May 3, 2016
Farmer Orville’s younger sister Aletha died last night. It was a blessing, he said. She had liver disease and was suffering dreadfully.
And I watched my friend sit pensively in his rocker in the kitchen, and I listened as he talked about death. He has a good buddy, who is confined to a nursing home, and that man is living out a bitter existence, and Orville wishes he could do more than just visit his friend. And he is feeling his own mortality.
“The worst part for me,” Orville said, “is if I was laid up bad and somebody had to mow my acreage for me. They would do it wrong, and I would have to take it.”
We walked along the strawberry patch. Actual green berries had already popped out. In two more weeks, there will be a feast of nectar and red pulp. Ruby Puppy ran after us and rolled in the strawberries and barked at us.
It is all well and good to talk calmly about death, about the naturalness of it. It is quite another thing to be nearing that moment, the sand having run out of your hourglass. How do we know we are dead? Even my devout friend, on this day, was existential.
Out of the blue, Orville said, “You are a really good writer.” He has never complimented me on anything.
Nests of bird babies were woven into the blackberry bushes. They never survive, the babies; the barn cats and the king snakes see to that. But today, wren mamas were stuffing their kids’ beaks.
I mentioned to my friend that the first U.S. citizen displacements have begun, from coastal areas of Alaska. The ocean is swallowing whole villages of Inuit. Global warming began around 1887, not 2016. “I will die if I move inland,” a woman told a reporter. Many Florida condos, at high tide, now have their lobbies fill up with seawater.
“I was close to Aletha,” Orville said. “She was a good woman.”
He and the Quilt Queen will drive to Southern Illinois for the funeral. I will take care of the chickens and dogs and cats.
We drove to my place in his pickup and loaded the back with brush from the effluvia of my recent pruning. I worried that the stuff wouldn’t burn. Orville allowed as how he would put gasoline on the plant matter, light it and jump.
We met a mere three years ago, me walking up his driveway and inquiring about pick-your-own blackberries, and now we are brothers. He is the best of men; I am an imitation of a man. One of us will pass first. The other will follow. At least, the current evidence suggests it is so.
In playwright Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece, “Our Town,” the dead sit in the cemetery and talk about the living, about how life is a fool’s errand. To my mind, that is exactly right. In a world where Inuit Indians drown, where old ladies in condos demand that ocean water leave their lobbies, when in fact we have done it to ourselves, life is indeed a fool’s errand.
I’d like to think, though, that Aletha, Orville’s sister, is sitting in her grave and chatting away as she watches her brother.
I am down with heaven so long as there is red wine and I can eat never-ending cashews. Sex is temporary, but red wine and cashews are eternal.
Rest, our dear Aletha. If you are able, touch your brother’s hand.
Good night, Aletha. We will see you tomorrow.