Updated: Jan 23
Aunt Fe said she never wanted to go to college. She worked in a factory making those “bra-zeers,” and she never did want anything more— except children. And when she got those, she still didn’t want anything more.
Not anything when her first love broke her back and left her lying in the dirt, only to believe in the Lord and that ring.
“Keep ‘em in your heart,” she says, “it’s most important.”
As I believe in anything, another creating narrative and song, I do not know if my heart still holds that space. But I’ll listen to her ballads in hopes that one day I’ll be able to sing them, and understand some deeper part.
Like the man in Princeton, West Virginia she knew at the factory, asking her out and talking to her curls. Fe not budging because she was something of too bashful and seventeen. I don’t blame the hesitation and perhaps consider it an intuition.
But he saw her one day, that man from the factory, Robert, when he was riding through the hills. She was cooking with Aunt Irene, and he gazed too willingly, turning so much so towards her face that he wrecked his bike. He must have thought her beautiful then, to crash his bike, steal a look, get her pregnant five times, leave her with half a spine.
But that beauty must’ve changed— morphed into something far more dangerous than a gun.
Now she tends a garden, and loves God, and loves me, and will forever love him.
She doesn’t tell me about the beatings though. It was her cousin who rallied the men in the family— who served in the military, a spy, Hungarian speaking hillbilly. They hunted ‘em down like hounds, sniffing blood with ammo. Rage at its core, how it submerges you into hell. How many levels? Bobby climbs. He loves Fe too much.
He told me.
They couldn’t find him— Robert— he left— never returned. She lost a body that day and it wouldn’t be the first time.
Years later, Phyllis and Kyle would kill themselves— their children when they were older. And the whole family would say it’s “unfortunate,” and I would learn it as a means to be grateful I live in the Northeast. And Fe wouldn’t turn to alcohol like so many of them do. She would just hold on to Tina, Bobby, and Tony a little harder— those that follow them, even tighter. The Lord.
Held Tina tighter when Fe stepped down from running family reunions and we all felt it in our guts a little. Then another cousin, we call Jodi, took it from Tina. And by that time, I was drinking with the adults and talking of drugs and sex as if it was natural, although shameful.
My great aunt Fe doesn’t really know me, but she knows how I was raised, perhaps, without God. And so she pushes towards the Light each conversation. As much as she loves me, she does not love my outspoken voice or liberal ideas.
I ask of racism, poverty, and sexism, those things I know her childhood saw, but she says no. It was just how it was in the holla’.
There are tiers like a cake where race gets whiter as it gets closer to the creek. She didn’t play with black kids or go to school with them. She lived high on a hill, with train tracks right through the backyard, and the water, a skip away. She doesn’t like the fuss anyhow, around race nowadays; she says she never saw it a problem.
She was captain of the cheerleading squad in junior high and played the flute in high school. That was good enough for her as she accepted her life as a mother, wife, and woman; she wanted to serve God and nothing more.
Fe laughs in bubbles and when I was little, I used to imagine the sensation of popping them. Alas, they are tar, and my breath can barely extinguish a flame. Therefore, I have no choice but to rest in her words, to find some sense of grounding ancestry.
With her memory tuned to fit a psalm, not a novel, I intend to one day hear the true dialogue of her literature. But if love means to bleed— to kneel on rice, a good childhood— I’m scared of her. While a laugh is a blessing, I find it, I guess, as a means to be incredibly sad.