Location: marengo, il, United States

Monday, November 16, 2009

the death of aunt bessie

my aunt bessie, who was 95 years old, passed away last week.

she lived nearby where i grew up as a kid, far out in the country near the small community of daisy, georgia. my younger sister alma recently drove all the way from east texas to attend the funeral.

i just discovered a few years back that neither bessie nor my uncle charlie (deceased) were ever our true kin. they merely lived close to us, and had the same last name as ours. it turns out, as i learned, that it was custom back then for children to address their elders as aunt and uncle, as a sign of respect.

however, our families were close.

aunt bessie kept my two sisters and me many a night when our parent went out on the town. bessie had 3 children of her own, who we though of as our cousins, so we always had a good time there.

one girl, wilma, was my age, and was a dead ringer for barbara eden who played the female genie in the tv show, "i dream of jeannie". she had the same exotic eyes, a pouty mouth, long blonde hair; i was hooked and fell fast in love.

but she was my cousin, i rationalized, so i held my feelings in check.

years later, after finding out the true situation, i much regretted being so honorable.

her brother, gary, was a few years older and much taller than me. he wore thick-lens glasses, and looked thoughtful and intelligent.

once he showed me a fresh scar on his head. a doctor had stitched it up, telling gary he only had a few cents left, and so gary asked me to spot them for him. i never got the joke till years later.

the eldest child, charlene, was much older that most of us, and always looked regal, as i recall. she once moved in with my parents after we relocated to west texas. her goal then was to become a model, and a local photographer did his best to make it happen, even though it never did.

aunt bessie and uncle charlie were a farming family. they seemed to be better off financially that most of our dirt-poor neighbors. charlie grew cotton, corn, sugar cane and tobacco. he kept cows, pigs and aunt bessie kept a flock of chickens. they had a well in the back yard that we as kids would drop stones down just to hear them splash.

once, a bunch of us decided to ride uncle charlie's pigs for sport. it was very exciting hearing those pigs squeal, but much too scary when uncle charlie showed up and began yelling at everybody. we scattered like flies.

a big event happened one summer when a stick of curing tobacco leaves that had been hung high up in his tobacco barn slipped and fell during the night, and the long stick punctured a hole in one of the heating tubes near the ground. the ensuing fire consumed the entire barn along with its contents, and gave people for miles around news to talk about for weeks.

one sultry afternoon, i trekked barefooted down one of the dirt roads near our house to investigate some of my neighbors. along the way i came upon a familiar sight in the road, yet strange, somehow. i stopped and studied it for a few moments.

it was not unusual to find a dead snake stretched out on some part of a roadway in rural georgia, nor was it odd to plainly see tire tracks from a car that had swerved to intentionally run over the serpent. but the things that got my attention were these:

the snake's eyes were shut tight. it's tongue hung limply from the mouth, almost touching the dirt. but the most puzzling thing was how the snake laid there on the road, chopped-up looking. it appeared the reptile had been neatly hacked into several pieces by a meat cleaver or some sharp object. i knew the thing was dead, and never bothered to poke it with a stick, as i normally might have.

i then continued on with my ambling journey, shortly arriving at an old negro lady's house, whom i knew quite well. she sat in the shade of her front porch, and waved when she saw me coming. i stopped and excitedly told her of my fresh experience with that unusual snake. then she wisley nodded and said that it was called a "giant snake". i had never heard of one before, but i believed the woman with all my heart. respecting adults was a way of life in those days.

farther down the road i came to my aunt and uncle's farmhouse. aunt bessie was shelling a bowl full of black-eyed peas while sitting on the porch swing. i climbed up beside her and repeated the incident with all it's detail, including the old woman's comment.

she showed her delight with my story by listening closely, and then she laughed softly.

"honey, she was saying "joint snake".

much later in my life, i discovered a real creature called a legless lizard, or common glass snake.

aunt bessie made the tastiest grits i ever ate, and i will miss both her friendly ways and her southern cooking.


Blogger Chris said...

Seems like I remember this story, or at least I remember liking it. Joint snake huh? Pretty cool, must have been nice growing up back then, when things were simpler.

Good that you're writing again. Don't stop.

8:00 PM  

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