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The Tribal Knot

Rebecca'a newest nonfiction book, The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change is now available from Indiana University Press and Amazon.

Tribal Knot

Aunt


            Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the lawyer's office, drawing up our wills. My husband's took only a few minutes. "I'm taking all my parts with me," Donald said when he got to the organ donor section. "Everything else goes to you, if I die first." If you survive him, is the way the lawyer put it. I laughed, thinking of Great-aunt Bessie. Every morning she'd study the obituaries. "Listen to this," she'd say, smoothing the crease in the newspaper. "Mr. Etheridge is survived by his wife Matilda. Doesn't that just slay you? Survived by. Any wife who can survive Bo Etheridge, she deserves to get everything."
            After an hour Donald shook his head, lifted his hands in surrender. I had been pausing at each line, considering the left eyeball, the right. I want every organ, every possession accounted for. For one niece, the piano and gold pocket watch. For another, Aunt Bessie's century-old baby shoes, black leather with button clasps. Who will want my diaries, notebooks, the family reunion of words collected in my books? My property will be put into a trust to be divided equally for the education of the nephews and nieces. There are fifteen of them, a tribe of borrowed children, mine for the asking. So I ask. One by one I try them on, wear them a day, a week. The best of both worlds, everyone says. Enjoy them, but when you've had enough, send them home where they belong. I think of the fledgling: It is wrong to touch a baby bird, to leave your scent, for when the mother returns to the nest, she will know you have been there.

*****

            Maybe some of us were meant from the beginning to be aunts. Maybe we are too weak to bear the full weight of a child. How many times have I had this nightmare--a baby being sucked from my hands out an open window, and me left holding the sack of its nightgown. Maybe the powers-that-be give children to those who can survive the love, who know when to let go, who won't die if they suddenly find themselves holding an empty nightgown. My mother must have known from the start that I would never have children. I needed a guide for that other road, the road my mother had not taken...



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The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings
Another Essay from The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings
  • Dependent

    ...Despite what my military I.D. card proclaimed, my laminated face and name stamped with the word "dependent," I was determined never to become one of those quietly nervous women I saw in the laundromat of the apartment complex….This thing I was living was my life…

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