On this day in 1997 I buried my beloved mother, from which much of my soul comes from. It was a cold and wintery morning and the funeral was attended by over 200 persons of whom my dear mother had affected in some way with her beauty and love. many years ago I wanted my children to understand more about what my mother meant to me so I wrote the following; with some revisions I repeat it here today.
A wise old man named Slim, who wore a John Deere Tractor gimme cap, drank warm Jax beer in infinite quantities, listened faithfully to the hapless Old Houston Colt 45's, before they became the Astros, on the radio, and he was my grandfather to boot, once told me something I've never forgotten. He said, "You're born alone and you die alone, so you might as well get used to it." It didn't mean much to me then, but over the years I've come to believe that old Slim might have been on to something.
I live alone now in the apartment behind where my mother lived for almost 30 years, and I'm getting used to it. Being a member of the Orphan Club is not so bad. Sooner or later, fate will pluck us all up by our pretty necks. If you have a family of your own, maybe you won't feel it quite as much. Or maybe you will. I'm married to the wind, and my children are my legacy, My friends in cyberland, and the few I have here in town, I love them all. I don't play favorites. But I miss my mom and dad.
In the past sixty plus years, hundreds of people have come in and out of my life. And a few here stand out above them all. I wish I had a big ranch to invite you all to ride horses in the canyon, swim in the river, and explore the country side.
My mother died in January, 1997 a few days after my birthday, just a few weeks after Christmas, and my father died in February 1988, just a few hours after I had dinner with him. I can still see my mother at the old place in Wellington, after she retired, planting the land she owned with stuff she would can in the fall. She lasted a whole 7 months retired in Wellington, before she moved back into the apartment previously mentioned. It took a while but I finally sold that old place. The person who bought it asked me if the land was good for farming or grazing.
"No," I said, "All it was good for was holding the world together."
I miss it myself now. Every year mom would go down there and open it up for two weeks and the annual family reunion would begin. No one takes to time to get everyone together these days. Haven't seen most of the relatives since mom died. I can see her at the reunion, at the big hoedown, at the friendship circle under the stars. I can see my dad wearing his grey uniform pants from Ideal Paint and Body Shop, where he was boss of the paint department for 35 years. After he retired he still had those white shirts with his name on the pocket, and grey pants delivered each week to his house. We buried him in a new uniform from the unifrom company. It just seemed fitting since I had only seen him in a suit about 6 times in my life. I can see him painting a 55 Chevy in the building we had built in back of his house after he retired, where we restored special interest cars, slicing the watermelon at picnic suppers, sitting in a lawn chair out on his front porch. Talking patiently to any one who would listen. If you saw him sitting quietly there, you'd think he was talking to one of his old friends. Many strangers became just that.. ......I don't know how many baby fawns ago it was, how many stray dogs and cats ago, or how many homesick days ago, but fifty-plus years is a long time when almost everyone else is gone.. Yet time, as they say, is the money of love. And Mom and Dad, though divorced in 1968, put a lot of all those things into my brother and me. I wish that their adult lives had been given over to children, daddy longlegs, arrowheads, songs, and stars. That they lived in a little green valley surrounded by gentle hills, where the sky was as blue as the river, the river ran pure, the waterfalls sparkled clear in the summer sun, and the campfire embers never seemed to really die.
I was just a kid, but looking back, that's the way I remember it.
What I remember most of all are the fishing trips.
It might have been 1953, when my I first lost a relative, my younger brother was swept into the Pacific Ocean from Fort Clatsop Beach, Oregon by a huge tidal wave caused by an earthquake off the coast somewhere. At five I thought I had entered the grown up years. The grown-up, outside world liked Ike that year and loved Lucy, and Hank Williams died, as did Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. I believe now that I might have been vaguely aware of these things occurring even back then, but it was this sudden absense of my little brother that gripped at my heart. And those later losses of people who molded and shaped my life hasn't made me any braver when I know someday I will face my own departure from this earth. Every year the days pass faster and the memories grow bolder. Precisely, what I am trying to say here I'm not sure. The days of summer have faded. Maybe I just wanted say thanks to some of you, without mentioning names and becoming sentimental....you know who you are, I don't need to say it. Maybe I just want to make sure you know I appreciate your kind words, your audience, before you to move along.
Mother planted these wonderful rose bushes up and down the block and two apple trees out back. Years after my mother's death, the apple trees began to die as well, from neglect, by the people who have lived here since. ...that and the lack of rain. Yet there are a few green branches left, the birds still ruin what few apples that do try to fight the summer heat, and a couple of robins still make that tree their summer home. Some of the neighbors thought the trees were an eyesore and more than once offered to cut them down, but Fred the landlord won't hear of it. I think he regards those rose bushes and apple trees as little pieces of my mother's soul.
I more or less took over the caring of the rose bushes each year since I have been back. As the last 9 years have passed by, I grew into the job. It is amazing how thorny rose bushes could have such a profound influence on your peace of mind and the way you looked at the world. Now, on bright, mornings, I stand in front of the old 4-plex, squinting into the brittle Texas Panhandle sunlight, hoping, I suppose, for an impossible glimpse of a late summer bloom or of my mother or my father. They've all gone far away, and the conventional wisdom is that only the roses are ever coming back. Yet I still see my mother cutting that first batch of blooms each spring for a centerpiece.
One of the apple trees finally blew down last night as a strong front with high winds came through last night and this morning. I pulled the broken branches and what was left of the trunk out to the alley for its final place to rest, Though it will always have some place in my life. One of them is in my heart. And I still see my mom picking apples off that dead tree, only the tree doesn't seem dead, and neither does she. It takes a big man to sit here with tears running down his face admittting that to the few people who will read this today, but I don't think you will mind. I'm just taking some time to talk to some good friends, taking the time to talk to a few ghosts.
On my own
1 week ago