51. My great aunt Joan was my maternal grandfather’s sister. She lived in the city of Indianapolis, where she taught kindergarten as far as I know. She also played classical piano. She smoked a pack or two of cigarettes a day, and as we grew, the gaggle of cousins that are us were intrigued by her. My memories of her: she wore orange flowered bell bottoms, she bought us gifts, she was hoarse and independent and tiny and a little outside the main. One year, near the end of her long life, we had come home from Easter Sunday church. My mom hit the blinking PLAY light on the answering machine as we walked into the wood paneled kitchen, and Joan’s nicotine-laden voice came through: “Claire. Happy Easter. Bye Bye.” As far as we know, she left the same message, with a different address, to each of my mom’s remaining 7 siblings. Joan was a woman born to a woman who died giving birth to her. She has a story that I don’t know, but want to. She carried a love for her extended family, because we were what she had.
I get a call several times a day from a man in Atlanta. A 770 number. A few months ago his message would say “Lanel! It’s your dad. Just wantin’ to talk with ya. Give me a call when you can.” I called him back after a few messages to let him know he had the wrong number. After gently explaining the situation, he became irate. His wife grabbed the phone. I explained the same, and she said “We just got off of the phone with Lanel, our son. Please excuse my husband, he’s not well.”
He still calls me. Every morning and most evenings. I don’t know his name. This morning his voicemail said “………..my knees are a’hurtin. so bad. my knees are a’hurtin and i don’t know what to do about it. bye.” and just now: “I’m havin’ problems. Lanel….” I could hear his wife chatting in the background with a visitor.
I can’t do anything about this man in Georgia, I don’t think. I can hear his wife in the background as he leaves me messages, thinking that he is communicating with his son. But what it reminds me is that family and community is everything. If you aren’t in touch, be in touch. Today is the day.