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It was the
middle of the afternoon. My Aunt Essie, whom I called Sister,
was working at the store and would not be home until 5
p.m. Until then, Grandmom and Pop Pop were
alone. Mary usually checked on them everyday about this time.
Shortly after her husband died, Mary moved back home to Hatteras, razed
her old home place that was literally falling down, and built a new
house with her husband's insurance money. It faced
Grandmom and Pop Pop's home directly across the road. Mary
was thrilled to be back at Hatteras, away from the fast life up
north. She felt such a sense of security being surrounded by
family members whose familiar faces were so much a part of her
childhood. Although both of her parents were deceased, there were two
of her father's brothers and their wives living on either side of her
and two other widowed aunts living behind her on a short dead-end path
that ran beside her yard. Checking in on Pop Pop and
Grandmom, her mother's only living sister, gave Mary not only a sense
of purpose, but also an opportunity to visit with them, something to
which she looked forward. This was the second time today that
she had crossed the road to make sure her Aunt Mag and Uncle Clifford
were all right.
It was a very warm, early April day suggesting that spring had finally
arrived. The air was still. She noticed that the
two doors on the front of the house were opened, and the windows were
raised for the first time since last fall. As she raised her
hand to knock on the screen door that led from the piazza into the
sitting room, she heard the most harmonious sound. It was as
if angels were singing inside.
memories, how they linger,
ever flood my soul...
She stood for a moment, thinking that it must be the radio or
television that she heard, but they were in the sitting room and the
music was coming from another room. Quietly she opening the
screen door and stepped inside.
stillness of the midnight
sacred scenes unfold.
Focusing in the direction of the music through a doorway that led into
the hall and then into the only bedroom downstairs, Mary saw Grandmom
lying in bed and Pop Pop sitting in a chair beside her. The head of the
borrowed hospital bed was inclined so Grandmom was sitting almost
upright. Her long, thin white hair was not in its usual platted bun
held by bobbie pins on the back of her head, but cascaded behind her
and on her pillow. Pop Pop was leaning towards her.
Her hazel eyes were staring tenderly at him as he held her frail right
hand next to his face.
memories, unseen angels
somewhere to my soul.
linger ever near me
sacred paths unfold.
Mary stood frozen. She felt awkward knowing that she was
intruding on the only kind of intimacy that was left for
them. Grandmom's condition followed a pattern much like that
of her mother's before her. It was first noticeable, when at
81 years of age, she suffered from a series of mini-strokes.
Since that time, the dementia had robbed her of knowing her family, of
knowing where she was, of knowing how to walk, of her dignity, of
knowing when she needed to use the bathroom. For several
months, no one had heard her say a word. But there she was
memories, how they linger,
ever flood my soul...
...and gazing upon the light of her life, the man with whom she had
spent almost 74 years ---singing, as one would imagine an angel in the
heavenly choir, and gazing with the passion and the affection of a
young bride at the altar saying her wedding vows. Together
these soul mates brought to the old hymn two distinct voices that
reinforced each other and harmonized beautifully, just as they brought
to their marriage two distinct personalities that did
stillness of the midnight
sacred scenes unfold.
Without making a sound so as not to disturb them, Mary turned and left
her declining aunt and uncle alone to delight in each other's
company. Never had she witnessed such a moving expression
of absolute love and devotion. She was not able to
contain her tears as their voices faded behind her.
At the end of the song, Grandmom's breathing became shallow and her
stare was glazed, as it had been for so many weeks before. Her bowels
moved into the diaper that Sister had put on her before she left for
work. She was in unfamiliar surroundings, staring into the
tearful, sentimental feeble eyes of a stranger who was holding her
Pop Pop was aware that he had just experienced a priceless moment ---a
gift from heaven. He closed his eyes and bowed his head to
thank God for what had happened when his mind took him swirling back 70
years in time.
later Grandmom tried out her angel wings for the first time.
Three years later, Pop Pop started using his.
light sow-westerly wind weren't nothing unusual for a midsummer day,
and it bein' to the stern of the boat, made the trip across the bay
from Down Below to Trent fairly fast. It was a good day to be
married. The preacher didn't know we was comin' but that
no difference ‘cause we know'd he'd be there. The Banks was a
different then. Folks weren't able to get around quite so much and you
could usually find somebody without no trouble at all, less they was
out fishin' or somethin'.
