Archive for Family
// April 3rd, 2013 // Comments Off // Family
Watching my parents attend funeral after funeral of family and friends is heartbreaking. I’m in my forties and it still wrecks me to see either of my parents cry. I still surprise myself at what tips me over the edge. Today, it was the last remaining sibling’s name on his big brother’s list of Pallbearers. A family of silent, stoic men who shared their feelings with actions instead of words doesn’t make those actions any less painful.
Normally, my mind locks on the memory of my last interaction with someone. This is one of the rare exceptions to that rule. I remember the man who smiled knowingly, who could easily shut down his brother’s teasing with wry wit, who was a caretaker to his wife and who was adored by his many nieces, nephews and cousins.
My Evan is too young to understand his name. When he is older, maybe he will see this and know that it’s a name filled with memories and love. If not, remind him. It’s important.
Lewis Evans, Sr. 1930-2013
Once upon a time, while exploring the woods behind my great grandmother‘s home in Natchez Trace Park, I came upon a broken piece of pottery. I scraped at the dirt and found several more chips and shards of jugs and bowls. Excited at my treasure, I ran to my grandmother‘s kitchen. My mother stood in front of a stove, wiping the fog from her glasses as she listened to my story about finding pioneer artifacts.
“That’s where your great grandmother buries her trash. Quit playing and string that bushel of beans.”
My brothers and I have a homemade only rule for ourselves every Christmas. Last year, Doug made lollipop trees for each of them. My children heartily approved. This year, I am using my extremely limited crafting skills to make something simple, but time consuming. The result is that several hundred times a day, the children walk by me working on the gifts at our kitchen table. In the beginning, they asked questions. “What are you doing?” After that, they asked more questions. “What IS that exactly?” Now, they just make confused faces. Well, Sawyer makes faces AND asks questions. “But WHY are you doing that?”
Now that I am about 40% done, I’m seriously starting to doubt my choice of craft. I wonder if it’s too late to switch to baked goods.
In an attempt to create a grocery list for Thursday, I have been looking through cookbooks and my pile of hand written family recipes. In an even greater attempt to procrastinate from actually making progress on Thanksgiving plans, I have been geezing. Remembering. Pondering.
While she was a woman of many talents, cooking was my grandmother’s art. Something in her kitchen was always baking, frying, marinating or cooling. Until retirement, she taught high school home economics. She taught pregnant teenagers about nutrition and cooking. She grew food. She cooked the food my grandfather hunted. My grandmother could seriously cook.
Because I wasn’t allowed in my mother’s kitchen and my high school didn’t believe in home economics, I never learned to cook with the skill of someone who grew up cooking. Despite that, I have my grandmother’s recipes. I’ve seen the notes that my grandmother made in cookbooks as she changed recipes over the years. What I don’t have, is a single recipe from my grandmother’s mother.
I know that when my grandmother’s mother moved to TN sometime around 1917, she married a Protestant and the fact that she was Jewish somehow ceased to exist. It’s logistically impossible to understand why my great-grandmother made that choice. I remain puzzled how, even if it was something that was deliberately hidden, she could avoid teaching family recipes to her daughter. Even more puzzling is the fact that my grandmother was twelve when her mother died and her Aunt, who also ceased to be Jewish when she moved to TN with her sister, married my grandmother’s father and parented her dead sister’s children. Two Jewish sisters raised my grandmother to love cooking and yet managed not to hand down a single family recipe. None.
How does that happen?
Every time we learn a new tidbit of information about my father’s adoption, there is an emotional process that unplugs the present. It feels like a giant box of archived files has been spilled into your mental inbox. Forgotten and fuzzy memories have to be replayed with the new information added, like a newly discovered color that makes the picture both clear and vivid.
Seeing pictures of my father’s birth mother was hard. My father is the victim I know and understand. Now, the other victim has a face. A face that we all stare at and question what we think we see in it. Not a case number or emotionless forms, but a real person.
I knew how much effort went into my father’s efforts to get clearance to work with certain agencies. I remember my father’s phone calls, letters, and constant interactions with government officials. My parents talked about Lamar Alexander as though he was a friend, but I never realized why until now. It took my father reminding me that he would not have gotten the passport and clearance he needed for work if Lamar had not personally intervened multiple times. Georgia Tann’s paperwork declaring my father dead effectively replaced my father’s official records with a mishmash of half-truths, lies, and facts. Lamar Alexander went above and beyond to help my father.
I have often heard my father lament the fact that while everyone around him was drafted, he was not. Anyone who has heard him talk about it knows that every word is saturated with guilt. He sincerely feels like he cheated his friends. I never understood his inability to stop blaming himself.
When he talked about it again this week, I finally understood his pain. He was never included in the pool of eligible men for the draft. He did not clearly exist in government records, but he didn’t understand that until Lamar explained it to him. My father didn’t deliberately cheat, but he was cheated out of any responsibility. He can’t let go of that. The stories and memories are clearer, but instead of being long ago accepted, they are fresh emotions that are too raw to be willing to be returned to the archives.
Little things, like a picture, open wormholes that make the past part of the present.