Monday, January 7, 2008

Pickin' up the pieces

When a life is ruined the only thing to do is pick up the pieces and start over.

I'm cleaning my apartment of years and years of my life. I'm ridding my life of all the empty I love yous and I can't live without yous and the Johns with the brackets around my name to mean a hug and the Ks and old Christmas cards and ticket stubs and all the wonderful things people said or wrote about me and all the flotsam of my life that I put in a drawer, not knowing what else to do with it at the time. It's been great. Hope to work with you again. And then you never saw them again.

In the end, my life, anyone's life, can be held in a couple of garbage bags.

I kept one letter, though.

It was from an aunt who, at the time she wrote the letter, was dying of cancer. There were trivial news items. "Bud and Norma called. They didn't have any news." It was advised that she get a bone scan because her hip hurt. "I don't know if I want to find out anything else that's wrong with me," she wrote. She was about to begin radiation treatment, and side effects included diarrhea. "Hope it doesn't happen on the freeway," she wrote, typical of the fatalistic humor that pervades my family.

She's the aunt who, when her diagnosis came through and I asked her who was going to take care of her, retorted, "I will. I'm no pantie-waist, you know."

Every so often I have to remind myself that I come from a long line of people who weren't pantie-waists. The farm she lived on her entire life was handed down through the family from my great-grandfather on my mother's side. He fought Indians and disease and the weather. My grandmother, a tiny German lady who had 11 children that survived birth, outlived more than half of them. My ancestors settled a bit of this country. Not a lot. Maybe only 80 acres of it. But that 80 acres is now listed as a homestead in the state of Indiana. There are still bits and pieces of that land that still bear my great-grandfather's mark. A line of locust wood fence posts. A foundation. A cleared field.

My father was orphaned at three years, and raised us all the only way he knew: to be orphans. There's a sister from his first marriage I haven't seen since I was about twelve years old, and my other sister I haven't talked to in about five or six years. He taught us to be self-sufficient, to not depend on others. He taught us how to get by.

I think the spirit to get up and make a better life is quintessentially American. Not many nationalities just get up and move the way we do, and completely rebuild our lives. Americans have a lot of faults. But we have our good side, too. We're builders. And some of us aren't pantie-waists.

1 comment:

CT said...

Great post John....

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