Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Idaho elegy

Last July I took a road trip to Idaho to attend the funeral of a cousin. He was a contemporary of my brother, ten years older than me. I have become accustomed to the deaths of our elders. My grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles, they are now all dead. There are few of my relatives still living in southeastern idaho where I grew up. As a child, all of my relatives, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins lived there. Today i received a call from my sister, and my cousin Peggy has died. My cousin Bruce was someone I knew by reputation,, someone close to my siblings. Peggy has a place of prominence in my early memories.

In the most vivid of these memories I am 7 or 8 years old--a 2nd or 3rd grader, I suspect. She was 6 or 7 years older than me. She was my glamorous cousin, who doted on cute little red-headed Susie. Her mother had pretensions beyond us country folk. Her house had china figurines, beautiful pictures, a furnace, a picture window, and wall-to-wall carpet. And Peggy had store-bought clothes. Most of mine were sewn by my mother. I would stay over at my cousin Peggy’s house. She would comb my hair and dress me up. And I would go home with some of those glamorous store-bought hand-me downs. By the time I’m nearing my teenage years, I no longer have many memories of Peggy. I suspect she became too old to be bothered with this little cousin.

The irony is that this glamorous cousin is the one who lived her adult life in southeastern Idaho. She married a farmer and stayed there while the rest of us grew up, went to college, and moved away.

I saw Peggy in July when I went to my other cousin’s funeral. At this point, she probably didn’t know she was sick. She has spent the time since then battling cancer. She called my sister a few months back to tell her about her cancer and let her know that she was hoping to have one of the last couple of burial plots in the cemetery where my grandparents were buried. That was where my cousin Bruce, who spent his adult life in Manatoba, Canada, was buried. It seems fitting that Peggy, one of the only cousins from my mother’s family who stayed in Idaho, should have these plots.

I’m going to drive to idaho again, this time with Bevin. To say good-bye. To my cousin, again to my childhood. I did this last summer. It’s a very odd feeling to go back there. Especially to say good-bye to those who are nearer and nearer to being my contemporaries. But it’s also to look for myself, where I came from, who I am. It’s always hard for me to know exactly how I happened when I go back to my childhood haunts.


Lisa B. said...

I now have an "Idaho at the end of the mind," which, "beyond the last thought, rises/ in the bronze decor."

SusanS said...

I'm thinking that Bevin and I in the bar tonight will help me meditate on this one.