divendres, d’agost 25, 2006

Thinking on Old, Dead Aunties (English)

It is now 3AM in the City that Used to Light and Haul the World. I just finished reading a preliminary copy of a new chapbook of my poetry.

Two poems are dedicated to Arwilda Elizabeth Hagerty, who lived from 1908 to 1994. She was a tiny woman with a funny name, and full of a thousand times more love than I think I will ever know again.

One time, in a séance at the Holistics Studies Institute, the Reverend Stephen Robinson (a man who does well and truly frighten me) was the medium. He began searching for someone in the room who had Scooby-Doo underoos as a child.

I had.

However some hoarse throated ne'er-do-well jumped on the clue before I could. That was the only connection she had to the rest of his reading. The rest I identified with. The rest of his message was responded to with throaty "no's" by this rough and uninspired woman.

He described in his reading that he saw a small woman with white hair and glasses in an old house with colonnades. He said that she pulled back a curtain across one set of said colonnades, and there were dozens of people in spirit. The message he sent on their behalf was that they were all still there.

Since the white-trash momma jumped on the the reading before I could, and since I didn't want to cause a scene in the Spiritualist holy place, I remained quiet. The Reverend Stephen Robinson was the only person to ever give me something I could believe in from "the other side" on any previous occasion, and I felt the message was for me, from Arwilda. I wanted to call out, but discretion got the better part of valor.

Aside from my own dreams of her, this was the only external confirmation, of sorts, that I had ever had of her, and she and her sister Margaret are the only two people from my family whom, to this day, I still hold in high esteem. I did dream of Margaret, Marggie even before she died.

I remember a conversation at my paternal grandparents' house, where the alcohol flowed even more freely than it does in my own house now. My father, who I think in his heart of hearts was a truly sensitive man, began talking about the paranormal. He brought up, in the same slurred speech that would dress down any driver who honked at him as he swerved his way from Stroudsburg to Bartonsville, the time when I, as a child, woke up screaming one night. I remember the night to this day as a matter of fact.

I was a small child, since I was only a few years in a real bed, and I wore footy pajamas, you know those one-pieces with plastic footies that children used to wear in the '70's. I woke up terrified, since across from my bed, framed by the window I had seen a skeleton in a green aura in my window. I remember the night so clearly because I called for my parents, not just my mother, who was to a small, frail boy his only succor, but for both of them. I insisted that my father, who I saw then as mean and cruel, be there as well. I had an important message for them both.

I can remember even now what I said to them.

Even on that drunken Sunday night at 615 Queen Street in Stroudsburg, in that tiny, 1953 prefab house with the thin wood panel walls, with my old man sitting in the "daddy" chair, next to the 1950's bi-level table and lamp, he being drunk and beedy eyed, slurring his speech, reminding me of it, then at the age of 13 or 14, chills still ran up and down my back...

I was sitting up in bed, sobbing. I clucked out to my parents, both of whom came to my wee bedside, a fact that surprised me then and now, because at that time the only compassion my father had for me was not to swat me too many times with the belt. What I said to them, and what my father reminded us all of that night on Queen Street, was, "Someone is going to die, but they will be all right."

Within in a week my most loved Marggie was gone.

She was round and had curly grey hair and had a great big smile and a button nose you could pinch. She was my lifeline. She and I would go to the park across the swinging bridge over the Pocono Creek as it wended through town, and we played in the kiddie pool. She and I laughed in a world with a manic mother and drunken father, and most of all to her, a stern sister. She even made a little red white and blue suit for me for the Bicentennial in 1976. She was my every wonderful thing.

And then she was gone.

And, I, the little frail boy from the swamp, I had made my mother and my father mind just a few days before, to tell them all about it.

As fate would have it, Marggie's death was the first in a decade long string of tearful good-byes.

And a decade later, on a drunken night soaked with Seagrams 7, my father, the lost soul that he was, reminded us of that very fact.

In the years since Marggie had left me... yes, she left many others too, but I was a poor boy from a poor place with only the love of ancient women, as far as I'm concerned, it was I whom she left. Nearly all those other people are dead now, just my mother is alive who remembers her I think, and I trump her...

In the years since Marggie had left me, Arwilda, Dee-Dee I called her, became my constant friend and solace. I never really trusted her when I was a wee child, when Marggie could deliver me to the park or to Lee's ice cream shop. Dee-Dee was stern. She was business. She ran the 14 room minor manse at 111 N. 9th Street (in those days it was a House, alas now it looks more like a hovel...). Marggie was all love and flowers, smiles and giggles. But then Marggie died. She died in the hospital, but began dying in the in the bathroom on her own vomit when her stroke began. Dee-Dee told me so.

I never got to see Marggie in the hospital because my manic mother thought it was a bad idea. She superimposed her own fears on me. I wanted to see dying Marggie. I wanted to kiss her fat little cheek one more time. I wanted to hold her till she came back to reality. I could have then, made her healthy. I was a child, full of magic. My mother, whose magic had died when she married her sullen man, refused such accomodation. She even refused to let me see dead Marggie's embalmed corpse laying orangish and content in its silver coffin.

I had the last laugh on my mother though.

