She just came to mind, tripping through the years that lay between now and the time we buried her so long ago.
Hers was a humble life spent in a mountain house that leaned, literally, toward ramshackle, with a tin roof that was sturdy but rusting. In their earlier years together, it had been simpler but they had tacked on a bathroom, putting outhouse days behind them, and the modest kitchen was on the front of the house framed by a porch that was welcoming yet heaving with the exhaustion of its years.
At the kitchen table covered by an oil cloth, there was always food. A cake or pie set, waiting for drop-by company, and on Sundays the table was laden with a bounty of food, fresh in the summer from the backyard garden. Fifteen or 20 people would drift in and out of her kitchen on Sundays. The ones who arrived early would dip up a plate of hot food. Those who straggled in later would take the cloth off the food, still arrayed on the handmade table, and help themselves. The food set on that table from the time she cooked until she had put on her nightgown, ran a brush through her hair and shuffled into the kitchen to put it up.
Pauline was Daddy’s cousin. Double first cousins, a term that Tink had never heard until he moved to the South.
“Double first cousins? What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s when brothers marry sisters,” I replied.
His eyes widened to express incredulity. “Honestly? People really do that?”
I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Not THAT way. It’s when a set of brothers marry a set of sisters. Their children are first cousins on both sides, so they’re double first cousins.”
This isn’t strange to me because I knew of a lot of double first cousins growing up. With the exception of one, J.C. Cannon, Daddy’s favorite cousins were double.
Practically every Saturday, when Daddy went to the farm to check on his cows, he stopped by to have coffee with Pauline. Her granddaughter, Lynn, was my closest cousin and we grew up as pals, spending many weekends together. Today, Lynn and her husband always have a seat at our Thanksgiving gathering.
The other day, Lynn sent me a photo of Pauline standing in front of that old farmhouse where she and Joe raised seven handsome children who all went on to make really good of their lives. Sometimes, we run into her son, Ed, at the Soda Fountain and he always moves me to tears for he is the spitting image and size of Daddy and he talks just like him. One beauty of double cousins is that it really preserves the gene pool.
“Now, that Ralph,” Ed will say to Tink, “was a really good ‘un. No finer man ever lived, that’s for sure.”
It’s at that point that I always grab a napkin and start dabbing my eyes. It’s like hearing Daddy’s voice talk about himself.
I guess it was the photo that allowed Pauline to pop into mind just now. I can hear the husk of her tobacco-coated voice, the deep laugh that arose from her plumpish belly and the light that always danced from her pale eyes even when money was scarce and bills were due. That was often.
Pauline had strong Scotch-Irish looks, a coloring that has dissipated somewhat since sets of brothers stopped marrying sets of sisters. Red hair, blue eyes, a fair complexion covered with freckles on her face, arms and legs. Except for the eyes, I favor her quite a bit. What started all of this was that I glanced down at my freckled-covered hands and realized that they are identical to sweet Pauline’s.
I like that the bloodline was strong enough that a bit of Pauline lives on in me.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter. Her column publishes Tuesdays.