I haven’t written in this blog in a while. I’ve been busy travelling.
I flew to the united states to see my eldest sister get married. The ceremony was lovely, the Van Landingham estate where the reception and ceremony was held was built in 1775 a year before the declaration of independence was signed. The flowers were blooming, wisteria dripping from the trees, and dogwoods glowing, despite being mid-March. The North Carolina weather didn’t seem to pay any mind as the days leading up to, and the day of the wedding were warm and cheerfully sunny. As my mother arranged flowers, and me and the other bridesmaids wound our bouquets of pink spray roses, powder blue hydrangea, and cheerful yellow carnations, some bees woken from their slumber bumbled into windows and opened umbrellas.
The day of the wedding I saw my eldest sister in her wedding dress. Saw her don her cowgirl boots. She was a vision, an angel, a goddess, an elf wandered out of the set of Lord of The Rings. Long golden blond hair that curled languorously down her back, covered by a web of cream netting. I was reminded of playing with small toy horses, and reading her books when she was done about dragons and horses, and making up stories together. I remembered all our childhood, she was my playmate, my friend, the only person who understood me, the only one who made me feel like I wasn’t alone. When she said her vows big wet hot tears burst out of my eyes, I couldn’t keep them in. I was happy for her, truly, the man who loves her loves only her, and I have it on good authority he always will, and that’s all I can really ask for. I had to go upstairs to the room after the reception started. And I just sobbed, I cried. We weren’t little girls anymore, were we?
My parents and I went back up the coast in our rental car to visit family in New Jersey. We ate Pete and Elda’s pizza. We think its the best pizza in the world. and having been to at least six countries I think I have at least some gauge, if not as broad a claim as I’m making. It is, however, amazing pizza. Thin crispy crust, a light layer of sweet and tangy tomato sauce, fresh cheese, I like mine with Italian sausage, onions and peppers, with lots of garlic powder. I had a beer and we saw my dad’s older brother, my uncle. My uncle has cancer of the tongue and throat, he’s approaching seventy years old, it seems unfair. The last time I had seen him he was a rotund, balding, boisterous, ignorant but opinionated working class man, with a penchant for plaid shirts, cheap loafers and DIY. At one point I had to tell him to stop sending me Republican Party e-mails.
When I saw him I was partially shocked though I was expecting it. His cheeks were sagging spotted leather with which his blue eyes shocked out of his sockets. His clothes hung on him like some undergrown child, whose parents bought the clothes for him to grow into. He couldn’t talk, he had a traich in his throat. I gave him a big hug. We sat in the corner together while the other grown-ups talked, and I looked through his sketchbook, the chemo made it difficult to concentrate he wrote on his white board. Apparently his spelling had improved greatly since he got the traich in, no small feat for a man who hadn’t finished High School.
The next day we went to see my Grandmother, my dad’s mom. The last time I had seen her she had hardly left her house in ten years and hadn’t driven a car in forty. However, she had a creeping cleverness that would sneak up on you when least expected it. If you listened. She would say the off hand comment, the quiet scandalous anecdote, the sly bait. She was like that, reminds me of my sister in that way, but my sister says them much louder. My Grandma’s eyes always cleverly peaked over her thick glasses, her shy smile as secretive as the Mona Lisa. She would walk along in the same brand of white loafers I had always seen her wear, her hair curled in exactly the same way, Campbell’s Tomato and Chicken Noodle soup in the cabinet, cookies in the freezer, peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch. She was a child in the great depression, and I often wondered what she was like when she was young. Marie Murphy, raised by catholic nuns in the great depression, with a sister who had self-destructive behaviors and intense egoism. There were faded photographs of my Grandfather, classically handsome, blue eyes, dapper in his army uniform. And my Grandmother, hair in a styled victory rolls, red lipstick, bow lips that me and my sisters have all inherited. She wasn’t exactly movie star gorgeous, but she was lovely to be sure with ivory skin, dark hair and blue eyes. This woman, sitting in the chair, milky eyes, paper skin, the smell and look of decay was everywhere. I had seen and smelt it before. Mothballs, cedar, bedpans and spittle. It’s not pretty, it’s not dignified. My mother’s grandma, Nana, used to say “Everybody shits and everybody dies.” I couldn’t sit in the room. Her eyes flickered some intelligence, some recognition when she saw me, but she didn’t know my name. She recognized my dad. I couldn’t sit there. When I kissed her good bye I said, see you next time we visit. She gave me a knowing look, we weren’t fooling each other, this would be good bye. I told her I loved her and left. My dad drove the car with that frown I am familiar with.
I flew back to the UK, the next day I got the news that she had died, and headed back to the USA four days later. At her funeral lots of family politics caused an explosion of the most inane proportions, which I won’t discuss. I looked through the photographs collected. The one that surprised me the most was a saucy picture of her in a bathing suit and pair of heels posing on a chair. It made me smile. This was the Marie Godfrey I had always wanted to know, and there she was, smiling at me with complete abandon, her cheeks blushing as they should be. Maybe from a swig of whisky before, or maybe because she was being daring, her friends had egged her on. And a picture of her face she had sent my Granddad when he was in the war. I didn’t cry at the wake, and only a few tears at the funeral. While feeling distant to her in life, I felt more close to her than ever. She had been young once, loved once, married, had children, watched them grow, watched her grandchildren grow. By all accounts she lived a good life. Her faith in heaven and god was exemplarary. And I knew now, that at least once, she did something daring, at least once she laughed loud and full. That’s a life well lived.
You can’t beat death.
But you can beat death in life sometimes.
RIP Marie Godfrey