As a child spring was the season of baseball, and storms and walking by my great aunt Carrie's house located in Daisy City, Alabama, with her jonquils planted in the shape of a cross. However, if you were walking past my great aunt's yard and looked past her iconic floral display, you would have seen her husband, my great uncle Bruce sitting on his weathered white rocking chair that had already seen many seasons come and go. Bruce would always be sitting on the porch with his radio, usually tuned to the Atlanta Braves game, enjoying an Old Milwaukee beer and his feet propped up on the brick knee wall used on porches built in the 1920s. If time allowed I would always walk up the hill to their house and sit with Bruce to listen to the game. Bruce loved the game, I played the game and would later come to love it as he did. Still he enjoyed my company and having someone to share his passion for baseball with.
I always liked Bruce. He was 70 and I was 9, but baseball bridged that gap. I never understood what brought Bruce and my aunt Carrie together. Bruce was easy to be around, aunt Carrie was not. Carrie was my grandmother's sister, but only in blood. Carrie was hell bent on saving the world from all of its sins and would have if she could have only found someone to do the actual work of salvation. Carrie reminded me of the crotchety old woman on the Andy Griffith show. Come to think of it, she had me plant those jonquils that she took all the credit for. Frankly, I doubt Carrie ever did any actual work. Her job was to take credit for whatever was good in her world.
One afternoon Bruce and I were listening to Atlanta play Cincinnati, he went inside and came back out with two beers. He sat one down in front of me. I can remember staring at the brown squatty bottle with the large mouth for some time, not quite sure what to make of this. After some time, Bruce said, "best drink her before she gets warm." Well it was hot that day, well not that hot, but about to get a helluva lot hotter than either of us expected it to. I sipped the beer. I even tried to take a longer drink of it. It wasn't cold, and probably came out of the refrigerator lukewarm. I didn't care for it. A chocolate YooHoo drink would have been my drink of choice.
From out of nowhere, aunt Carrie appeared behind us. She saw the two beers. Words came out of her mouth faster than a tommy gun staccato. She hit Bruce with a pillow. Told him to quit trying to damn the world and those in it she was trying to save. I ran, and I ran as fast as I could to my grandmother's house three doors down from her sister. I told my grandmother what had happened, she just shook her head.
I never went back to sit on that front porch again. I don't think I ever spoke to aunt Carrie after that. She scared me. One of the few times I have ever felt true fear in my life. To this day, all of my memories of her haunt me. It wasn't long after that episode, she had gotten Bruce to take her to visit the old family place located in the next county over. Coming home, there was a wreck, Carrie was killed and another friend was critically injured. Bruce was OK though. My Uncle was a fire chief in Birmingham. He asked my dad and me to go with him to get the car and bring it back home. When we got to the junk yard, I remember looking inside the car. Many nightmares I have had since found their seed in what I saw that day.
The car was mangled beyond repair and we couldn't tow it back. My uncle said he would have someone pick it up later and we left. Years later, I must have been 13 or 14 my cousins and I were playing hide and seek at my grandmother's house. Like my aunt Carrie, she had an old mission style front porch, but unlike her sister, granny's porch had a door on the floor that led to her basement. So I opened the door and ran down the stairs to the old earthen basement with its musty smells. Sitting in the dark, imagining spiders, scorpions and snakes around me, I truly wanted to be found quick, but I wasn't.
Finally, I heard my cousins yelling for me to come out that the game was over I had won. I breathed a sigh of relief. In the dark I searched for the old light I knew was down here. Finding the string I pulled it, the light came on it did little to assuage the fears of the darkness. Cobwebs, old mason jars full of harvests long forgotten and mining gear that had belonged to my deceased grandfather were scattered about on the dirt floor. As I turned to leave, there next to the stairs was the tangled mass of wreckage from the fatal car wreck. I ran again. And once again, I never returned to that basement and never to that front porch.
Even after death aunt Carrie brought on fears seldom talked about. For me Carrie's purpose in life and even her death was to pass judgment on others, judgment on anything that was fun and anything that she couldn't take credit for was an abomination.
Each spring Bivens Chapel Methodist Church Decoration comes on Mother's Day. The old southern tradition of going back to your people's church and placing flowers on the graves of your ancestors and eating dinner on the grounds is a ritual that is too fast becoming extinct. Well Carrie is buried at our church yard. I think Bruce is even buried next to her. Each year I return and place flowers on the graves of my people going back to the early 1800s. Most I never knew. Some I knew well and miss. But Carrie's grave, well, like her porch and that car, I just can't go there anymore. And those jonquils that still bloom this time of year, they have spread and they are prettier today than they were then. Like me, once Carrie was gone, they too were allowed to be themselves and do what jonquils do and that is be jonquils.