Grandma Bea’s son was killed in the war. Lots of people were. In Hamburg Germany there’s a pillar in the middle of the river, it says “50,000 sons of the city died for you.” It says that in German. In the cemetery in the little village of Polcenigo Italy, there are tombstones with row after row of the same names, same year. Whole families lost. Grandma Bea didn’t know that, she’d never heard of those places. She wasn’t a traveler or particularly well-educated.
She knew her son was dead and her husband was gone. He was old and ill, confined in the state hospital, near the town where she lived, but that didn’t make any difference. There was no one left to run the farm. They’d petitioned the government to keep her son from the war; but it didn’t work. He went and never came back. War is tough on the poor. Her only daughter, Maggie, was dying of cancer. She was twenty-four.
Maggie had two little boys, Tommie and Davey. They didn’t know their mommy was dying. She’d gotten sick when Davey was born. She was awfully sick for a long time. Her husband Dave senior, hired a local woman to care for Maggie. Her name was Lucia (Loosha). She wasn’t a nurse, but she was wonderfully sweet and kind and gentle. Maggie died anyway. Grandma Bea would sometimes take care of Tommie and Davey. She was good to Tommie but not so good to Davey. She thought Davey killed her daughter.
Soon afterwards, Tommie and Davey went to stay with my grandparents, just like I did years later when my mommy left. My grandparents were saddened by Maggie’s death and by how little Davey was blamed for it. They were very good to Davey but not as good to his brother Tommie. Dave senior, was also saddened by his wife’s death. But he was very appreciative of Lucia caring for her. He and Lucia got married. Grandma Bea said her daughter’s body wasn’t even cold in the grave yet. But that didn’t matter either.
Tommie and Davey had a new mother, and a new big sister. Lucia had a little daughter named Janette. Lucia’s husband had also been killed in the war, on Iwo Jima island along with a lot of other people. Janette had never even seen her father, only a dead picture in a scrapbook. War is tough on the poor.
But even though Tommie and Davey had a new mommy, it wasn’t their real mommy; nor was Dave, Janette’s real daddy. And the three of them weren’t really brother and sister. But they all got along just fine.
Things went well for them. Dave was a veterinarian. He’d just been starting out when his first wife died, and money was tight. But he became was a wealthy man, and the farm was just a hobby for him, something to do on his days off.
Some time later, Lucia and Dave had a little baby daughter named Merri. She was the sweetest prettiest happiest little girl I ever knew. I was related to all these people more or less, since Dave and my dad were brothers. In the summers I would go and stay with my cousins at their farm. It was like being in heaven. We weren’t rich, but they were; and all these many acres of green grass, creeks, fields, and pine forest, was their playground. I loved playing there. I especially loved playing with Merri because she was so wild and carefree and happy. I could never be that way, only when I was around her.
For some reason Grandma Bea was always around at the farm too. I don’t know why. I didn’t even know how she was related to any of us. I guess for the most part, she wasn’t. She wasn’t very grandmotherly either; not short or fat or even very old. She looked kind of tall and skinny with a dark wrinkly face and brown hair. And she talked so fast in such a high-pitched heavy accent; it was hard to understand what she was saying. I felt distant from her, even though she seemed like a real nice person. She was always smiling and had kind of a twinkle in her eyes like everything around her was funny in some way.
I thought everything around the farm was just fine. Well…except that Davey stuttered real bad. He was as hard to understand as Grandma Bea. I felt sorry for him, even though he was a lot older than me. He was always so nice and kind to us little kids. He’d saddle up the horse for us to ride and sort of take care of us like a big brother. It was too bad he couldn’t talk right, like other people. I always thought Davey and his horse were a lot alike, big and strong, but so gentle and nice. He could talk to the horse and not stutter. He’d say “whoa, boy; easy there old son” and open his hand to give the horse a lump of sugar. It was like they understood each other, like they were two of a kind with a special sort of bond between them.
His brother Tommie wasn’t like Davey. He was fat, and not very tall. People said other kids would tease him and make fun of him. They’d sing “Thomasine, Thomasine, fatter than a butterbean” when he got on the school bus in the morning. But no one felt sorry for Tommie. They just laughed at him. He didn’t like horses either, and he didn’t like to play and get all dirty like kids do.
Tommie liked to play the piano. Merri didn’t, but she had to spend half an hour practicing every evening between eight and eight-thirty. We’d count the minutes so we could go back to playing. I don’t know what Janette did. It seemed like she was never around. But then she was the oldest of all of us kids, so maybe she was out somewhere. It never even felt like I was related to Janette, and of course I wasn’t. None of us were.
One day my family moved a long ways away from where my cousins lived, from the farm as we always called it. We moved to Michigan, the farm was in Georgia. Years later, Davey’s horse Sonny got old and died. That was sad. I can’t help but connect Sonny to my childhood, and the farm. When Sonny died, I was never a child again and things were never the same. Janette got pregnant and eloped with her boyfriend. She never went to med school like her step-dad wanted her to. Davey got over his stuttering somehow and he went to school to be a veterinarian, but he had a nervous breakdown and began playing with guns. He had rifles and pistols and even made his own bullets with caps and lead molds. Then he would shoot at trees around the farm.
His brother Tommie did go to med school but he too had a nervous breakdown and stayed in bed for over a year. He would write letters about killing people like his mother who wasn’t really his mother. He moved in with Grandma Bea at her little house in town and she took care of him. Surprisingly, it all worked out pretty well for them. Davey eventually went back to school and finally became a veterinarian. Tommie developed schizophrenia, but he gradually got more and more able to function. He moved to Las Vegas and works as a bartender. He makes good money and comes up to visit us once in a while. He’s the only one that does.
Merri who was always my favorite person in the whole world, died young. Even though she was the only one out of all of us who had both her real parents, it didn’t matter. She became an alcoholic and lived a very tortured life after all that blissful childhood. Then she got cancer and died. We all got together like a big family reunion to attend her funeral. It was hard. I hated to leave her there. Even after the services were over and everyone had left the cemetery, I stayed there and watched as the workmen shoveled in the red Georgia clay that used to always remind me of home. I stayed there a long time.
Later I walked around the farm, with all those memories, but I couldn’t see very clearly. Maybe I hadn’t slept so well in the days after hearing of Merri’s death. And then having to drive all the way down there and not wanting to stop. Almost like going home and no home to go to. It was a brilliantly sunny day, calm and warm like I always remembered it. I walked into the shade of the big pine trees and put my hand on a fence post. A fence we’d maybe crawled over and jumped over countless times as children. The buildings and trees and grass stood out so sharp and distinct and all of it unreal, like a mirage, like a dream, all gone. One of my cousins walked up to me, he was a little older than Merri, but I think she was his favorite too. We looked at each other, both of us fighting back the tears. “This is a tough one,” he said.
Mikael Covey is editor of Lit Up Magazine (http://litupmagazine.wordpress.com/) and author of "Out There," and"Princessa" http://litupmagazine.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/2203).