Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All the Dead People's Birthdays

My cousin Rydella Hopper was a compulsive liar and she cheated at gin rummy but I loved her all the same, I did, it was that crooked little smile of hers, who wouldn’t love a gal with a smile like that? Every year now when her birthday comes around I crochet her a floppy red rose and I bring it on over to the cemetery, lay it right on her tombstone just so, Rydella always did like her roses, and then I sit down on the bench they have there and I sing her a song or two, one of her favorites, like “Bye Bye Blackbird” or “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” I want Rydella to feel right at home up there on Sycamore Hill.
Now her younger sister, Happy, she’s another story altogether. Can't go putting crocheted nothing on Happy’s grave. My brother Hinckly always said she was too mean to die but Happy proved him wrong. She’s dead alright, has been for nearly 30 years. Sad story, really, she fell into the Atlantic Ocean. The way it come out at the inquest was, one minute she was up there on the deck of that ocean liner, snuggling with her husband Beetle Cadbury — his people had something to do with money but none of us knew him well, this being their honeymoon trip, and after Happy’s demise we never saw hide nor hair of Beetle again. 

Anyway, the story goes that the two of them were up there on the ship's deck, arm in arm, hunky dory, when all of a sudden a wave just up and washed her away. Beetle Cadbury swore it happened just that way and there wasn’t a soul who could contradict the man with provable facts. Innuendo doesn’t count for much in a court of law, you see.  

I can’t bring crocheted flowers all the way to the Atlantic Ocean every year so I just kind of let Cousin Happy’s birthday pass me by, she being one of my least favorite people when she was alive. 
For Hinckly, I go all out, he was my baby brother after all and not a nasty bone in his body. He wasn’t what you’d call a thinker, that Hinckly, but he was a kind soul, and every December 27th I make it my business to do him proud. Bake him one of my blue-ribbon chocolate-chocolate pies, nothing but chocolate, oh how that man loved his chocolate, and after I bake it, I eat it because that’s just what Hinckly would do if he were still here, only seeing as he’s gone I have to do the eating for him. Then I go to bed. Chocolate always has that effect on me.
My very best girlfriend, Adelaide Pinch, the one who grew up to be so famous and write all those books — you know who I mean, she wrote “Bright September Morn” and “April Afternoon” and “That Cold Night in December” — you never heard of them? Oh my, they are very good, you can take my word for it, Adelaide had a real flair with the English language. Now her birthday was the day after New Years, that’s right, January second she was born, I never have any trouble remembering that. For Adelaide Pinch I always save back a glass of my raspberry cordial from New Year’s Eve and I drink her a little toast on her birthday. Sometimes I recite some poetry, too, because of Adelaide’s fondness for a good rhyme. This year I think I might read out one of Mr. John Wesley Fishwhistle’s poems, seeing as how Adelaide was so fond of Mr. Fishwhistle.
For my Mama and Papa I take particular care, as you can imagine. I get all dressed up on their special days and go up there on Sycamore Hill early in the morning. I’m lucky they both have June birthdays since the weather’s almost always fine. I like to spend the whole day up on the Hill visiting Mama and then just eleven days after, I go back up and spend the day with Papa. I make them little bouquets from all the wildflowers growing up there and I bring me a picnic lunch and just sit and gossip ‘til the cows come home. 

Of course, they don’t know who I’m gossiping about half the time, seeing as how many people are new-comers since their time, but I believe they like to keep up, they were always that way, Papa with his newspapers and reading the stories out to Mama like he did. Now I’m the only newspaper they’ve got and it’s a good thing my memory is still holding up.
I’ll tell you something not everybody knows. I hold special birthday celebrations for my animal friends, too.  Can’t do it for all of them, there having been so many rabbits and frogs and grasshoppers when I was a little girl, and who knows the day they were born anyway, but I always make a little fuss on Flossie Mae’s birthday because I was there at her calving and my old dear tabby, Emily Jane Charlotte, well, of course I mark her birth in a very special way. Hush now, don’t you be so personal, I am not about to tell you all my secrets.