Sunday, April 17, 2005


when i got home last friday in the wee small hours of the morning after a night of sensible debauchery and threw myself onto my bed fully dressed, i heard my cell phone beep from somewhere in the deep recesses of my gigantic purse, like a buried canary. it was my mother, telling me to call her and sounding more than a little ominous. something had happened and it wasn't good. it was almost 3am. i figured whatever it was could wait until the next day, so i sacked out with some discomfort and stared at the ceiling and waited for sleep.

i knew that someone had died and i knew that it wasn't my grandmother or my father because if it were, i would have known it before the phone rang. some things you just know.

as i dozed off, i thought about my friends who were my family that i loved just as much as my relatives and i thought about my relatives that i loved so deeply, it sickened me to seriously consider losing them. if i didn't have to think about things like work and money, i would go home and be with my grandmother. we would talk all the time and listen to old-timey gospel radio at night. i would finally learn how to make rice in the oven. and during the day, when i wasn't eating her cooking, i would see all my aunts and uncles, and i would play with my cousins' children. i would disappear into the low country and i would write all about it...

the next day, my mother told me that my cousin eddie died. they found him at home, sitting in a chair. that was all she knew. eddie was the brother of damon, the cousin that i went to the hospital to visit a week or so ago, after he'd had a heart attack at work. everyone guessed that eddie had a heart attack as well. their mother, my aunt cb, died of a heart attack about two years ago. i'm not sure but i think that my cousin sharon, their sister, is a nurse.

i liked eddie a lot. he had his fun when he was younger and now that he was well past 50, he was paying for it, in spades. he was overweight. he had diabetes. he had high blood pressure. such diseases are a part of our family history but i never believed that i had to inherit it. my father had a heart attack when i was quite young and from then on, our eating regiment changed radically. a part of the reason why i have such a healthy lifestyle is because of this moment of crisis in our immediate family and how my mother responded to it. i learned how to eat healthfully by example. we ate lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lots of lentils and stews, different kinds of fish. there was no junk food. there was no candy. all of that frying and smothering -- and especially all of that salt -- had to go. here's the upshot: my father celebrated his 88th birthday in march. if you met him, you'd swear he was 20 years younger than he actually is. enough said.

every once in a great while, i eat what everyone likes to describe as "soul food" -- and God knows i can cook it better than almost anyone i know -- but i can't even begin to imagine eating like that at every meal, every day of the week. when it's time to have dinner, i usually saute something green, broil some kind of fish and skip dessert. only when i go home do i occasionally have things that i simply can't resist, like boiled peanuts -- so salty, they make my lips go numb. but i digress.

when i was little, eddie was much older and i was one of a horde of little children that he was related to, that was constantly underfoot. i vaguely remember visits to nyc as a child and seeing him come and go with that larger than life world weary air that teenagers usually have when they have their own lives and are coming into their own as individuals. but we never really connected. then i grew up and moved to nyc and my extended family slowly began to come into my life. as our relatives started to pass away, each funeral became a kind of wierdly morbid family reunion where we would all catch up with each other and take pictures and promise to stay in touch. and we did. eddie had wonderful memories of aunts and uncles long gone that the younger cousins had never met. he was a warm, decent, good-natured level headed person who seemed genuinely surprised on some level that his body had turned on him.

eddie worked at a resort upstate. i was going to go up there with some friends this spring for his infamous "cousin discount" so i could vegetate in style. too late.

eddie sat next to me at my aunt analee's funeral. the next aunt's funeral was his mother's, so there was all this pomp and circumstance that separated us because of seating arrangements. and now this funeral is his.

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