jacktellslies: (this machine)
I'd assumed that I was the first of my family to see Iceland. But apparently my grandparents were married while my grandfather, the naval captain, was on shore leave. He thought he had a month during which his time was his own, but the day after the wedding he was told that he had a day to get to port before being shipped back to the American military base near Reykjavik, where he lived for some time. He laughs when he speaks of it now. But how immensely frustrating it must have been! I stood at the bay for a day, once, waiting. Strange, that I wasn't the first to do so. They lived that way for most of their young lives: he was on a submarine, the location of which was blacked out by some military censor in his letters. She was on some tropical island or another, raising five babies alone.

My mother drove south yesterday, but blind, deaf, and barely conscious, my grandmother didn't know she was there.

She died at five o'clock this morning. My grandfather was asleep in the apartment of the assisted living home to which they'd recently moved. She was in the nursing home wing where they'd placed her. An aunt and an uncle were there with her. Surrounded by children again, and no husband.

I'm saddened by the idea, and angry on behalf of both of them. Her deafness has been swelling since I was young, but she could always hear his voice. It was the one that could always make it through. I keep asking my mother how he is doing. She says he's fine, but won't say more than that. What kind of bullshit is fine? What does that mean?

They were married for seventy years or more. Her father was reasonably well off and Catholic, and he was a Jew, poor, the son of a suicide and an orphan. They were rarely in the same country. But they wanted each other. The last I heard on the matter, they continued sleeping together regularly into their eighties, sometimes on my grandfather's boat on the river that ran through the town where they were married. Not a bad life, then, was it?
jacktellslies: (papa's in heaven)
My great-aunt died quite recently. She'd had a few bad falls. We're all a bit unclear on details, but word is coming through my grandfather, her brother, the naval captain. His missives, even his phone conversations, are short as telegrams to this day. I doubt one could get information from the man with hooks.

My great-aunt was smart, and well educated, and moved to the city on her own to get a man's job in advertising well before one did such things. She was remarkably successful. The University of Pittsburgh attempted to name a building after her, but she was too modest for it. Feminist organisations liked to have dinners in her honour. She lived in a goblin's lair on the side of a mountain with her brother, a small and dark place made of dust and spider webs and a hundred menorahs and countless old books held in cases behind glass. They fed me strange food when I went to visit. She mailed me a book, her preferred biography of Shakespeare. There was a wink in it, like she recognised something in me. I'll toast to intelligence, then, to seeking out strange cities on our own.

My grandmother and grandfather are leaving their old house, moving to a community near Washington DC and more of the family. That house was built by my grandmother's grandfather with his hands, an old Victorian thing in a small town in Western Pennsylvania. There are French doors, crystal doorknobs, the china and fine silver that had been given as wedding gifts. There are albums of antique photography, serious but confused bearded immigrants and children in frocks blinking into time. (They don't look much like me. I got my father's blood.) There are fantastic books, bound in leather and bearing some relative's initials. The house is filled with strange artefacts of scattered points in time and space. Several generations and extensive travels are represented. There are large porcelain elephants from Vietnam, rubbings of dancing women with exposed breasts from temples in Thailand, funny German clocks, hideous drinking glasses from the sixties. As a child I believed the jetsam to represent some single zeitgeist. The basement is an old coal cellar. The floors aren't paved, and the ceiling beams are entire halves of trees, the bark still on them. Bits of my family were born and died in the bedrooms. I've always thought the place felt haunted. The garage in the back was the old barn, still filled with impossibly old tools and children's sleds. There are secrets scattered and forgotten in the hay loft: suicides and trysts.

My mother and aunts and uncles are there now, helping to pack. I asked them not to scavenge for me, but that if any of the old books were going to be left or thrown away, I'd very much like to have them. I suppose I'll never see that house or that town again. It was the centre of an otherwise scattered family.

When my great-grandfather died residents of the entire town and surrounding areas marched in his funeral procession. I'm told there were hundreds of them. He was thought to be a great man: not the town's founder, but in many ways its heart. The ghosts of that march walk past the house again now, I'm sure of it.
jacktellslies: (this machine)
I threw out all of my old notebooks a small while ago. Parker mistook the plastic bag into which I was throwing them and we took them home, by accident, and I threw them out all over again. The first things I ever tried to write were in there, as was the only evidence that I could be an artist, if I tried. Now it rots but does not disappear, somewhere. And I threw out my makeup today. For years I crafted intricate masks for myself every day, big glam things, cityscapes and messages and warrior marks. I never do, anymore, so it is well enough that they are gone, but it felt like throwing out the alter cloth. And even most of the things that I like are gone, now. But perhaps that was for the best. I mean to continue in this way, weeding out the unnecessary. I never want to drown in my things. I never want to be tied to something I cannot leave behind.

It is that day. I have not spoken to my father in four years. That still feels more strange than anything else. I am not as sad as I usually am today, but I'd rather not be alone. Parker and JJ and I are having dinner. It is kind of them. I'll fill my flask with Jameson tonight and pass it around the room.
jacktellslies: (crow)
Coretta Scott King and Betty Friedan are dead.

Goodnight. Thank you.

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August 2009

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