mother and Mommie stood outside the Down Below church talkin' as we
started to the shoreside to ol' man John Tolson's landin' where his
skiff was tied up. There weren't no real preacher in the Down Below
church, just local folks fillin' in until we got another
weren't feeling so good that day so he had stayed home from the
meeting. Mag and me had both been so we didn't have to get dressed or
nothing for to get married. Ol' man Cale, Mag's father, went with us
from the church to the skiff. Ol' man Cale helped Mag in the
then he turned to me and shook my hand. He never said
with that smile on his face I know'd he was proud for me to be marrin'
Mag. She was the oldest of his five girls, so I was the first
his family. He always treated me good.
man John Tolson got in the skiff with us, untied her, and shoved her
out in deep enough water so she weren't draggin' no more before we
hoisted the sail. Once we got goin', it only took about an
hour to get
don't remember much what me and Mag talked about goin' over.
it will be 70 years since we took that trip. I do remember
Mag had on
a right purdy dress made from some goods her father had brought back
from Elizabeth City for her 21st birthday. I also remember
right strange out in the boat with a tie on, but I had to look good
'til we was married.
we got to Trent, we docked the boat at the landing. Mag got
tied her up while I helped to finish lower the sail. The preacher's
house was right across the marsh. Ol' man John Tolson led the
The mud fiddlers which was running all over the path took off in the
marsh as we went by. It took all of two hours for the
marry us and for his wife to feed us dinner before we headed back to
Hatt’ras. The wind had breezed up right smart by
that time, and the
trip back took quite a bit longer than the one a goin.' Waves
washin' over the bow of the skiff and by the time we reached Ol' man
John Tolson's landin,' the only dry things on the boat was Mag's shoes
and my tie which we had wrapped up in some oil cloth and had stuffed up
in the bow.
the time we fetched up to Ol' man Cale's house, the sun had set and
there was just enough light for me and Mag to see to feed his two
hogs. After supper while we talked about the trip to Trent
man Cale and Miss Mary, Mag's mother. Kate and Sade, Mag's sisters,
cleaned up the supper table. Her other two sisters was
---died when they was young.
I had to go fishin' the next day, me and Mag went on over to Mommie and
Poppie's and turned in. I had took care of them for the past seven
years ---since I was 12 years old. Me and Mag lived in the
attic room of their house. The only thing 'tween us and the
the cedar shingles. We kept on taking care of them
until they died.
Then we moved over to Ol' man Cale's after Miss Mary died and lived
with him until he died. Miss Mary died of the same thing that Mag's got
now --- Kate died with it too.
was while we was living Down Below at Ol' man Cale's that our girls was
born ---Essie and Naomi. My goodness, I love those girls
dependent, the other so independent. Wonder why it is that
younguns in the same family can be so different?
would I like to go out fishing just one more time, but I don't guess I
ever will again. My leg hurts me to stand on it for too long
of a time
and besides Mag's too sick for me to leave her. She is too
even know that before long it will be our anniversary. Sure
what a difference 70 years makes. The only time I can even
get out of
the house to cut grass is when Essie's home from the store.
Naomi will be here from Washington sometime this afternoon.
It will be
so good to see her. She's going to stay down a while. Those
ours has been good to us.
Naomi's a nurse, maybe she can help Mag get better. I don't
though, she ain't going to get no better. She ain't going to
much longer. Mommie used to say that when a person got sick
whatever it was that took them to heaven that they was growing their
angel wings. Mag's been growing hers for 10 years now.
It was on a crisp, cool Tuesday morning in the fall of the year shortly
after Pop Pop's death that Sister crossed the road, walking to Mary's
house dressed for Sunday school and church. That was our
first clue that Sister had started growing her angel wings.
It took her 13 years to get them in working order.
Almost 10 years later, Mary, dressed only in her pajamas, spent most of
her day looking through the window into the courtyard of the
Alzheimer's unit of the nursing home where she resided and worrying
that her mother and father did not know where she was.
One hundred and twenty miles from Mary's institutional residence, a
young lady is standing in front of the activity room of another nursing
facility reaching for a ball that has fallen from a rotating wire
container into a linear trap below. She picks it
up, glances at it, and shouts, "I, 16." She
pauses. She shouts again, "I, 1,6." She picks up
another ball ---"O, 67 ... O, 6,7." Another pause followed
by, "B,6 ...B,6." Naomi is in a wheelchair at a table with
others some of whom are enjoying a game of Bingo. She hears
the words, but to her they are meaningless.
She and Mary started growing their wings at about the same time in 1994.
On May 8, 1999, early on Saturday morning, Naomi, my precious mother,
with her angel wings completely developed and ready for flight, joined
my beloved Pop Pop, Grandmom, and Sister in heaven. My
brother and I miss her, but we are comforted in knowing that she is in
a better place with people who love her as much as we.