Thursday, February 22, 2007

February Harvest

Here’s what not to do when one of your major uncles dies and you are minutes from going to the visitation at the funeral home: do not try out new waterproof mascara with microfiber. In fact, make it a policy to never even use waterproof mascara, particularly when it has ingredients commonly found in raincoats.

I can’t decide if I look more like a four year old who got into her mother’s make-up stash or if I look like a mime. Either way, it is not good, though possibly the freaky quality of my eyelashes might distract the bereaved throngs from their grief for fifteen seconds while they speculate about what manner of insect has crawled onto both of my eyes.

This major uncle was a farmer with a love of history, conspiracy theories, and the farm where he grew up and then grew his own family. He was moody and given to loud outbursts of displeasure when something was not to his liking, but he was also personable and funny and handsome. He had things he believed in: rules, lines you didn’t cross, respect you paid. He was the last of the older generation of males in my life to call me by the childhood version of my name, and I liked that. There might not have always been displays of affection or even acknowledged appreciation between us, but hearing him say that softer version of my name somehow always made me feel connected.

Of course he also called me Nose Picker with some regularity, but we won’t speak of that.

In that way that when I hear the word “house” I picture something white with a picket fence, when I hear “farmer” I picture him: shock of hair sticking out of the back of a seed cap, overalls, ruddy weather-creased face, thick, strong hands.

His farm was the backdrop for some of my happier days. Though the outdoors makes me sneeze, it is where I romped in hay mows, rubbed my face on the fur of livestock and barn cats alike, and where I learned that hamburgers and Green Giant corn do not miraculously appear in my grocer’s freezer but actually come from a farm somewhere. One July I was with him and his oldest son in their pick-up, surveying corn not quite ripe for picking, and he said with great pride to my cousin, “Look at that. That’s ours,” and it clicked for me, those hours they spent on the tractor, in the farm lot, testing corn at the kitchen table, plowing, planting, harvesting, hauling--all of it adding up to a job you could be proud of, that you could own because it meant something. It was tangible. You could taste it.

And so now my spider eyes and I are off to say goodbye to him and to try to offer comfort to my aunt and cousins, though there is no comfort for this unexpected loss. Instead, like with any death, there are now just memories and photos and the stories that will be told to remember what the dash between 1947 and 2007 stood for. There is also the very real possibility that for my aunt, my cousins, his grandchildren, and those of us who grew used to August sacks full of his season’s yield, that corn will never again taste so sweet.

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