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ON THE PORCH
We sat on Katie’s porch through the summer evenings, covering and retracing familiar ground: Tulip, life, death and the long-ago past in West Texas.
“The only one left from those days is Aint Addie.”
Katie said “aunt” like “ant” like any other Texan for any other aunt, but this was a name, “Aint Addie.”
Katie hadn’t seen Aint Addie for forty years and still they corresponded every week. Aint Addie was over a hundred, but she had not lost one of her children or one of her children’s children.
Katie shook her head with the deepest reverence over this phenomenon, which she took to be mysterious and awe-inspiring, an act of God to bear witness to. I pictured Aint Addie like a goose flying north in a headwind, the point of a wedge, leading a fragile living chain. Aint Addie still read Katie’s letters and wrote back long and lively answers in a tall, stiffly broken hand. That silken thread was the only glimmer of the early years in Ballinger.
"They're all gone now. My whole family’s gone.” And darkness settled.
Tulip woke from napping off the late afternoon heat and propped herself up on her elbows to look around. The first cool breeze of evening moved through the leaves and lightened up the air on the porch almost imperceptibly. Tulip raised her chin and flared a wet black nose. I lifted my long hair off my neck and stretched. Katie still sat lost in thought.
"Old age is not such a good thing," she said. "You think, ‘I don't want to die. If I can just live a long time that's all I ask.’ But now I've seen everyone in my family die. My father and my mother and my husband.”
After Major Gray died, Katie’s sister Olivia came to live with her. Then Olivia had to move to a nursing home.
Katie said, “For a long time it was just my sister and me. Olivia depended on me, and I had to keep going for her sake. I used to bring her and her roommate hamburgers from MacDonald’s every Friday after work, and we’d sit in her room and eat dinner. She liked that. They both did. But then Olivia died. I got a phone call in the middle of the night. Elizabeth, don't you ever call somebody in the middle of the night and tell them over the phone that somebody in their family is dead. You go there, or send a policeman, but don't you ever tell anybody a thing like that over the phone.”
“It was a real shock,” she said, resuming her train of thought slowly, shaking her head. "I'm all right now, but I felt it for a long time. The woman at that nursing home should have known better than to do that. You could kill somebody that way. Two things age a woman, Elizabeth. Sickness and grief. It wears you down, grief does. You don’t ever get over losing somebody. You take it to your grave whether you know it or not."
I sat quietly in darkness for a while until Katie roused herself and snapped on the porch light.