For months, I've been thinking frequently of a particular family who lived down the country road from my home in the 1950s. David was in my class at school, and I remember that in first or second grade he had bright red chinos with a buckle in back. David was solemn and studious. I don't have many memories of his laughing. Our school was across the road from the volunteer fire company. David's father was a member, and David knew the significance of all the siren combinations. "It's a bad one," he'd say with authority, as the siren howled eight times or ten times. "That's for mutual aid." He had three sisters, one of whom was a year or two younger and whose apple cheeks and curly dark hair I remember very clearly, and another two, who were beautiful little strawberry blonds, but really too young to be on my radar. That family was part of our neighborhood . . . an old family who, like us, had owned the land for generations back . . . and summers had us trudging up the hill down the hill around the corner by the one-room schoolhouse that Dad had gone to (and was then falling down) over to their house. Red wasn't mean, but he was a real old-time Irish patriarch. He took his parenting duty seriously. I remember his backhanding David's head if he perceived any hint of disrespect coming from that quarter. He didn't do it very often, but the thought of anybody's father whacking him a glancing (but still, pretty solid) blow on the back of the head shocked me, so the memory stuck. Sometimes, all of us kids would go over to Red's parents' old farm where he still kept cows. The old farmhouse stood in the pasture, windows gone, porch floorboards askew. "You kids stay out of there!" Red would call, and if we'd been having any thought of going inside the spooky old house, we immediately dismissed them.
Moira was the mother of the family, at once serious and cheerful. She had long dark hair that she twisted up behind her head, and ruddy cheeks and, like me, a space between her upper front teeth. I hated my space, but on her it looked good. I remember her always at the kitchen table mending things or at the kitchen sink, beginning to get supper ready. We called her Maura for a long time until one day she said, in her quiet voice, "My name is really Moira. It's an Irish name." I was fascinated. It was as if she had become a different person, exotic. I remember that she spoke to me as if I were a person and not a little kid. I remember her telling me about when she'd been baptized in the old-fashioned full-immersion style . . . and how she'd known it was coming but how surprised she'd been all the same.
One day, the September after Dad died, I got home from school and was dismayed when, a short time later, Red's truck drove in the driveway. Mom was working and at ten I had already formed the habits of solitude and of hiding like a rabbit. Red went to the barn to do something and the dark-haired daughter hollered my name over and over and over again as loud as she could to make me come out and play with her. I hid in my bedroom and finally heard Red say, "If she doesn't want to come out, she doesn't want to come out. Leave her alone."
I was so envious that she still had her father.
We moved away a year later and I've never seen any of them again these fifty years.
So that's all, I guess.
I've been thinking of them, and thinking of them, and today I read that Moira died two days ago.
It's funny how the cosmos makes connections across so much space and so much time.
Elder Orphans' Documents
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