“She’s just my half sister,” Mama had declared with a particularly strong emphasis on the word “just” as if somehow by virtue of the word “just” she could perhaps distance herself from that genetic fact. Just recently, cousins have crawled out of the woodwork after I finally decided to get an Ancestry DNA test. I have received messages from first, second, third and fourth cousins from around the world who bear last names of those long-lost uncles and aunts with whom I lost touch after my parents divorced and moved far away from each other. In a shoe box on the top shelf of Mama’s bedroom closet I discovered old black and white photos of family I have just the vaguest childhood memories of. Mama was in hospice care for cancer at the time. It has taken me almost thirty years to come to terms with those faces frozen in time-those faces that through blood connect to me. Over the years, I have written a memoir but I am not sure if I really want to share it with the larger world. Family is complicated and even more complicated when it has been fractured and what remains has been scattered like dust over mountains and across oceans, both literally and metaphorically.
What am I to say to those with whom I share a bloodline and little else? What do I say to a cousin who shares with me painful memories that confirm the validity of my own nightmares despite the fifty years that have elapsed since we saw each other last?
Family? What does it mean truly? They say a picture speaks a thousand words. What do those words say exactly? Perhaps it should be better expressed as pictures can hide a thousand secrets. On my desk, I have scattered all the black and white photos from Mama’s shoe box; I have searched the faces of my ancestors, immersed myself in research so that I can make sense of the past-my past-their past. With the help of my newly found cousins perhaps I will find the courage to forge ahead with my memoir. Perhaps I will find the courage to tell my family’s story, fractures and all.
Since it is National Poetry Month, I would like to share this poem about my mother’s half-sister Alma, whom I met on a few occasions when I was a small child. I recall the occasions had been most unpleasant due to the tension in the room between Mama and her half-sister Alma. I never understood the reasons for the tension. Perhaps I will one day be enlightened by a cousin. I do recall Mama going to Alma’s funeral, though. I never called her aunt interestingly enough. Mama never told me to, so I didn’t. I guess she was a half-aunt. I had been in college when she died and I did not go to her funeral. She had been like a perfect stranger to me as had most of my family after my parent’s divorce.
Sweet Thursday and here I go again.
Weeping willows and dogwoods in the sand, dried crumpled leaves laying on the dirty ground, sun burning through the black, rain filled clouds, trying to break out.
Red juicy cherries clustered on green vines, snow-white lilies fluttering in the evening breeze, the yellow petals of the black-eyed Susan drooping towards the wet grass.
Day has ended,
my little red tricycle has rusted brown in the endless Georgia rain,
Mama’s half-sister Alma has passed away.
And all I recall of her is this black and white photograph,
her eyes looking away from the world,
and faded words.
And the rain.
Copyright, 2019 Jenny Andrews