We met at the Father Turgus Asylum (home for widows and orphans of the south) on the corner of St. Claude and Pauline. She was tucked into a hat that had been fashioned as some sort of basket, probably worn by one of the Lady’s of Storyville; with only the top of her little bald head peeking out of the midnight blue velvet lining. I was buck naked, wrapped in a Star newspaper. We were both quiet as mice, awaiting our fate; stoic baby Joan of Arc’s Glynda and I.
I had a head full of black hair, an olive complexion and no visible injuries, Glynda’s umbilical site needed attention but other than that we were as right as rain, soon to be as thick as thieves; left behind on the steps of the orphanage on a humid summer night.
Ok – that isn’t true – BUT it is a story we were going to tell people that we met on our trip to New Orleans. We visited the great city on Halloween a few years ago, met a honest to God Voodoo Priestess who blessed my most recent novel in the works (true story) and we were initiated into the religion by sacrificing a small child (that’s not true) but you can’t tell the other members of my family that. They are certain that’s how it works, just ask them.
Glynda is not a fellow orphan, but my favorite favorite cousin on my mother’s side. She is the daughter of my favorite favorite aunt, Helen who bakes the best cakes and tells the best ghost stories I have ever heard. She has a ghost she’s named Oscar that lives in her little house in East Nashville. I’ve had a run in with him myself. (true story)
Helen has been my anchor many times – one Thanksgiving I hid out at her house and we ate coconut cake instead of a turkey dinner. She made me promise not to tell anyone because she knew my mother would be mad that I went to Helen’s house and not hers for the holiday. I just couldn’t deal with the family drama that year – my son was at his new wife’s house, my parents had gotten divorced, but my mother still talked about him constantly.
I didn’t want to tell anyone where I was because I didn’t want to share Helen with anyone – or her coconut cake.
Back to Glynda. When I was twelve or so, she is the person that realized I had a little bit of talent and no outlet – except for boys – and bought me my first set of paintbrushes and oil paints. I couldn’t find enough things to paint – nothing was safe, I painted EVERYTHING – even glass.
She realized I needed more things to keep me busy – to keep me out of my mama’s hair and out of trouble – so she taught me Sherinschniette (I know that sounds made up but it’s a true story – it’s the German art of paper cutting).
Then she bought me a nice pad of paper and an ink pen and showed me some pen and ink drawings. I loved it all. She was the coolest.
But life is life and shit happened. I got pregnant and married – in that order – way too young. I guess I must’ve run out of paint… Years went by like they have the horrible habit of doing and I didn’t see Glynda much.
She was busy working as a psych nurse, spending time with her grandbabies and her husband –and I was busy trying to survive a horrible marriage to an overbearing bully. My whole perception of family is so way off, but I’m trying to make it work. Trying to have a family even if it kills me.
Fast forward – my son is in college at UT Knoxville – and Glynda and I pick up where we left off. Only this time she wants us to go to a little coffee shop by her home in Lebanon and participate at Open Mic night, write some songs – learn how to play guitar (even though neither one of us can sing or play) and of course I’m all in. Thank god. Because it was there that we met up with a writers group and I started writing again. I hadn’t written since my first marriage. I’d been divorced twice since then – still looking for a family, not having any luck – and not feeling very good about myself.
Writing helped with that.
I made a bunch of new friends, started writing like crazy and had my first story – one that I had no intention on submitting anywhere – published.
Thanks to Glynda, who never once let me feel like I was a white trash teenage mother (I did have my son at fifteen and we had lived in a trailer after all) not only was I a “self taught” artist who paid for my son’s books for college by selling my wares at craft shows the entire time he was in Knoxville, while working a full time job, I was also a “published” author. Okay – I know this sounds like complete BS but it is the truth. Thanks to Glynda.
Fast forward about four years from that. I won’t go into the gory details but I had my entire life pulled right out from under me. My whole idea of family – a husband, kids, dogs a home – has been completely destroyed. Obliterated. I’m three times divorced, my only son has completely erased me from his life – I’m too old to start over. It’s bad. I’ll leave it at that.
Glynda was the only one to validate my feelings, to listen to those gory details without telling me it was all going to be okay. She talked to me about – and more importantly let me talk about – the scary things that were going on with me. She talked to me about depression – about my family’s history of depression and suicide without sugar coating the situation or trying to make me feel like it wasn’t as bad is it is. It’s bad – and it might not ever get better – but it’s not all there is.
I know that – thanks to her.
Now fast forward to the first of 2014. Glynda calls me with horrible news. She has cancer. And it’s bad – it’s really bad. But she’s Glynda – she’s family. We are family and we’ve got this. We are going to celebrate life, not dwell on death.
So… we are going to have a party soon, because – well you never know how much time you have. I might get hit by a bus tomorrow, right? She wants me to invite Lucinda Williams, Nick Cave, Jim White – you know all the cool people. We will have a blast – no one has to perform, we just want to hear their stories. Just hang out – what? It could happen – this could turn out to be true, they haven’t said no yet…
And Glynda says when she leaves – whenever that might be – she hasn’t GONE – she will be on a trip with Nick Cave to who knows where for who knows how long. Because she ain’t dying until she gets to have a fling with Nick. And if you know my cousin Glynda – well, you know that part is 100% truth.