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Monday, April 1, 2013

 MOMENTO MORI


  When my grandfather knew he was dying, he found the family Bible and moved his rocker to the end of the porch where the sun lingered for most of the day.  Wrapped in an old quilt, he sat each day watching the endless changes in the Balsam Mountains ... the fog rising and falling and the tentative green of spring ... his last spring ... spreading down the Pinnacle and climbing toward Black Rock. The Bible was always open in his lap, but he didn’tseem to be reading it much.  I think maybe it acted like a good luck charm, or an amulet: a kind of rabbit’s foot that he grasped as the light began to fail.

   My amulets are different.  Instead of seeking the comfort Psalms or Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I turn to the poets:  Frost, Jeffers and Tennyson  Amy Lowell and Edna St. Vincent Millay. A. E. Houseman and perhaps a bit of Fitzgerald’s “Rubaiyat.” I think I will sit, like my grandfather, here at the end of the porch and read. On mornings when the faint scent of spring is riding through Rhodes Cove, I think I will gather  my poets and my novels about me and watch the Balsams swim in the fog.  However, unlike my grandfather, I intend to read a lot.

   What do my poets tell me?  I am surprised by how many of them are given to making comparisons between the four seasons and a single day. In other words, each day of our life mimics a year.  Our waking is spring and day of simple chores is summer.  Evening brings the fall and each night, we descend into winter.  If that is true, then quite possibly, our years are measured pieces of a larger design ... a pattern that embodies all time.

   Why am I waxing so seriously?  What prompted this meditation on time and seasons?  Well, simply put, I have experienced what the poets call a “momento mori” ... a reminder of my own mortality. My cousin Bruce Carden died last week. There are not many of my tribe that are still on the green side of the earth.  Most of them departed long ago. At present, I have a few cousins and nephews.  Our exact kinship is vague since my grandfather legally adopted me, making my uncles brothers. Bruce may be an uncle or maybe he is a cousin.

   Unlike me, Bruce led an exemplary life. He excelled in school and began writing in his teens. (He worked at the Sylva Herald.)  He served in the Air Force, graduated from Western Carolina University, married, had children and taught school in Haywood County for most of his life. Haywood County is full of citizens who have fond memories of Bruce’s classroom performance.  He was valued, loved and respected.  In addition, he was a gifted photographer and an ardent genealogist and spent numerous hours searching through the tangled roots of the Carden ancestry. He once told me that he could trace the Carden lineage all the way back to Ireland and “Robert Bruce’s cave and spider.”

   On occasion, he discovered  dark secrets that indicated that Carden males were often victims of their own passions, both creative and carnal.  That is not exactly how Bruce put it, but it will serve.  He also discovered the details of the murder of our great-great grandfather by Kirk’s raiders in the closing years of the Civil War.  It was a fantastic story and I have told it  in hundreds of elder-hostels.  Thank you, Bruce.  He also wrote a book:  A Mountain Song.  It was a nostalgic journey into the past filled with childhood memories of Grit routes, Blue Horse notebooks and Cloverine Salve. It is also filled with loving portraits of neighbors, relatives classmates.

   Although Bruce was just one year older than me, he always seemed an “elder statesman.”  Certainly, my grandfather saw him as a good role model for me and encouraged me to be more like him.  “Bruce doesn’t wreck cars, hang out at Troy’s Drive-in or barely escape being expelled during his senior year. The boy always does the right thing.”  Yes, well, I followed a different drummer, I guess.

   Bruce’s death affected me more than I expected.  Now, sitting here at the edge of the porch like my grandfather I stare at a scene that is much altered since he sat in this same spot watching the Balsams fade in the twilight. Yet, despite the evidence of progress ... despite the mange of concrete that has crept up many of the coves, the Balsams are still there and just wakening to spring.  I am thinking about Cousin/Uncle Bruce and his book and I manage to conjure up his face when we talked briefly about those Cardens who were “victims of their own passions.”  If, the poets are right, if this day is spring and we awake each morning with great expectations, I hope that Bruce, where ever he is, has wakened to a new beginning.

7 comments:

  1. quiet emotional. do continue to write. http://professorjacobabraham.blogspot.in

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  2. I like the scene you describe with your grandfather on the porch. And while I'd never thought of it in that way, I guess those poets were right--our lives are played out seasonally every day. Come to think of it, my blog is aptly named as well. I'm sorry to hear about cousin/uncle Bruce. I'm going through the same kind of thing now where everybody I grew up with are passing on. Finally, I'm really glad to see you back over here in the Holler. It's easier to visit here than in FB.

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  3. Thank you, Alice. I'm a bit frustrated with FaceBook, too. Have run into some great material that was collected by a WPA project, and I think I will "adapt" it to Liars Bench. Some of it concerns old Melungeon stories.

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