Wednesday, October 21, 2009

day 3 - Gwendolyn and Leonard

I have an aunt who lives in Florida. Her name is Gwen. She is 79 years old. I have always loved and admired her. We are losing her bit by bit as Alzheimer's destroys her mind. Today I went to visit her. Upon arriving my mother told her who I was and she responded by taking my face in her hands and saying, "Of course, I know who she is!" She looked directly into my eyes with recognition and love. I don't expect her to be able to do that much longer but today she knew me. I would like to share a story Aunt Gwen told me. I should preface this recollection with the fact that my mother's family lived in poverty in rural Tennessee in the 30's and 40's. Their father, my granfather, was a moonshiner, a gambler, an adulterer, a bigamist and a child abuser.

Imagine a young girl, grammar school age, joining her siblings to hold their mother down on the wooden floor of their small house. They were trying to prevent her from charging out of the house with a gun to shoot their father. My grandmother had just found out that her husband was living with another woman. She was hurt and angry. As they struggled and pleaded with her there was a knock on the door. My aunt realized it was a peddler at the door. A few weeks earlier a contest had begun at school. There would be a prize for the student who had the cleanest teeth. My aunt was determined to win. But the only toothbrush she had was a stick from the hickory tree. She wanted to buy a real toothbrush but there was no money then for such luxuries. She had arranged to trade the peddler wild blueberries for the toothbrush she wanted. She had spent most of her day in the woods picking buckets full of juicy blueberries. When she heard the knock she faced a dilemma, should she let go of her mother or go let the peddler in to make the trade? She paused only a second before she went to the door to give the blueberries to the peddler and retrieve her toothbrush. She did win the contest. I don't know what the prize was and neither did she. Years later, when she was 13, she married a 36 year old man who carried her to Florida to be his bride. She smiles as she remembers this and says he thought she was 16. They were married, raised children and loved each other for over 50 years. Sometimes she forgets he is gone and sets a place for him at the breakfast table.

Tonight I went to a Leonard Cohen concert...Gwen and Leo...aging icons of a more graceful time...

1 comment:

Igor Prawn said...

Oh God, what a beautiful story!