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Friday, July 2, 2010

Now there's a "Handsome Fella": Codes and Family Again

You know, after writing that last post, it's funny where I start thinking about code switching and my grandmother's codes for different kinds of masculinity-- and where those codes resurface.   I recently got back from Montana where I was helping to move my grandfather from his three bedroom  house to a retirement apartment complex in his hometown.  It's been a solid week of stress and tongue-biting as we have packed, re-packed, coddled him, begged him, and even browbeat him into doing everything he has to do for his own good, like leaving the house unlocked when the real-estate agent comes to show the house, or not swindling a relative in a car deal.  But, he's finally moved in, thank goodness-- the stress is over, and I'm happy to escape back to Wyoming for a few days before going back to Appalachia.

So, one thing we needed to do was to find and pack up all the family heirlooms and memorabilia before the estate planner came to sell the rest.  As my mother, aunt and I were digging down in the closet in the basement to get everything ready for a garage sale, we came across a box of old pictures.  Most of them were pictures from the Judith Basin of extended family now long since forgotten.  My mother and aunt looked through the pictures one at a time and tried to place faces.  "This is Mom's aunt's family, isn't it?"  Mom would ask.  "She looks like one of Edith's kids, doesn't she?"

Most were stiff, formal pictures of farmer's families and children taken in Harlowtown at the portrait studio in the next county over.  I have one of some unidentified second or third cousin from the twenties who is a dead ringer for my four year-old niece. 

One of the things we came across was this early photograph of my grandfather in his enlisted uniform, shortly before going off to the Pacific theater in World War II.   My mother laughed out loud as she pulled it from the box, and she and my aunt spent a lot of time reminiscing over it.  As they chatted about when it must have been taken and whether or not their grandmother was still alive at that point, I looked into those cold, blue eyes and face devoid of all kindness, and I felt a little queasy.  He might not swing a fist like he once did, but those eyes still burn with a cold heat that sears like frostbite.   And in every photograph I've ever seen of him as an adult, he never once genuinely smiles. 

Mom handed the picture over to me so I could have a closer look.  "Your Grandpa certainly was a handsome fella in his day, wasn't he?"  She asked.

"A real looker,"  My aunt agreed.  A handsome fella.  I suppressed a shudder at the coincidence of their words, and what those words actually meant to me.

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