Zero degrees, and Doug is throwing the tennis ball for Riley in the back yard. They got a truncated walk this morning because of the cold, but Riley still needs to run. I am a slug, in my bathrobe, hot coffee at my side, watching through the window. (Though it will be my turn to shiver through a walk with the dogs tonight, in the dark.)
Friday, January 29, 2010
Yesterday I talked to my cousin Kathi. If there is any kind of glimmer of a silver lining to Patti's dire situation, it is that I have reconnected with her little sister Kathi, who is whip smart, hilarious, and sensible. She is great fun to talk to, when we are not talking about Patti's failing health.
Kathi mentioned that Patti's cousin Patia visited the other evening, and even though Patti was too weak to sit up, she shouted out the answers to "Jeopardy!," smoking everyone else in the room. Her neighbors had banded together and bought her a flat-screen TV, an act of generosity that is almost unfathomable. "My neighbors would never buy me a TV," Kathi said. "All my neighbors do is holler at me when I park my truck in front of their house."
I thought about Abigail's owners, vaguely nice, ineffective, almost invisible people, and had to agree: My neighbors will never buy me a TV, either.
Then I asked how Patia was related to us. Turns out she's not related to me; she's Patti's cousin on her mother's side. "Patia's dad is the one who was killed when he was riding his motorcycle and hit a cow," Kathi said.
Hmmm. Not sure I'd heard that family story. And this made me think of other family stories of tragic death, fascinating and bizarre but no longer truly sad, removed, as they are, by time and by anonymity: these people are just names to me on a family tree.
There was my grandmother's uncle who rode his horse into town one Christmas Eve and never came back. The horse did, though, which prompted a search and the uncle was found dead in the snow on the side of the road.
And my great-great-aunt Ellen who died as a child of five; she had run up to throw leaves onto a bonfire and her dress had caught in the flames.
Or another great-aunt Ellen who died as a child, run over by a horse and buggy. (My brother, who does genealogy, refers to "the Ellen curse." There was yet another Ellen who died at age 2, though I don't know the circumstances. Since one of my best friends is named Ellen I hope this curse does not extend beyond my family.)
Or my grandfather's brother, who was riding the freights. He stood up on the top of a train car just as the train went through a tunnel.
Or my grandmother's uncle James, who was struck by lightning as he crossed a field. He didn't die, but (so the story goes) he lost his mind and was committed to an asylum.
Or my grandmother's aunt Lily, who "always enjoyed poor health." I love this quote (from my father's ancient cousin Verne); it's so benign but so pregnant.
All of these must have been excruciating at the time. But now they have come down through the years polished into anecdotes and given punch lines, adding a richness to family history, the sadness worn away, leaving only the drama.
Top photo: Jane and Uncle Patty, parents to Patti and Kathi.