My people

Rural

THE HOLIDAY season turns a fellow’s mind to his family, his people.

For most of my life, I had people, and now I don’t. Mostly, they have died. I now have lots of Mexican people, but I don’t feel close to them. The cultural divide is vast. We do not connect.

Except my wife, of course.

My people were rural Georgia crackers. I will name them for you. There were my parents, of course, whom I called Dee and Charlie, never Mom and Dad. I don’t know why. Charlie had one sibling, Marthalyn, whom we sometimes called Marty. Dee was an only child. There weren’t many people in that generation.

I have one sister, Diane. She is a hot-tempered feminist fanatic, and I had to cease communication with her a couple of years ago to maintain my sanity. The situation severely saddens me. I also have one daughter, Celeste, who lives with her husband, Mitch, in Athens, Georgia. Her mother and I parted company when Celeste was 5, which often bodes badly for future relationships. That too grieves me.

Moving back up the people chain, there were two sets of grandparents, obviously. I called Dee’s parents Mama Powell and Papa Powell. They were great people. Papa Powell died when I was 12. Mama Powell died when I was 22. I have a photo of them hanging in the Hacienda living room, sitting in their yard on a bent-cane swing.

The Powells lived on a 500-acre farm in southwest Georgia, about a four-hour drive from Jacksonville, Florida, where I spent most of my youth. Before moving to Jacksonville at age 7, we lived with those grandparents for six years. My father raised chickens while trying to make a name for himself as a writer.

Turned out he was better at raising chickens.

The other grandparents, my father’s folks, lived north of Atlanta, in a small town called Marietta. We visited them less often because of the greater distance. There were other unspoken reasons. Being an only child, my mother was inordinately attached to her parents. And my father didn’t much care for his folks.

My father’s parents we called Mama D and Papa D. They were devoutly religious. Papa D was a Baptist deacon, and Mama D was a Methodist. Yes, they headed off to separate churches on Sunday mornings.

I sometimes would spend summer vacations with Mama D and Papa D. They would send me to Vacation Bible School, and I recall every morning at breakfast the kitchen radio would be playing gospel music. White gospel music with banjos, not the far more enthusiastic black variety.

However, both Mama D and Papa D were hard-core liberals. They voted for McGovern in 1972.

Those were my main people, mostly dead now. There were peripheral people too. Papa D’s sister, Aunt Ned, an almost life-long spinster. She may have been a lesbian because lesbianism runs rampant in my family, but back in those days, nobody much admitted it. But Aunt Ned did something unusual. In her 60s, she got married … to Mama D’s brother, Clarence. I think it was more for companionship than anything.

Unfortunately for Aunt Ned, Clarence died about two years later.

The four grandparents and Aunt Ned likely never set foot outside of Georgia except for the occasional visit to our home in Jacksonville, not far over the Georgia-Florida line. Clarence, however, served in World War I, and I remember a photo of him in his doughboy uniform. Aunt Ned worked for years in a millinery store in Marietta, and I now have an antique clock of hers on the wall at the Hacienda.

Those were my people, 99 percent dead now. And since neither my daughter nor my sister had children, there are no grandchildren, no nephews, no nieces, and never will be. I regret that a lot.

I would love to have people.