Chapter 1

August in Texas has got to be God’s way of reminding us He is in control. It is positively the worst month of the year. Everything is either burnt to a crisp or dripping with sticky humidity. Sometimes it is both. If we are lucky enough to get a little of that twenty percent chance of rain, the air cools slightly while the water is falling, but when the clouds are empty, they descend to earth like a thick wet blanket. I swear I can see the air moving. I imagine that life most anywhere else is just about perfect compared to here. Especially today.

“Would someone please answer the door?” came a shout from the kitchen. Aunt Marge ran her kitchen like a drill sergeant. Pots and pans clanking, water running, drawers and doors opening and closing mixed with high pitched voices fusssing at each other. Somebody’s in the way, not moving fast enough, or just flat out doing something wrong. This is living proof that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth. I’d rather sit back and let them fight it out, opting to clean up later…by myself…in the quiet…just me and my memories. Will there ever be peace in this house again?

It is a tradition in Texas to have a meal after a funeral. Most times the church has folks that help with this. Sometimes it happens in the church fellowship hall, and other times the food is brought and set up at home. Family and friends gather to remember; to laugh and to cry. To promise to do a better job of staying in touch. It is all very well meaning, but everyone knows that when they go home and real life resumes, nothing will really change, until the next funeral. I’m no different; I make the promises, with all sincereity as the words flow from my mouth. The problem is my brain and my mouth are not generally well connected at times like this.

“Jewel, Sam, it’s so kind of you to come, Please, come in.” Marge said breathlessly as she held the door open.  Sam and Jewel were two of MiMi’s dearest friends. MiMi, Mary Margaret Brooks, was my grandmother, and so much more.

Marge, scurrying from group to group, is busy making sure everyone’s comfortable and with a nice cool beverage on this all too typical August day. Marge shows them in, making necessary introductions then heads off to the kitchen for those glasses of sweet tea they both were craving.

Marge is MiMi’s long suffering sister. Like most families, we all have our assigned roles. Doesn’t matter how long we’ve been apart, who has said what to who, when we come together like this, we all have a part to play. And we do it well.  In our family, Marge is the perpetual martyr. She’s the one to whom everyone turns to get things done. She is often the face of the family when none of the rest of us want to be visible. She works tirelessly, sacrificing all, taking nothing in return. At least on the surface. We all count on Marge at times like this all the while knowing there is a price to be paid.

“Sam, you hungry? We still got lots of good food in here. Don’t need anything going to waste.”  “Mom! Brian is hitting me.” Shouted one of the great grandchildren. “You hit me first.”  Brian responded hoping to offset any possible consequences. Fortunately all the adults in the room were too busy crying and laughing to notice the squabbles of a couple of youngsters. “Well, I’ll be, you are getting so big…come over here and give me some sugar.” “I wonder what they are going to do with all this stuff?”

The conversations all swirl together forming a caucaphonous fog that descends upon me, slowly and completely until I feel invisible. I sit transfixed, in MiMi’s chair, overwhelmed and alone.

I long to be anywhere but in this room yet unable to summon the strength to stand up and move. Then, like a little angel from heaven, Picot, MiMi’s typically aloof cat, rubs a figure eight around my ankles, purring gently. As I reach down to stroke her blue gray fur, she takes off running towards the back of the house. She stops at the hallway and looks back at me as if to say, “Come on!” Knowing that the family stories would continue for hours, I force myself to follow the cat.