Her face crinkled, "Oh no Margie, I'm so sorry.." tears welled up in her eyes, rims reddening. They continued talking. My mother on one end, her cousin Margie, on the other. Margie and Mom were best friends in high school. Margie's mother was my mother's father's sister. His only full-blooded sister. There was also a half-sister and a step sister. An American family. A blended American Family. She has a "cousin" (step-cousin, half-cousin?), Glory (Gloria) who lives in Miami, Florida, has for years, wears mink coats, does not work, has never worked (as far as anyone knows), wore the first "skunk" hairdo (as seen on Anne Bancroft in "The Graduate") and keeps her nails and hands beautiful. Mother's family is well known for their beautiful long tapered hands and nails, attributes I did not inherit.
It wasn't long before mother regained her composure. She "mouthed" to my sister and I, "Bob died", sat back in the black leather chair in the living room, green workout togs on, foot up on a stool, resting her leg from her recent hip surgery. Bob was Margie's husband. He was always cool, distant. Hanging out with the men at family reunions, get-togethers. Bob, Uncle Jack, My dad and others. They always reminded me of the "Rat Pack"..with the exception that my dad was more like a dark version of Steve McQueen, who wasn't in the Rat Pack, but nonetheless. They all smoked, like chimneys. They all gave up smoking in late middle age. They drank beer. But not vigorously. The women, their wives, our mother's, aunts and second cousins, tended to not smoke, not drink, not swear. They tended to not...and during the summers, back in the day when the farm was still in good shape, when the house was still a farmhouse, with large airy rooms, wood floors, seven foot windows, transoms for air circulation, a cement back patio covered and screened for summer use. When the yard was still lush, green, verdant, and the barn was standing, the white fence in good repair around the barn-yard. Back then, there were cows to milk, horses to ride, fields and pastures to play and work in. The cellar was dank and dark and there was a richness in the gardens, flowers which had been planted by my great-grandmother still bloomed, heavy and fragrant. And the flagtones around the cement pond had long ago travelled great distances and had been set by our great-grandparents, or someone in their time.
In my generation's childhood days, cousins, second-cousins and friends would join us on the farm for fourth of july and other summer celebrations. There would be seed spitting contests (instituted by my grandfather) and home made ice cream, usually hand cranked until an electric ice cream maker was bought.
The women would place the food on the tables, dinnerware would be pulled from paper bags, each family brought their own. The men would grill, and we would eat. The men sitting in the upright chairs and the women in the loungers. The kids, everywhere. And after the meal, children would run around and the men would move away from the crowd, lighting up, talking man-talk and the women would stretch, hands wrapped around iced drinks, laughing, lounging, watching their children from time to time, adjusting their sunglasses. There seemed to be a laissez-faire attitude towards children in those days. Then again, there were over a hundred acres on which to roam and around us were more farms, woods and fields, it was the sixties, early seventies.
And there were Bob and Margie with our parents and relatives. Their family was small. Parents and two children. Our family by comparison was copious.
And now. Bob was dead.
Mother talked to Margie for some time. Rosie and I sat on the couch, quiet, respectful, shocked. She regained her composure quickly and went through the nuts and bolts of funereal arrangements..offering condolences and support. Once off the phone, we talked briefly..both Rosie and I had been on the way out when the call came.."I must call my sister.." And so she did..We hugged goodbye and left.
Outside the fog was all around us. The hoarfrost which had covered the plants two days earlier had melted off. The trees looked ghostly stark. Snow which had thawed and refrozen lay on the ground shiny hard, crunchy underfoot.
The funeral will be later in the week. "Oh, it's supposed to be raining then.." mom had said.."she's planning an afternoon funeral, Bob liked to do things in the afternoon."