Our Time on Earth

    Unlike morally smug, ethically deficient conservatives and the Scripture misinterpreting evangelicals who enable them, the rest of us have had no hand in our own conception. Randomly created, we are born. Inevitably we die. If we’re lucky we begin enjoying semblances of control several years into seeing first light until our mortal forms lose vigor, and blindness begins the cascade rendering us past tense.

    I read somewhere sight is the first of our senses that extinguishes; hearing the last. Maybe it’s apocryphal but Lillian Hellman yelled final tender endearments to Dashiell Hammett just as he succumbed on his deathbed. Seems right. The two writers were true to their beliefs as well as one another in a fashion that flouted convention.    
    
    
Besides, who among us wouldn’t prefer going out hearing how we were adored? Loving phrases over a corpse comfort mourners but do the dead derive any benefit from them? Doubtful.  

    A great deal of American monomania idolizes heroic death. It’s not so much Custer ignored basic military principle and got his command slaughtered. It’s that he “died with his boots on!”

    Foolhardiness taken into account, there are plenty of normal-life occasions which loosen the sphincter. Somehow being descended upon by every Sioux and Cheyenne in the world, fully aware each desires detaching white man scalps from their skulls, likely fails summoning resigned stoicism.

   One imagines “mother!” often bewailed in those last terrifying moments during the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Of course that ruins the myth, as real life frequently does.

    My cousin Verne never worried about myth-making. Neither was he ever esteemed. Honestly evaluating him lends no honor.

    He was my junior by one year. Despite coming of age at a similar time, our lives were as different as straight and crooked. City cousin and his suburban counterpart drifted apart. He screwed up his way; I screwed up mine.

    Carelessness finally took Verne this October, therefore way too soon. Blithe living also scythed his older brother 20 years earlier. Trite to say, these early deaths, given the feckless lives which inexorably led to them, were unavoidable. What is it pre-determinists claim? We can’t escape our fates. Those guys didn’t bother trying deviating from their respective pre-selected paths. They merrily rolled along.

    Verne, like his older brother before him, likely never heard that code. That’s not presumption on my part. Both those guys put zero stock in contemplation or his next footfall. Just like their mother Flossie, one of  mother’s younger sisters.

     Flossie benefited greatly being a decade younger than  mother. The missing 10 years spared her from an agrarian South adolescence mired in the Depression. Flossie grew up with rudimentary indoor plumbing, while night visits to the outhouse stoked mother’s lifelong terror of snakes. These formative backgrounds are apparent in their demeanors.

     Like most Depression babies, mother keeps close accounting of her funds. (Yet she’s nowhere near a tightwad as father had been. His teens coincided with the constricted era.) Knowing and enjoying looser fiscal constraints, Flossie spends like there’s no tomorrow. Particularly when somebody else is grabbing her tab.

     That attitude extends to comportment. Mother reconnoitered much of her life before moving forward. Flossie’s way is seemingly windblown, capriciously trusting Providence to keep her beyond harm. She has profited, though her children have paid prices. Her child rearing had been so lax it verged on criminal neglect.  

     Hardship childhood her unshakable rock, mother as an independent woman willed herself into better circumstances. And once situated never relaxed because her fear of regressing remained constant. Not that she’d backslide but to her the threat prevailed despite cushions and safeguards. 

     Escaping dumbass, backwoods, countryfuck South Carolina and following her sister to New York, Flossie didn’t wade into Gotham but flounced. She abandoned whatever caution accompanied her and embraced New York. The city, forever seeking innocence to exploit, reciprocated her clutch. Guileless Flossie took this gesture as genuine rather than its intended ravishing. Didn’t matter. Flossie discovered she liked being ravished.

     Unlike mother who sought and for a time found a “safe man,” father, Flossie sampled heavily and ladled same in equal measures. Which is how four men sired her four children. Only the last issue enjoyed traditional family stability. After three frogs that hopped away sometime before births, Flossie’s fourth was the prince who stayed legitimizing every aspect of their union. Not only did a husband bestow his surname upon their son, he was also a parent. The only true male authority figure her three eldest children knew.

      Unfortunately, the fourth man arrived too late in their late adolescence/early teens. He could instill little guidance. At best he just herded them.

      Naturally his son developed into a responsible man. So much so even Verne acknowledged  this quality at his end.

      Although New York offers an easily accessed cultural smorgasbord, Flossie wasn’t the type of parent who exposed her children to these diversions. Maybe a Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall or Bronx Zoo visits, but museums, Broadway, chamber music, classical dance, the library? Nah!

        Long before Flossie became entirely anchored in New York mother beseeched she migrate with her brood here to Quarropas. Quite duller and dimmer than the manic and brilliant city, suburban splendor would provide a superior child-rearing environment. One hopes mother used me as a prime example. Flossie swatted that argument aside. Her needs came first. Still do. She mainlined big-city nightlife. The same which gradually devoured three of her four children.

       These days, mother sits in Quarropas listening to her now widowed sister recite problems burdening her daughter, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Yeah. Great-grandchildren. It’s come to that. Not Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “deviance” actually, though certainly clear patterns of indiscipline. Ones descending through a matrilineal family. (True as it is, gotta hope that last sentence isn’t misread as sexist. Or chauvinist.)

     In the end, Verne recognized a certain quality in his younger brother. A perverse mama’s boy, Verne spent his adult life alternatively deferring to and rebelling against Flossie. He named her and his surviving brother guardians of his minor age children. Surprisingly, one woman issued Verne’s children. The two even may’ve been married. If so, nobody recalls the ceremony and no record of it exists.

    Maybe they exchanged vows beneath the stars and jumped a broom before smashing glasses in Central Park. Otherwise the law does not recognize Verne’s “wife’s” marriage. Tough for her but good for their children.

    Until the end she didn’t much recognize their union, either. Not a rare theme in our family, mothers abandoning their children and leaving complete rearing to fathers.  Verne’s “wife” didn’t trouble herself at all by even attending his side when he lay on his deathbed. She rediscovered her devotion only after understanding he left good chunks to claim. No one believes she suddenly became inconsolable, though her belated reappearance must’ve set speed records somewhere.  

    The tang of widow’s money roused her long dormant maternal concern.

    Years of voluntary absence should’ve been sufficient reason to weaken any attempts at her trying to reestablish custodial rights. But the law often numb to reality, some bonehead judge would’ve ignored sense and history and given her authority over her children … and their inheritance.

    Verne wasn’t a lot of things. There is a hazy story of him committing juvenile homicide. Not strangely that alleged incident wasn’t often discussed in its immediate aftermath. It got further fogged and erased between passing years. One of those kind of events everybody knows yet no one mentions. Not a secret exactly. Just unspoken. What family lacks such? Though few to the extent of blood and a body.

    Nonetheless once he entered manhood he found a well-paying beneficial career. Careless and crazy as he’d been, Verne lucked into becoming a solid middle-class investor.

    He’d put a pile by for his namesakes. Whether he possessed the foresight of knowing his “widow” would reappear in time to collect one may surmise. However, the deceased showed good sense by preparing a will. One that excluded the woman claiming to be his widow. The document named Flossie and his sane, sober surviving brother as executors on behalf of his children.

    What? Why no trusts, Verne?  Ah. Mystery from a shallow man.     

             

           

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