There are a lot of things we don’t know about each other.
I don’t know what it was like for my great, great paternal grandfather 'Manual' to gather up his two wee-daughters and wife in tow and travel by boat from the Azore Islands to America and stake his claim in the rich, fertile grounds of the central San Joaquin Valley at the turn of the century. I can't know what the crops of those first years must have yielded, though I can imagine poorly as most, before taking hold, before roots find much needed footing and nutrients deep below the surface, wither at the first sign of sun and a moment without water; stalks the size of grass, seeds brittle and infertile. There are no pictures of the feeble canal sending mud choked water into the channels that carried them one by one from one end of the ranch to the other and finally, very near exhaustion, the old man must have fallen right there in the pastry-flour like earth to watch in the fleeting hours of the night at the first signs that something, anything was going to keep them from starving much longer.
I have no pictures of the grand two story home he built with his own hands, with the other laborers putting in twelve hours a day until it were built for a cup of thin soup and crusty bread three times a day for a month and finally, together, they sat around with wine and whiskey and strong drink that first evening after and full of spirit lay down their head on the hardwood floor and called themselves kings of crown and country with songs from the old country long forgotten, songs with worn smooth words to prick the ears of lovers and warm the hearts of children to young yet to know such ways. I have no pictures, only stories told with wet eyes because one evening, short on money and patience, the old man took two pennies instead of fuses and rigged up the electrical fuse box to get the lights back on so his wife could finish the wash and the children could do their arithmetic - only in the early, cold hours after all had hurried off, to school and other places, the house caught to fire because of those pennies and by the time anyone was there to stop the blaze the entire place had gone up, one long plume of smoke and ash and fire, a bonfire piercing the sky over and over again until even the men folk had tears in their eyes and the children shivered and the women hadn't even a blanket to chase away the cold.
And I don’t know the name of the pub my great, great maternal grandfather spent his evenings all those years ago. I don't know if it were a regular place or a makeshift room with a sturdy table and a keg of the finest Irish stout to be had from pillar to post and everyone who was in the know knew about the old place. I can't say if a sign hung from the roof, a tin thing held with wire and rivulets of rusty steel. I don't know if the old man propped himself up on a stool or crate after scratching a living out of the earth from sun up to sun down, whether he preferred stout or lager; though if he were anything like me, or I like him, he fancied himself a lager a time or two for a wee parched throat and to soothe his dry and cracked hands from the unforgiving hardwood of an ax handle or the worn smooth handle of a shovel with a head polished like a mirror from the baked and rocky earth of old Ireland. I'd have no way of seeing him, covered in dust, smelling of lager, bent over and crooning over his youngest, one little man with his papa's eyes and disposition, perched for a kiss with a glint only fathers and sons know about. He'd make a go of finding his bed beside the best woman who would ever have him, the woman with the softest hands he had ever known and who he would spend extra on a bar of the smoothest lotion for her after working all day to clean the house and tend the garden and make the clothing look proper, intermittent seconds to peek from one giant laundry pot full of lye to the soup pot on the stove making tough meat edible and making tap water and spices the best stew for crusty bread you have ever known in all your life.
But I would know about her, what a decade just past, the years like stickers in the soles of my feet, what we called goat-heads or puncture vines; little seedy buggers that like barbs would break off in the soft places of your feet to fester and infect. I don't have to close my eyes to see her, not ever I wager, a picture as easily as a memory, moving, hair golden and soft in the wind, angel hair and will-o-wisp to spare, a photograph every second between open sky and the patchy shadows of Eucalyptus or Dutch Elm trees; she had a way of floating about, devil may care even though I knew better, I knew her smile hid such imperfections as children and their mother's don't speak of. I knew how the dark could fall like bricks in heavy, wet burlap and cover one up, snuff out the breath and the light like night but the sun was still up. I knew how words could wound at the very sound of them and how if you held your ears too long your wrists would go numb and you'd have no recourse for the insults, for the jagged and violent words, for the tattering and the bleeding. I know about those things but I’d surely have no idea about those last days, the final hours when the last days of my mother’s life had been just a decade ago crashing and I have hardly the strength to put these words into proper meaning. I know of the ensuing deaths within a year of all but myself; now a vagabond of sorts and wayward traveler of the mind, frequently lost in self aggrandizing.
How I might marvel at my own obituary-worthy accomplishments as though I could in such circumstances, gather a dozen people with hardly an interest in one another to sit around and sip wine on my occasion, to drink in the heady air of summer fair, perched to combat the feeling of another simple passing, another wayward traveler who will not return from this trip. What might a poorly written clip contains; Here lived a man, born at this time, dead today, not much to speak of really. He was an educated man who traveled a bit and wrote a little more, he made a few works of art such as they were and spread them about in limited circles. He was a giving fellow and a curious chap. He fancied a pint or two and conversations so; he died where others have died before and surely there will be those come hither to meet their maker. He was born, he lived, and he died. And that is that.