Declaring one’s cards on the table or keeping them to oneself are distinctly different activities. We seek to gain advantage, naturally, unless the hand is a simple throw away. But some things one keeps close to one’s chest, letting few know or see the images that would reveal all. And that’s what M’Lady is now trying to decide; how much does she tell? There is a most difficult passage of her life coming up in her narrative. It is a bleak house of too much tragedy, too many deaths, too much heartache. And to arrive there on these hot summer days so very many years later, the past yet again exhumed as it were, is to go through a gauntlet of self-examinations, self doubts, and old pain. She lost both sons and her husband within three years. No wonder hesitation to disclose.
The chronology of our lives sets us up for the ‘and then?’ And then we try to second guess the ‘why’ of what happened to us. We forget that we are often but bystanders to other people’s accidents, other people’s manifestations. We feel so personally involved. But it was they who contracted the disease, got the ‘dis-ease’, not us. Yet we were affected. When there appears no winning hand among the players we know we all go home bereft of that which might have been. And our houses can become bleak indeed.
Sometimes houses fall, like a deck of cards. (1) In 1924, at 2 years old Nancy lost her mother. (2) In 1944, at 22 years old she lost her twin brother. (3) In 1951, at 29 years old she lost her father. He was only 57. (4) In 1957 Nancy lost her Maman, her stepmother she’d had since a toddler. (5) In 1978 she lost her dear brother, Pat. He was 58. (6) In 1984 she lost her oldest son, Ian. He was 34 years old. (7) In 1985, within a few months of Ian, she lost her youngest son, Nick. He was 33. (8) In 1987 she lost her beloved husband of more than 40 years, Denys Sinclair. (9) In 1993 she lost her dear oldest brother, Douglas. (10) In 2005 she lost Perry, her boyfriend of many years, living with her at the time. (11) In 2008 she lost her daughter, Diana, 58 at the time. (12) In 2010 she lost Boy Cory, a man in his 90’s whom she had dated briefly on a troop ship to Cairo, back in the early 40’s; he too was living with her for a time before he passed on. And now, 2013, on April 01st, M’Lady celebrates her 91st birthday! Of all her closest family she has only two daughters remaining, Linda, 65, and Fiona, 62. But she has a host of friends, 12 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. She now plays with a full hand indeed!
Yet to write about all these people, all these past lives, is taking its toll. M’Lady spends hours checking details, searching for documents, finding photographs. And still she manages the house, cooks the meals, does the laundry, keeps tabs on the deliveries and the orders and the mail. Again today the hair dresser came to do M’Lady’s bi-weekly hair do. “Dang,” Nancy exclaimed to me. “I forgot about it! That’s a whole two hours cutting into my writing time!” We are on page 34 of her new batch of handwriting since last week. I type them up, organize the photographs, scan them and then do the layouts, page for page. At some stage or other they all will be ‘put to bed’ by the printer. So too for the dead? Will they get rest from this constant reshuffle through their wake? We take photos out of frames and scan them and put everything back. We find old forgotten packages of prints and once more bring them to light.
Relationships are like that. All those people one knew. We decide how much to air. There is not much point in talking of cancer, emphysema, car accidents or... who needs really to know the cause? It is enough that things came to an end. And we weep not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. No man is an island the poet wrote; no, but we are not continents or the earth either. We are but little atomies no bigger than a.... and then we are gone. In the interim, we needs make of the many hands with which we’re dealt something good! Yes? Or it may remain a bleak house indeed.