This morning I looked through all the pictures of Aunt Min that I gathered for the book. I can’t tell you how they touched me. Seeing her so young – all her lively playfulness, the tender joys, the hope, the visceral faithfulness of being alive, of trusting the world. And now, she’s just not…..anything. Erased. Rosy memories and gritty dust. So shocking to my own visceral faithfulness of living. Stunning, and too real. The following is a small entry from Year 2 of the letters, written during a trip down to Louisiana.
I walk down to the batture beach, where the river is churning and brown. A fish flips up and out of the water, plunges back in, over and over—silver in the hot sun.
And trash, all along this little strip of sand; dumped from busy tug boats or scooped up by some stormy wind and tossed ashore. The water worries me. Is the fish who flips out of the water jumping away from chemicals that burn its tender flesh? Is it hungry for air? The sand isn’t much better: bits of plastic, broken soda bottles, a hospital mask, old tubes of industrial lubricant.
I gather up whatever I’m not afraid to touch, stack it into piles to pick up later and haul away. While I work, killdeer slip along the curve of damp sand.
Back at Nanette’s, everyone gets ready for tonight’s meal, talks about the football game and which team will win. Jara calls to say the toad lilies are in bloom—can we come for tea?
I wonder what led you to leave this closeness; this gentle, attentive life; the gorgeous food and fun and family ties—and even feuds; the long chats with anyone who dropped by?
Did your Maryland life in that little cave of a condo seem pretty sparse sometimes? Or were you happy to get away from what could, I guess, seem a bit much? Either way, you missed it enough to keep coming back for more
And will I keep coming back for more, decide to sink new roots into this familiar, fertile ground? I don’t know. For now, there are ribs smoking, muffins baking, cousins waiting with tea, sun heating things up, bags of trash picked up from the river beach to lug away, more stories to hear.
A little trip to the cemetery to find your coming-in and going-out dates finally inscribed: 1908 to 2010. You get credit for all your years. I sit for a while on the cement top of your tomb. I try to say something to you, but there are, oddly, no words. I don’t want to stay. But I don’t want to turn around and walk away, either.
I wish it were beautiful here. I wish this small, whitewashed cemetery wasn’t surrounded by the pumping, swishing, belching smokestacks of the chemical plant. I wish it was quiet. At least, then, I could walk away knowing you’re somewhere lovely. But there’s just the surreal starkness of death—yours, Helen’s, Johnny’s, Major’s, Grandma and Papa’s, the many relatives. There is just the unreality of you in that tiny box, surrounded by the lush emerald land fanning out all around.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll bring flowers. I’m pretty sure you don’t need anything from me, but the brightness of a few petals can’t hurt.