A love story.I had been on a quest to try to resolve some really old issues with my father. He had died of alcoholism when I was nine years old and I had never come to grips with the resulting childhood scars that came from growing up a fatherless child. There was also a sense of shame around his memory since he had left the family pretty much destitute. My mother did not speak poorly of him she just did not speak of him at all so I never really had any information on this man who sired me. Only that he had died a shameful death and left us to fend for ourselves.
Some years ago I decided to visit his grave. I thought that maybe there maybe I could finally put him to rest in my mind and move on. I had not been there in 25 years so I had to stop by the cemetery office to get directions. So with map in hand and, plot number on a slip of paper, and a prayer in my heart for some closure I walked out to the green grassy field. Without to much trouble I found the headstone with the words "Clarence Cecil James " dates of existence and the word "Daddy" carved in the stone. I thought what an irony, for of all the things my father may or may not have been, Daddy was not a very good description. I stood waiting for some epiphany and drew only silence except for the occasional chirping bird and the highway sounds off in the distance.
It was then that I noticed that the plot next to my father was vacant. Odd, since this was an old section of the cemetery and there were few empty spaces. My mother had died some years ago and we had buried here in our home town, miles from where I stood. In a moment of panic I wondered had we buried Mom in the wrong spot. Was there some plan, that we did not know of, for her to be interned here. I went back to the office and inquired as to the ownership of that plot. The clerk dug out a dusty book, thumbed through the pages and wrote down the name of the owner and the date of purchase. Addie James, March 4 1954. The date was close to the date of my fathers death and the last name was the same as mine however, I had no idea who Addie James was and the date and name similarity were too close to let it go.
I immediately drove to the home of my uncle Ward James, the only surviving relative I had on the James side of the family that might be able to help me solve the mystery. It was there I learned of Addie James or Ted as she was affectionately known. She was the first wife of my Uncle Ward and they had divorced long before I was born. She had know my father since childhood, but no explanation as to why she was scheduled to be buried next to my father. I found out that my Uncle had stayed in some contact with Ted and she knew of me and always had asked about me. She lived just a few miles away so with address in hand I continued to try to solve the unfolding story.
I called first and was told how wonderful it would be if I came by for a visit. Thirty minutes later, and with great anticipation, I knocked on her apartment door. The door opened and it was then I first met Aunt Ted. Not more than 5’ 2" and pretty trim for a woman in her early 80’s. She invited me in and after the usual niceties I had to ask the obvious question. Why had you bought the plot next to my Father. It was from that moment that the healing process began and I learned about the roots of my and my fathers life that I had never know. She told me how she and all the James brothers had grown up in the same small town in Oklahoma before and during the great depression. She brought out tons of pictures of my Dad, his brothers and sister, when they were just kids struggling to have fun in the harsh environment of depression Oklahoma. Pictures of kids standing in front of a circus tent being used as a school because the town was to poor to replace the burned down school. High School football pictures and stories of a kind and loyal young man who stayed in Oklahoma to care for a blind mother when the rest of the brothers had fled to California to find work. We talked for hours and the enigma that was my father began to unfold. And as the afternoon wore I began to love this wonderful old woman who looked you in the eye when she talked and even when she spoke with some anger in her voice, she never spoke with bitterness or spite. She told me that even in the final days of his alcoholism, my Father always told her how proud he was of his son and how he wished he could spend more time with me (Mom and he had separated when I was seven and there were only occasional visits) . She told of the time he was showing off a new comb. Seems he had gotten it as a present from his son, me. Then after 35years I remembered that time. We had had a visit together. He was living in a flea bag hotel and we spent the day just browsing downtown. He bought me a small toy helicopter at the toy section of the drug store. For some reason I thought I should give him a present back. So, I gave him my comb. Ted went on to say that in his final days she took care of him. She did it because that’s what friends do. And, when he died she still had some of his things at her house including that comb. She said no one knew, but she visited the funeral parlor alone before he was buried and slipped that comb into his pocket.
By now I was choking back the tears. My father, the stranger who had abandoned me so many years ago, the man I never knew had become a person just like anyone else. A man with all the complexities of any of us. Good, bad, loved, lonely, all of the things I had never known till then. He was just a sad drunk who never found sobriety. But still, why did Ted buy the plot next to my father. She said that in his final days he had told her that he did not want to be buried. He did not want to be stuck in the cold ground alone. He had spent enough time cold and alone . He wanted to be cremated. Ted was not able to convince the family not to bury my father so she bought the plot next to him so he would not have to be alone for eternity.
Ted and I became friends in the ensuing years and I have visited her as often as I could. I am always refreshed by her energy and good spirit. Up until a few years ago, while in her 80’s, she would drive to L.A., some 90 miles, once or twice a month to help out at a downtown shelter for street winos. She felt is was something she just needed to do. She always has stories of the times in Oklahoma with my Dad and family and has shared a lot of my family genealogy with me that I never knew. Though we are not blood, I believe she is the best Aunt I could ever have had.
A few years ago and after much healing and forgiveness for my father, Ted wrote and asked if I would consider taking the plot next to my father. She had decided to make other arrangement but did not want to abandon her commitment to my father. After much thought, I wrote back and accepted her offer. I felt that though we never were able to be together in life, perhaps we could in eternity. And, since I am a recovering alcoholic, perhaps I could share what I have found with my Dad.
Addie (Ted ) James died January 23, 2003. One thing I know to be true is that by her living, the world is a little better place and with her death, heaven is a little brighter place.
God bless you Aunt Ted,
rest in peace.
So for those of you in Blogdom who may see this I ask in memory of Aunt Ted.
Do something kind for someone, give a smile to someone who doesn’t have one, live life with out bitterness and keep her legacy alive.