you and through you (and everyone else fortunate enough to be in that chain) with each telling, retelling, and blog writing and reading of stories about them. That is immortality = perpetuity of existence. Thank you so much for sharing.

HEATHER said...

All of my WVA connections have died off too. Ugh! So sad!
Denise is right though, they live on with you.