This past year I asked my mother & my father each about you. Both, in
the end, told me I should ask the other, who was sure to know more. &
so you are a mystery.
I discovered that you immigrated from somewhere in the middle of
America during some great difficulty, either the dust bowl or the
depression, to El Monte, California, & that nobody really knew how old
you were when my family met you. But by then you were pretty grey.
Pretty. & grey.
You had two children, both undiagnosed with conditions I now think
probably Downs. & you had had these children & raised them on your
own, working too many jobs & hours to count. & your children were left
at home alone & you didn’t really know how they survived, except that
you worked enough to feed them. & they must have been in their 50’s by
the time I met them & they still lived with you & you still took care
of them & they were so happy & I remember the German shepherd, Pepper,
the children were always calling out to Pepper to come & be with them
under the black Tartarian cherry tree on that patch of overgrown earth
where they liked to sit while you tended the garden.
By that time you were raising rabbits for scientific study. Once, you
took me back into the enclosure of wood & wire cages & opened one &
took the doe out one-handed & set her on the ground & reached in again
more delicately & pulled out a hairless pink infant bunny & put him in
my palm & told me to be very careful. I must have been three years
old. I stared at the creature for as long as I can remember.
“This is new life,” you said, “it’s what we all look like at some point.”
& we went inside & you made a meal of black eyed peas & meat from
forever in a freezer. & you greased the pans with the butter that
clings to the paper that they wrap the butter in & you wasted nothing,
ever. I’m told you had preserved food that nobody could say how long
you’d had it. & you had your hands in the land. & you loved the
children. Me & my sister. Pepper. & your kids. & the earth. & the
vegetables in the earth.
I think about you all the time.