Maybe some day my children can write my parents' story. I am too close to it, to heavily involved; my emotions and relationship with them colors my perception. I don't think I'd give it a fair shake, to tell you the truth. The story changes in my head each day. When I am angry at my parents, the story takes on ominous and treacherous blue and black tones. When things are going well, suddenly all is sublimely rosy. And so I don't tell it, because I don't trust my own moods. It is astounding how the same story can change in the telling depending on the teller at the moment of telling.
So whose story can I tell? Perhaps best to tell a story that has already ended. At least there's no need to leave the ending open then.
Even today she urges everyone around the table to eat, to take another helping, before she'll help herself. She hovers, waiting for a spot on someone's plate to look slightly empty, as she jumps up quickly and offers more. Her table is always overflowing; even if she ate three helpings before anyone else we wouldn't know the difference. But she never does. "I had to take care of the others. I was the oldest, how would the little ones eat properly if I didn't watch over them? Our mother was dead, who would take care of things?"Those days of making do and scraping are gone, but she's still taking care of us.
She lived with her aunt then. Her father started a new life with a second wife, and although everyone got along just fine, there just wasn't enough room. It was a boon, she says. Her father would never have let her stay in school. Her aunt was a school teacher; she became a prefect. I imagine her bubbly and vivacious, but with a hint of care at the corner of her lip. Hair braided neatly, a ready smile.
One day her aunt took her to a friend's house to meet the friend's brothers in law. They waited around and made small talk, but nobody showed up. They walked around thinking they'd meet them here, then there, but nothing.
Another afternoon they found themselves there again. "In our house playing with cards was such a sin! And there they were, all the brothers just gambling!" But snacks followed, and tea. And her aunt left. And her aunt's friend left. And slowly the brothers left. The tea grew cold and the crumbs stiff on their plate.
"Suddenly it was getting to be evening! I felt so embarrassed! How could I have sat there talking so much? I don't even know what we talked about! Who knows when the rest of them left. Oh dear, I didn't know how we came to just sit there talking!"
He walked her home in the dusk.
The next day someone at school asked her "so I hear you might be getting married?" She shuffled her feet, her cheeks warm. News spreads quickly in a small town.
She met his family, they approved instantly. She quaked then, as she realized her father was coming to town the week after and didn't have a clue. Twisting his arm, she bribed her brother to tell him. "How could I tell him myself! What would he say - you've gone and arranged your own marriage!"
But what about school? What about college? She was only sixteen. Would all those enticing books remain closed to her now? "I was lucky. I got a husband who wanted me to learn. I went to college. I was so lucky."
They lived in two rooms: 3 brothers and 2 wives. Those weren't the days of affording personal space. "We were all brothers and sisters then, it was fun" she says as I cringe at the horror of sharing a bathroom with three boys. "We'd have so much fun, all five of us - it was awkward of course, sometimes, but we made it work."
They made it work.
Four daughters and eight granddaughters later, they sat on the balcony one evening, sipping some tea. "I'm happy," he said, as he held her hand. They were still talking forever into the dusk.
The next day he died.
Her smile is only half real these days. The sparkle in her eyes is almost a reflection now, of what what was once a brilliant fire. Her lips turn down when nobody is looking. She stays alone in her own place now; there's personal space to spare.
Maybe I shouldn't call it a story that has ended. Just one where the keeper is left alone, watchful, into the dark of night, with only memories now to hold her hand.