Like an island king, Uncle Will disregards traffic lights, signs, and signals; ignores road lines and operates through speed zones at some personal whim. Veering left across in front of cars, we enter a marsh road. Oyster shells spew behind us. I grip the back seat arm-rest while my mouth into an "O". In the front seat my father doesn't budge nor miss a beat with his litany of questions. He is hatching plans for line dancing at the DeSoto Beach Club, directed to his older brother Will, who answers with his hands. The 1978 Buick clips the palm trees, follows a tidal creek to the crab shack.
By the time I unbuckle and emerge, the brothers are far ahead, calls of "Hey, bo'," to the locals, a coke bottle in one hand for busting blue crab shells and a Miller in the other to wash it all down. A polite nod to the foreigners from Atlanta with their Alaskan crab legs and Michelob. Like a quick summer squall, beer comes and goes to our table; empties disappearing through the center hole. I know better than to keep up. Learned the hard way. (Once squatted and peed on a parlor chair, thinking it a toilet.)
Wrapped in khaki shorts, worn and baggy as he, Uncle Will said, "Got some bad news." Taps his bony chest twice. "Two spots. Can't operate. Quit smoking this week." Across the marsh, a boat motor sputters. Finally, I start to stammer. "I am so sorry." Half way out, when it was drowned by my father's "Well, you had a good run." Those brown eyes stared at each other. "Yeah..... . I had a good run." During the dancing, Daddy began to cry.
Loaded up with grits and fried whiting, Daddy and his dying brother Will go grave hunting. Take me along. A sealing wax to fasten their deeds. With no regard for the speed-bump, Uncle Will enters Bonaventure Graveyard, sailing between the brick posts. Flight practice for his wings, I guess. On the flat land, risen where the graves mound, one site is left in the clan plot, next to Grandmother, back to belly to that first escapee from Ireland. Grandfather died of consumption, so young his people pulled him down into their own half-full lot.
I began a solemn discourse-the canopy of stone angels, susurration of Spanish moss. Would have missed their departure if they hadn't stopped to scuff dirt on some cousin's worn grave. In the car my instructions came. Will to be buried next to the father whom he didn't know but was said to resemble. And in due time, Daddy goes next to Will. They were blood, you see, and everyone knows blood stains and binds.
Eighteen years old, and I am afraid of the dead. Freshman year at Georgia I
hustle home at Grandmother's death. Pull on a black dress, black shoes and
gloves. Damned if I could find a black slip, for which I am nagged all the
way to the wake. Anchored on the sidewalk to avoid the body I hang back,
only to be swept inside by a wave of cousins. Noise picks up with every
arrival, a bass rumble punctuated by shouts. Around the two rooms, in a slow
dance the whole tribe of family advances. Waltzing the bottle. Uncle Will
grabs my hand, sidles us like crabs toward Daddy and the coffin. Appalled,
but here I am-- confronted by the dead. Daddy presents me to Father Dan,
his turned collar well-centered beneath a florid nose. Floundering for words
of devotion, I am asked to fetch the whiskey. Night and the booze wears on.
Uncle Will and Daddy are a concordance on the left side of grandmother,
passing insults, compliments and commentary; and myself, propped on the
right leaning against her coffin, talking to all comers.