The bust which I bought from my aunt’s estate auction has sat on my desk or nearby since the mid-80s. She lived at my aunt’s house which was full of art. Glass tables supported by elephants. Gilded framed of fox hunt. A mantle clock with brassy people who turned a dance at the hour. Side tables stacked with National Geographic and travel magazines. Dressers full of lace, buttons, craft materials. A black and white photo on the wall was of her in nurse uniform after WWII. Another photo was of one of her husbands. That was revealed to me in a hushed tone as if there was something wrong with remarrying. She once was a divorcee.
Her cupboards that were empty except for fancy plates, decorative cups and, occasionally, a box of crackers and a box of tea. She ate out every meal. The fridge was empty every time except for root beer or pink cream soda which she bought for the occasion of my visit.
I remember that aunt dying while I was in primary school but apparently there’s fuzz on my memory. Her estate auction after she was hospitalized with strokes causing paralysis and aphasia in a city a couple hours away. Dad couldn’t bear hospitals, or elevators, or upper floors and this was all 3. He got bad panic attacks. He’s go all waxy and shaky. When we did see her he’d make it upstairs then need to bail to a lawn where he could breathe.
Funny, all the years we were in our parallel panic attacks and private depressive funks. We could have talked, helped each other. But we were both in shame and hiding such “weakness”.
“We should have noticed
the field under
Fernand Ouelette, Hours (Guernica Editions)
I don’t know how to set down the burdens of guilt of all the help I omitted to give him. When he was kicked by a cow, his leg swollen, purpled o-shape on his shin, the bone bruised, did I even offer to shovel out the barn? Why didn’t I insist and take over so at least he could rest or so we could do it faster together?
The barn was his solitude time, and I didn’t want to intrude. I wanted my dignity of privacy for my down cycles and wanted to give him his. And he was emphatic that I was not to associate with farming life. He wanted to push me past him to an easier life. People can only get ahead if they have an advantage passed on from the generation before. He didn’t want me to lose the advantage by throwing his savings down a money pit of agriculture.
8 years ago I put a slideshow of him. Why didn’t I record his voice? He waved off the camera. His outside jarred against his idea of himself.
I had to shoot it furtively, and cut out the sharp looks of is that thing pointed at me? Somehow image becomes word and past becomes present becomes past.
Still, what did I miss out on? If there’s a lesson, it’s that I should be less polite, press myself towards those I am fond of while people are still around.
Why didn’t I ask more questions? He’d get gruff and flustered and mad. He was painfully shy at times. He seemed to want to not contaminate me with himself and his ideas. He was frustrated that he couldn’t shake off ideas he was told in his youth but thought ideas should die with him. Like orangeism. He even had an ambiguous relationship to god. He secretly read a prayerbook for the last couple years, returning to the faith of his youth that he never spoke of.
I was in my own vortexes. Can I say I accept that I did what I could with what I had to work with at the time? He knew some of what I knew. We had no animosity between us.
I think I think in a medium of words but most of the time we spent together was in silence. We played rummy, checkers or parallel solitaire on Saturday nights. He drank his 5 star slowly, I drank cola until it was flat. We saw if we could eat a third of a gallon of ice cream or more, me getting more of the proportion of chocolate in Neapolitan and him getting more of a proportion of the strawberry that he preferred. We went halves on the vanilla that neither of us much cared for. Mom sat in the corner reading her harlequin in conscientious objection to the presence of cards and alcohol. A few times a year she might be persuaded to join a game of snakes and ladders.
There is no analogous thing to family. Friends are family you choose but they often aren’t integrated. They are special events. Unless you live in a commune you see them rarely. They aren’t in the orbit of daily. You don’t get the thick data of their private selves. It is a jerky slideshow more than a plotless ambient movie.