Thursday, March 1, 2012

Kinfolks: Mama & Papa Cothern

Keeping a journal during all those dark days gave me an outlet, a foundation, something to grab and weather the everyday changes that shaped everything. It was a time of life folding back in on itself, the view from the hospital window of the old neighborhood, the history there, where even Jennifer lived as a child, and the history of the hospital itself, where I was born, where family members had died. Life repeating familiar patterns and doing the best to make memory make some sense of it all—and both memory and events co-existing in the now, both alive and in a dance as one.

Everyday facts about the Cothern family in Mississippi are known because my grandmother Mama Cothern never throws anything away, keeps birth and death lists in her bible, labels just about every tin-type and photograph with the name of the subject and the date, keeps lists by the year on income from farming, sewing, how many dozens of eggs sold and to whom, has stacks of correspondence, including a series of letters from her mother, great grandmother Sarah, when she was a patient at the Mayo Clinic in 1921, postcards from her sister Pernie and husband Porter on vacation, one from her son, Dulith, serving in the Navy during World War II. Daily events she records in the squares of her wall calendar and she keeps all of those over the years; she clips obituaries and birth announcements, never throws any scrap of paper away, using them to record facts she hears on the radio, drafting letters she may or may not have sent on the envelopes of the old Scenic South magazine. When traveling she keeps a $100 bill pinned to her dress somewhere out of sight, is a loving woman and sometimes a cold person who has a stroke at the supper table here in Baton Rouge, at the table of her third son, Dulith. My parents are there also, my father into his drinking since it is his day off, and somehow in the confusion of the moment, in the push and shove of a crisis, Dulith and my father fight. Another one of those times, a rather unfortunate one, when their rivalry rears its head. Grandfather Papa Cothern spends his life raising cotton, grows peanuts for boiling, makes homebrew from a still down by the creek, his fishing rod and rifle close at hand. Only late in life does he finally get a hearing aid, but by that time no one can break the habit of speaking loudly to him, so he keeps the volume turned down and continues to miss significant parts of conversations.

1 comment:

  1. A portrait as clear as creek water, as vivid as the minnows gathered along its bank. Wish I could have known her.