At some point around the fall of 1953, two families occupied the same space on a street in the town of Kershaw. The young men and women had been close friends for years. Beach trips, dinners, and card games were shared both before and after the two weddings. Then came the daughters, and the two sets of friends who did not think of themselves as relatives, or of relevancies in the way families usually do, became closer and closer. It is with certainty that changes finagle their way into such close liaisons. Just one minor workplace promotion, just one change in a dynamic, just one shift of thought from this person to the next and the human equation gets muddied.
In all of the eddies that form between people, we are rarely aware of that close and certain past which lies just beyond the knowledge of us when all is young and fresh and trajectories sight the horizon. But two ghosts were in that room that night in late Autumn. One of these ghosts knew the vagaries; he knew the boundaries, for he had crossed them first, not with reckless abandon but after many footsteps home to inform his best friend’s young and pregnant wife that her husband was dead. Killed in a battle. Yes, he could confirm it. He was there when his friend had been hit, and vouchsafed his cold body on the field. These are the manners in which we employ ourselves towards our fates. At first, it’s just a small omission. Later, it is rarely mentioned. Finally, it falls into the abyss of unknowing, and we all look to our current loves, our friends, our places, our stations in life.
We rarely emerge from this maelstrom of relationships understanding the intricacies of our passages. The two ghosts, probably present throughout their grandchildren’s and great-great-grandchildrens card nights, probably dipped spirit-world snuff with glee as they watched the hands played. Diamonds and hearts, spades and clubs, all known well to Jim, less to Nettie, at least by the time she had aged into respectability and had forgotten the way of cards, and dancing, for dancing leads to things we know not of. They watch those living creatures’ smiling and laughing in this room. The two little girls interest them most. The genes are traveling in close approximation they notice. It makes for sly conversation between the ghosts, as he explains just how delicate these intricacies really are to his fellow deceased, his granddaughter, who had wished to marry her first cousin so many years ago. Her living wishes were thwarted by elders; the judgment of the living onto her unborn daughter.
They whisper to each other in the effervescence, still gazing upon their progeny, so aglow with Life’s subtle essence. “If only we could make them understand.” They glance at each other quickly with eyes which have long forgotten the feeling of warm tears on their own cheeks, afraid to miss a moment of the happiness is this little home on the mill hill. She asks her elder ghost, “What are we so afraid? Aren’t we beyond fear by now?” Her grandfather smiles, eyes fixed on the six souls before them.
For the two couples and their daughters oblivious to their wiser guests in the room, it wasn’t long before the beach trips could no longer occur, for the couples were farther apart in both thoughts and geography. Movements caressed the highways as they felt their way forward into their own lives. The girls grew into not knowing the other well. The years colluded with memory to abrade away particulars. In time, both families became happy. Both were fulfilled.
On an Autumn night, in 1953 six souls played at knowing each other’s spirits, joys, and similarities. Similarities which only were known by the two ghosts in that little house, freshly painted for the newlyweds before they took possession from her mother, whose own mother had lived within the same walls, granddaughter to the elder ghost, conversant perhaps that evening as she was, after all, his close kin. Ghosts do not leave fingerprints. They do not smear wet paint. The conversations halted in places as realizations sneaked into the little rooms.
In time, the two newlywed women from that autumnal night so long receded into their four-pronged pasts, who had each survived their similarly handsome pair of husbands’ deaths, came to revel in words again in ways which in 1953 would have frightened or intrigued them both. They filled in the gaps by something called email. They both found joys again in each other. In the quiescence of things familial never known to them in their twenties they found their future shared, much as the once and future king had illustrated by his nascent rise to wisdom, and then his removal from the living world into that of mists over the waters. Here was a place amid his childhood he had never known. Theirs’ was such a friendship, a sibilance of being of each other, on summer lawns shared so long ago.
“When Amelia and I talk, it’s like no time has passed.”
To Willis L. Ogburn, Jr, and Doris Jean Adams Ogburn, who told the stories of their families to me throughout my life.