A Wayward Legacy
Arya F. Jenkins
My daddy hadn’t been dead 20 minutes before two men from the mortuary, Ben and Little Jack, were standing in the doorway of our house, heads bowed, asking in the politest drawl, “Is it acceptable to enter and remove the body?”
“Yes, it is,” said Mary, my father’s wife, who had answered the door. An easterner, long ensconced with my father on Hilton Head, she had developed southern style herself, and offered the visitors lemonade. They declined, as they had work to do, swiftly bagging my father and carting him out, still with their extremely kind manners, almost as if it was their loss.
Afterward, I returned to the room where my father had been. Grabbing his still dented pillow, I pressed it to my face, taking in the last of him, just as my brother Bill began his hilarious imitation of the two men that had just left.
It has always been a family tradition to make fun of what is most sacred, including the dead and dying. Growing up, there were no holds barred dealing with one another, save that the one applying barbs be smart, quick and lethal. The idea of dysfunction never entered our vocabulary, although it would later intrude upon memory. We had torn one another and everyone else to shreds with observation all our lives and retained the impulse, even after our mother, the key holder of the tradition, passed away.
My father could not match her, his own sense of irony being rather twisted. It was he who delivered the news to us at dinnertime between chuckles that were meant to hint at the ridiculousness of what he was about to parlay, that our cousin’s husband, a concert pianist and father of three, had been run over and killed by a truck while crossing a street in Germany.
Imagine, getting snapped up by a truck.
Part German himself, my father had grown up a single child whose mother’s adoration, along with his own incredible success at everything from academics to business, supported his own illusion of impending immortality. Due to his lack of empathy, he was not very funny, although he could be dry and absurd, a tendency buoyed by our mother’s facility with words and her knack for hyperbole.
A writer from Colombia, my mother came from a long line of madmen and was herself both irreverent and outrageous. One of her uncles had stripped naked and swung from a church chandelier onto the foot of an altar during a holy service; another had wandered the streets of Bogota, claiming to have the secret of the universe tucked inside his breast pocket.
The daughter of a liberal judge, my mother grew up during a period called the violence, enduring exile with her family, and learning politics and storytelling from her father from whom she also gleaned her incredible sense of humor. After we moved to the U.S., her thick accent served to embellish her stories in English. No event escaped observation or mimicry and two or three of her five children took after her, so that our dinner conversations were littered with witty, scathing asides about teachers, classmates, tennis coaches, crossing guards--virtually anyone within the broad field of our acquaintanceship and vision.
My mother’s exaggerated stories about her daily adventures with the butcher, baker, cashiers and others usually found their way to our dinner table:
“Dee costamerr serveece at Waldorrs ees a deesgrace?”
“Becaws dey would not take dee blouse I wanted to return today.”
“Dey claim I need a receippt. Why would I need a receippt after so many months? I theenk eet was becaws of my accent dat dey refused me and becaws I am not black. I said to da woman, ‘do you know I am half black and half Jewish?”
My mother’s flamboyant wit was her legacy, and my youngest brother took more than his share of it. A mime and clown, he was the one who always laughed when he cried, and cried when he laughed, which was often.
His imitation of the two men that had taken our father away, so spot on, with exaggerated drawl, gestures and awkward politeness brought us all—my step mother, two sisters and I—to tears of laughter and hysterics. We could not stop laughing. Had my parents been there, they too would have relished my brother’s delicious interpretation, his wicked sense of timing conjuring the family art.
About the author:
Arya F. Jenkins is a poet and writer whose work has appeared in Agave Magazine, The Feminist Wire, Dirty Chai Magazine, Gambling the Aisle and Brilliant Corners, among others. Her poetry and essays have been included in three anthologies, with Buddhist poetry chapbook, JEWEL FIRE, published by AllBook Books. She was recently commissioned by Jerry Jazz Musician to write jazz fiction. Flash fiction is forthcoming in Serving House Journal and Two Cities Review. Read more from Arya here and here.