R.I.P Steve Jobs and Aunt Ginger

October 10, 2011
Canada Thanksgiving Day


“(for) those things that aren't pleasant at the time, but turn out to be blessings in disguise.” Karen Coverett

The cycle of life. 

As Steve Jobs put it (paraphrasing) thank God that there is death. It clears away the old, the decrepit, the dead wood to make room for the new. New ideas, techniques, ways of perceiving and tweaking the world to make it a better place for not just ourselves, but those who come after.

Birth—I have attended six births in 36 years, beginning with my own daughter at home, naturally, in Northern California. My greatest accomplishment. Forty-eight hours of labor to produce a healthy, aware, human being. Three of the next 5 births were natural, no drugs. The remaining two were assisted by a c-section, but labor was without drugs.

Death—my sister and I undertook a labor of love to attend the funeral of a favorite aunt. In the inexorably trudge through life, it seems odd to write about death with gratitude.  It’s a mystery. And I’ve come to feel curious about it rather than afraid. Yes, I am afraid still. There is so much to learn and in this instance, I gained valuable information that I can share with younger relatives.

While on a sundown walk last Friday, my nephew began asking me questions about our family history. Sadly, I don’t have much information about my paternal relatives. He wanted to know things like “how did Papaw and Grams ever get together? They were such opposite personalities.” I actually knew the answer to that, because my mom had told me many years ago. She married my dad because he was the first man to ever say “no” to her. Silly reason, I know. It made sense, though. She was a spoiled princess who bewitched every man who laid eyes on her. My dad was a challenge. A curiosity to her. The marriage finally dissolved, but their lives were entwined even after they divorced.

My parents were civil rights leaders in the deep south and in Texas back in the ‘40’s and ‘50s. That’s saying a lot. My nephew wanted to know more about my dad’s family origins to understand how they thought about major social issues, especially racism. What happened, what thinking was involved that resulted in including black people into the family bloodline? Especially in the Texas of that time?

I only had assumptions and misty impressions from childhood. By the time I was aware of my paternal grandparents, she was blind, and my grandfather was taciturn. I don’t remember hearing him utter more than a dozen words during the short time I knew him. By that time, he was worn out from a life of hard-scrabble farming, failure, and pain. He more than likely was already suffering the onset of the leukemia that finally killed him. I remember him as a dour rock of a man. Not scary; rather monolithic. Not cold—enduring.

My sister and I drove to a small town just southwest of Ft. Worth. North Texas has enjoyed considerably more rain than central Texas, and it was like driving into the land of Oz. Rain, which we haven’t seen in over 9 months. We were bedazzled.

Met up with an older cousin, my closest connection to our grandparents. She has  some awesomely cool stories about our grandmother, but had never talked about granddaddy.  

She totally reversed lifelong assumptions I’d had about my grandfather. I expected to hear that ghe was the stereotypical Texas racist and misogynist.  Instead, she glowingly painted a portrait of a man who loved and respected his wife and daughters, and that a day didn’t go by when he didn’t say that getting an education was the most important thing for them to do. Pretty cool feminist thinking in the 1930's.

He farmed cotton until ol’ Boll Weevil knocked Texas farmers flat in the 50’s and 60’s. He not only paid fair wages, he respected his neighbors, no matter their color. Besides, during the Great Depression, everyone was equal. It made good sense and good commerce to develop good relationships for the community to survive.

Grandaddy died when I was seven, and since we lived out of state, we didn't have much opportunity to get to know him. He was always sweet to us, but just too exhausted to relate much. We had lots of cousins and aunts and uncles to keep us busy. Chinaberry fights, hunting rattlesnakes in the arroyos that formed in the last big drought in the 50’s, gathering eggs, feeding chickens, fishing for crawdads...we always had great fun when we did get to visit.

This story makes me so happy and grateful, especially for our children. They need to know that their great-great-grandad was a decent, hard-working, compassionate, wise, loving man; and to know that these values are present in their DNA, and that they can choose to improve as human beings. That’s an awesome gift. That’s what’s going to save the planet.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful heritage to discover!

Ellie Di said...

I love that you know your family history, even if it's spotty in parts. Both sides of my family (starting with my grandparents) are shrouded in mystery. From what I can tell, a lot of my elders are ashamed of themselves, their siblings, and their parents. I know enough to think poorly of a lot of them, which is a shame in itself. I'm very happy to hear that you're involved in your family's history, though - it's good to keep the stories alive.