My great aunt lived next to Grandma. A stretch of woods and a
cornfield separated the two houses. When I was little I spent my
time running back and forth between Grandma's house and Aunt P's.
The upstairs was furnished with antiques and fine wood tables,
chairs and a fancy sofa, but Aunt P and Uncle B lived in the
basement, where it was cooler. There was a full kitchen upstairs,
but there was a cooking area in the basement, too, along with two
giant La-Z Boys and two large iron beds covered with quilts. Faded
family photographs in heavy frames hung on the basement walls. In
the evening P and B sat in their leather recliners and watched TV.
The reading of the will took place upstairs. The tiny living room
and dining room were cramped with family. Every one sat around
whispering, waiting for Great Aunt P's wealth to be parceled out.
Family members strolled through the back bedrooms and rustled
through dresser drawers and peeked into the closets. Uncle D and his
son J sat across the room from me and made verbal jabs at one
another. J sat on a footstool, slightly hunched over. He held a
four-pronged metal cane upside down and twirled the upright bottom
like a propeller. He twirled the cane faster as he looked at his
father. He leaned in and whispered, "I want to grind your face off
with this cane."
The perky, sandy haired executor of Aunt P's will preformed her
duties quickly and efficiently. She passed out folded checks to each
family member. There was no solemn performance or attempt at modesty
as the participants received their windfall. My Aunt S and Great
Aunt L walked around quizzing everyone on check amounts. In the
corner of the living room my Uncle B, Aunt P's surviving husband,
sat in a recliner. In a hoarse voice, he demanded to know what was
going on. He was half-blind in one eye and wore a patch over the
other. He was hard of hearing and unable to get around on his own.
The executor tried to soothe him. The rest of the family was too
distracted. No one noticed the nervous old man or remembered whose
house they were looting.
Jack and I sat on the remains of a small brick wall in the
backyard and tried to figure out when to leave. We both agreed the
sooner the better. Uncle D and Cousin J joined us. When Uncle D
discovered that Jack worked in television, he tried to persuade him
to make a TV show about antique cars. He explained that antique cars
were the sort of thing that people were interested in and wanted to
watch on TV.
Minutes later, as we sped down Highway 5 in our primer-colored
station wagon, we were both quiet. No matter how fast I drove, it
wasn't fast enough. I drove like a criminal on the lam, desperate to
cross the county line.
Theresa Starkey is a doctoral candidate in the American
Studies program at Emory University.