Pangs Of Sorrow, Tingle Of Joy
There is a room of memories in my mind that is now haunted by ghosts. I became aware of this today after I received a call from my cousin to say her dad, known to me as Uncle Cliff, died in his sleep last night. The call initiated a wave of related but unattached thoughts that I've been attempting to piece together all day.
What I remember most about Cliff is that he would tell a joke that would inevitably bring a scolding from my aunt. This typically occurred just before he fell asleep in his favorite chair. Cliff always fell asleep. Even when driving. When I was younger, I found it funny that my aunt would have to constantly punch him awake behind the wheel or yell super loud, "Cliff!' but as I grew older I became aware that getting in the car was a Michigan version of Russian roulette.
I don't know if he had a condition that made him fall asleep or if it was the double shifts he worked most of his life at a foundry in a little town that now has more vacancies than occupants but either way, Cliff falling asleep was always bound to happen.
Still, he managed to find time to build my cousin a play house, a big one, that we played in for several seasons until snakes overran it. And he managed to always herd us to safety and bring in the trash cans as the tornadoes sprung to life in the field next to their house. Then we'd drive around afterwards and see whose house was destroyed. The tornado always managed to hop over theirs before wrecking havoc down the road.
My aunt would send him to check the ice on the series of ponds before my cousin would go out skating, or in summer to make sure the paths were clear - and keep a look out for snakes - so we could wander around like lost explorers before heading up to a now long defunct Sinclair gas station located on the main road for a treat.
And for me, it is the chapter of the house my uncle and aunt lived in that also comes to a close with his death. My aunt died several years ago before my mom did. My dad and mom shared the house with my aunt and uncle after they were first married. The two couples had double-dated. My aunt and uncle finally being married in a church that my dad and grandfather built out of two barns. The building is still there but sparsely used.
My grandfather was pastor at the church for decades. I use to play in the sandboxes in the kids classrooms while he worked in the office. Down the road was a campground my dad and his friends built out of swamp and woods. I have footage of them of them clearing the ground. Everyone but my dad in that old film has passed on.
There is the crux of my haunted room of memories. My dad will attend a funeral for an old friend, look around at a town he spent many years in, and find no living attachment. The sweat, the toil, are now the remember when of a dignified elderly man.
My cousin will visit a house she spent a quarter of her life in and see the wisps of days gone by as she walks from room to room. The roots that sprung her now having been transplanted to fresh fields.
And now I wonder if I will ever visit my hometown again. For my grandparents, aunt and uncle, are all buried there. The houses they lived in relegated to quarters for new caretakers, intruders in the midst of my memories.
Maybe from time to time I will open that compartment in my mind and let the occasional haunting challenge my sensibilities. But for now I leave you with one final story. One memory from that house near the ponds, the one with the giant willow tree at the foot of the drive.
It was a July 4th. My parents and I were there. My brother must've been also. My grandparents. My aunt and uncle and my cousins. We had small fireworks out in the July heat. I remember everyone sitting around a step at the door, on the side of the house with the carport.
There were a few bottle rockets which screeched before exploding. We had sparklers and like the idiot I am, I burned my finger on one afterwards by picking it up by the wrong end. But we had a good time. There was laughter and I remember everyone smiling.
Then the party went inside. There was Pepsi- my aunt always bought Pepsi but my mom was a Coke person, I never got the reasoning on that - and I drank too many as normal and my mom cut me off. There was watermelon and I am pretty sure homemade ice cream. People sat around and chatted, told stories. It was the company that was treasured. And now the memory has to be treasured for as the song above says, The Day Is Over. The memory is all that is left, be it the pangs of sorrow or the tingle of joy.