Sunday, September 25, 2011

Like The Memory

Mable Mae
Like the memory from your mother’s house 
from before you got too old
Like the feeling from a photograph 

before it’s meanings all got told

- If I Wanted Someone, Dawes

* * *

Whither the fucked? To what end do they tilt? What land awaits them, will embrace them? Death is either a door closing, or a door opening, but at the very least it isn't here, so, whither the fucked?

* * *

The beautiful young woman in the photograph is my father's mother, Mable Mae Child, nee Vail. I knew her only as an old, grey haired woman - a church lady - and so was shocked to see her looking something like a minx. The crooked smile is the give-away that before she destroyed her family for the love of Jesus, she held a few secrets. (As an aside, there are no portraits like this anymore: composed, well lit, expressive.)

I cannot tell you when she died. It was of little interest to me. It had to have been before my dad passed in 1993. From what I recall, this woman, who left a one-horse town in central Illinois to travel the world as an Evangelical trying to convert the unconverted, died, twisted into a pretzel of aged decay, anonymous and alone, alone, alone.

And yet, I will tell you she is immortal - at least for a little while longer. The only immortality available to the dead is in the memory of the living. Mae left few physical remnants that she'd ever lived at all. This photograph is one of them. I am one also. They say history is written by the victors, but it is truer to say it is written by the survivors.

* * *

The stories we tell about ourselves, our times, our dreams, desires and losses are all we have to carve meaning into our days. What is your narrative? That you're fucked? What stories will outlive you? What immortality awaits you in the memory of those who knew you, encountered you, loved and loathed you? What land will embrace your memory?

If you're a fucked fuckity fuck, then you're fucked not only in this life, but in the vanishing memories of those you knew, who, for how ever long, survive you.

I can assure you your life was meant to be something other than fucked, and fucked has nothing to do with the outward expression of your days, but with the freedom and responsibility to choose how you respond to the tasks, joys, trials and balms life puts in front of you.

* * *

Mae has not been well-served by me and my memories of her. She abandoned my father when he was 7 years old, left him when my grandfather was out of town working, to follow a Pentacostal tent show and never returned to his life except for a few brief periods, except to hurt him with her presence and all he had lost because she loved Jesus more than him. In the weeks before he died my father asked me why his mother didn't love him. I had no answer, but could tell him that I did.

Yet Mae lives on. It doesn't matter that I've probably got the few details wrong and that I'll never know anything about her except her betrayal of her son. She lives while I live. By writing her name here, she'll possibly continue to live beyond me. By any measure she fucked up and time will only know her as a fucked fucker. What she really was, the beauty with a crooked smile, the woman who chose her difficult life willingly, the aged church lady dying alone in a fading nursing home, is something I'll never know.

It is a helluva thing to have someone tell your story and know only the parts where you fucked up.

You ready to unfuck your life yet? Immortality awaits.



  1. I loved this piece...But really being dead and all what does Mae care? Who cares which stories are kept after you're gone, you're gone.

  2. I get that. The dead, we assume, will never know the stories we tell about them, and are beyond caring. That said, stories are all we, the yet living, have to operate on. And our stories weave in and out of theirs. It informs and colors how we live.

    So glad you liked the piece. No piece of writing is complete until someone reads it. Thanks.

  3. I, too enjoyed it, if that's the proper word. I felt bad for Don asking that question at the end of his life but loved your answer. Maybe she didn't love Jesus so much as she loved freedom and adventure and to hell with the rest of her obligations. People had kids in those days because they were supposed to, not always because they wanted to.

    Doesn't charity begin at home??

    I wonder if she had regrets about how she lived her life. Her Mona Lisa smile does suggest something....

    I love old photos and how you weave stories about the people in them.

  4. Thanks, Patt. It would be inhuman to not suppose she regretted her choices at least once or twice. The times I was in her company were always strained with longing for both my dad and her. She did a terrible thing and didn't know how to undo it. For his part, all Dad wanted was to be told he was still her son, still loved. That would have healed it, but it never came.