If my Daddy had lived until January 12 of this year, he would be 105 years old. But he died 54 years ago, when my brothers and I were just kids. His brothers are all dead now, too, and so is their one sister, Iris. I never knew Iris well, but I always thought her name was one of the prettiest I’d ever heard. She was born in a time when flower names were in vogue: Iris, Rose, Daisy. The Jones bunch lived in the country in a shotgun house between Jay, Florida and Brewton, Alabama.
My memories of that house and the old folks there, my grandparents, Marvin and Hattie, are thin as the curl of light wood smoke that greeted us on our family’s annual winter pilgrimage from Miami, but just as pungent. Their rooms smelled like wood, damp flannel, kerosene and old people.
It was an after supper porch-sitting generation, where people talked to one another. