My family has lived in the same California home since the late-1920s. I moved away 30 years ago: it wasn’t so nice then and over time it’s aged badly. Today we all have a difficult time saying goodbye to the house and getting it done. There is a palpable sadness that clings like the ghosts among us. Call it a phenomenon not unlike phantom pains that an amputee will experience, a variation of the battered wife syndrome, or maybe it’s the nearly impossible odds stacked against our kind and returning to old habits. This will be it, once we are done with a tribute, the ceremony to us and our ancestors. Our cooking pots will be destroyed, the bill paid in full, the stakes to our home pulled up, never to be visited again.
So, there we were, four of us at least, not counting dad, to do a final walk through of the old homestead before it changed hands. I stood in the room where our mother fell to the floor and died of a heart attack and said thank you to her. My eyes welled up and I felt they could wash away with a torrent of tears if I started, so I didn’t. A ritualistic farewell seemed fitting. A gesture was required.
Rene drove in from Las Cruces. Jaime took the train in from San Diego. Letti lives a few miles away over in Eagle Rock, but no one knew for certain if she’d show up or not. Tessa had pretty much already moved out. Most of her stuff anyway. She and Mari were pissed at each other again and weren’t talking, but Rene heard from her to go on ahead with whatever we wanted to do without her.
Our immediate and extended family is a two-syllable lot. There are the aunts: Mela, Pera, Bori, Becky, Marta, Anna and Molly; and uncles Turo, Poncho, Pancho, Memo, Beto, Javie, Pedro, Tito, Weso and Tano. I shouldn’t even start with the cousins: Tita, Chapo, Nejo, or Teecha. There are just too many. Because we have a lot of nicknames sometimes the question is asked, “Hey what’s Uncle Tano’s real name?” This came up at his funeral. It took locating one of the viejos to find out it was Atanasio. Just this past week I discovered our mother’s first name was Mary and Lina, short for Evangelina, was her middle one. It was on her high school diploma that I found while helping pack up.
I brought a shovel. We agreed that we’d all bury something in a can. Rene brought a tea tin that would seal tight enough. We weren’t going for a time capsule. We expect the contents to get wet, mold and decompose in short order and that’s all fine.
A few of the items we buried: the crown of thorns removed from a bust of Christ that belonged our grandmother; a small purse with pocket change; some frozen tamales that we made together last Christmas; postcards that we all contributed; ashes from a pet; a snapshot of our younger family all laughing together that’s so far removed from today.
One thing I meant to put in the can was a poem by Raymond Carver, the real short one that starts off, “And did you get what you wanted?” Later that day I found a folded paper with the poem in my back pocket and have no idea what I mistakenly placed in the tin.