My mother couldn't be bothered with her precocious boy too much, so she would send me down to town from up in the Pocono Creek valley where the Colonel Joseph Benjamin Barton made his home, to the aunties' house, only now it was just the aunty's house. Just a week or so after Marggie had succumbed to the question mark, there I communed with the sterm sister in her minor manse of many sorrows. Oh, many had died in that house since they had moved there in 1919. Many ghosts clung to the smaller rooms and the attic. I was terrified of the small front bedroom, the "dolls' room" and the attic even as the estate agents priced out every bauble and cloth, when Dee-Dee herself journeyed to investigate the question mark in 1994.

There, she and I, in that colonnaded dining-room-cum-sittting- roon, we did bond. I can still see her to this day, her tiny body, at 14 wracked by fever and so grew no bigger, but now in its late 60's, on the "davenport" beside me, my own frail and disease wracked body leaning into her, she asked me simply, plainly:

"Do you miss Marggie?"

No hint of sorrow, Dee-Dee was the one to command the brigade transporting the baby carriage across the muddy erstwhile parking lot in the middle of a minor huricane...

"Sometimes I do," I said in my little child's voice, the rounded television screen playing the "Guiding Light" in front of us. Now it was 1977.

"Well sometimes it helps if you just lay on your stomach and kick up and down and bang your fists on the floor. That's what I do sometimes."

So we did. She and I lay on the floor on our stomachs in front of the "Guiding Light" and we kicked and banged our fists on the floor, and we cried. We cried for a very long time. When we both stood up, we hugged each other, and, for the first time in my life I said, and I meant, "I love you Dee-Dee."

On that day the stern sister and I became best friends, until she died that cold March day in 1994

I know many dead people.

I sometimes nonchalantly ignore the deaths of acquaintances now, since there have been so many, and really, unless I love a person, why should I worry about their deaths? Their death is no more or less important than their birth after all, and life is for living, not showing up at someone's wake whom you barely knew...

Still, of all the deaths that stick with me, none are more compelling than those of Marggie and Dee-Dee.

I dreamt of Marggie shortly after she went away; it was on the night of her funeral. I dreamt I was at 111 N. 9th Street, and Marggie walked through the door from the little anteroom, what my aunties called the coobyhole, into the dining-room-cum-sitting-room, as though she had just returned from Jacobsen where she made lawn-mowers. However this was not my Marggie. In the dream her skin was darker and her eyes glowed yellowy-green, something like that skeleton from my dream shortly before. My mother and Dee-Dee were in the room as well, and I was far from the coobyhole door, near my giant toy box; both the other women made protective gestures, but the emotionless face of the Marggie ghost just said, "Don't worry, I'm all right."

The dream ended there.

A message from the real McCoy, or my own saddened brain longing for affirmation?

I have no idea. I was a tiny boy then, but even now I am still just a chimp looking for meaning in a jungle of branches that whip me about the face and body, and so I do go to the such tribal and ancestral places as the Spiritualist Church, even if they do call themselves by silly names. Even my aunties had a Ouija Board. I used to drive my toy cars on it...

All this to say that even now, as it turns 430 AM, I still remember Arwilda. Why her more than Margaret? That's not a fair question. Margaret and I had from 1971 to 1977, but Arwilda and I had from 1971 to 1994, twenty-three years of life and love and loss. I do not deny my love for Margaret, but I also exalt the love I grew to have for Arwilda, from that moment in front of the "Guilding Light" in 1977 until I went to see her on her last day in 1994.

She loved me. She said so. I still believe her to this day, and I suspect, if anyone could come back from the dead, it would be she, with a simple message from tu ôl i'r llen: we're still here. just look at all the people in the parlour..."

A little message back then, in the cybersphere, as close as most of us get now to the ephemeral...
I still remember you both, and the joy we shared, and I hope to meet you again, in this world or the next, and I still very much love you. If you were near me, I would hold you both close and pray you would never be apart from me. Until then, when the awen strikes me, I leave roses on your graves, even though I can barely go near them without crying.

5 comentaris:

Anònim ha dit...

Amazing and powerful post.


Gwyddno Schenectady ha dit...

Diolch o galon :)

Nathaniel ha dit...

I can't imagine what it's like to have been so close with so many people who are gone now. It's so interesting to me that it took Marggie's death to open up to you. Isn't that how everything about human life is, though? Breaking down to be built up?

A metaphor I read last night: the peak of the mountain is simultaneously its perfection and the sign of its imminent decline.

BTW, it's very odd to read that my grandma isn't the only person ever to call sofas "davenports."

Fletcher ha dit...

If that didn't just utterly define hiraeth for me.

Thanks for the brief guiding to the Otherworld.

I'm also sad that I was too old for Underoos (tm).

When I can get to your northern province, I shall buy the first round of peaty goodness.


Gwyddno Schenectady ha dit...

To Nathaniel,

You got it, adversity brings people together, that's fore sure. Something tells me also that my old aunties and your grandma would have had other words in common :)

To Fletcher,

Thanks for your kind comment! And yes, we shall go to the font of much peaty joy when you head north. My colleagues and I will be there tomorrow, to sample some of the 158. I will raise of glass something no fewer than 18 years old to you and all the Gathered!