My father died when I was in my mid-twenties. Whatever memories he had of his childhood and his relatives he took with him. He never regaled me with the stories of what it was like growing up in the 1930s and 40s or with tales of his own parents' and grandparents' childhoods and lives.
My grandmother lived for nearly a decade after my father's death, and I would see her in the winter of each year, except her final year in 1996. I would take her on the rounds to see all those people who shared a common person with me: my great-grandfather was their grandfather, father or uncle or my great-grandmother was their granny or aunt or mother. Stories they would tell were sanitized for me.
I never got much of the dirt. And I'm a person who likes dirt as much as flowers.
But there was one relative with a hell of a history. She was my great-aunt and she lived to be 104. If I were a believer that we get what we deserve in this life, I'd believe she lived those last seven, eight years as payback.
I knew enough of her and remembered enough of her from my own childhood visits. Everyone did. She was a horrible person who did unspeakable acts, from child abuse to elder abuse. But she never owned up to any of it. In fact, to hear her talk in her later years -- but not in her last years when her mind had completely gone -- she was the epitome of a good, Christian woman.
She was anything but that. And when my uncle and aunt came out for my Great-Aunt Daryl's 100th birthday this past week, I got to hear even more of the story of Elva.
My Aunt Barbara, who is, in fact, the epitome of a good, Christian woman, said it best yesterday when we were out and about on their last day here. After talking about the punishments she inflicted on the young children left in her charge and about her acts against her husband as he became aged and feeble, Barbara turned to me and said, "Since first getting to know Elva, I've always believed that if she's the first person I see after I die, I'll know immediately where I am."
Barbara won't see her when she dies. A believer that God gets to dish out the true punishments for the lives we lead, I'm going to pray that none of those whom I love will see Elva when we die.
I guess putting that in writing shows a true inability on my part to forgive. So perhaps I'll pray that I'm the only one who has to see Elva when I die.
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