My sister is finishing up a three day visit. She lives in Kansas. She is soon-to-deliver a boy come May. She is too far away most days, but today she is Right Here. She is taking a much deserved retreat (it’s funny to see the word “retreat” applied to anything that goes on in this house). Carrying a (third) baby is Hard work. She does it gracefully, and I’m honored she chose to spend her last time away from home for awhile with me.
I tried to teach Gabriel to say her name, in preparation. Beth. Aunt Beth. That day the B just wouldn’t come. So I went with Aunt Liz (I think I’m about the only person in the world who calls her Lizzie some times). He caught right on to that. “Aunt Iz! Aunt Iz!” he proclaimed in his robotic 2-year-old dialect. But as soon as she arrived, he went rogue: “Gra-ma Iz! Gra-ma Iz!” he shouted at the airport, then commenced to running in crazy circles with his brother.
I imagine Gra-ma to be his catch-all endearment for female family. Both he and Jonah instinctively catch on to kin. I love that. “Aunt” doesn’t mean a whole lot to a careening toddler such as G. And Beth doesn’t seem to mind (too much) the alteration, though I caught her chuckling to herself several times and saying, “Here comes the pregnant Grandma.”
G’s use of language reminds me of a passage from The Education of Little Tree, a memoir of the Cherokee way as told by a young boy who grew up in 1930s Appalachia. I’ll just quote and hope the backstory is evident enough.
Granma’s name was Bonnie Bee. I knew that when I heard him late at night say, “I kin ye, Bonnie Bee,” he was saying, “I love ye,” for the feeling was in the words.
And when they would be talking and Granma would say, “Do ye kin me, Wales?” and he would answer, “I kin ye,” it meant, “I understand ye.” To them, love and understanding was the same thing. Granma said you couldn’t love something you didn’t understand; nor could you love people, nor God, if you didn’t understand the people and God.
Granpa and Granma had an understanding, and so they had a love. Granma said the understanding run deeper as the years went by, and she reckined it would get beyond anything mortal folks could think upon or explain. And so they called it “kin.”
Granpa said back before his time “kinfolks” meant any folks that you understood and had an understanding with, so it meant “loved folks.” But people got selfish, and brought it down to mean just blood relatives; but that actually it was never meant to mean that.
So call me the lucky one, because I’ve had kin and kin. My sisters know me, maybe better than anybody. And they can make me laugh like no one else (except maybe a sister or two who aren’t blood kin, but darn near close). They—to use a word that’s nearly been ruined by cereal advertisements—fortify me. And I am blue to see them go, so very far, back to Kansas.
Which leads me to other words. These of a poem by Linda Gregg called “At Home” (published by Greywolf Press).
Far is where I am near.
Far is where I live.
My house is in the far.
The night is still.
A dog barks from a farm.
A tiny dog not far below.
The bark is soft and small.
A lamp keeps the stars away.
If I go out there they are.
And from Jonah, as we were driving off from the airport, having left Beth at the gate:
I’m about to make sad.”
(Our best cheese)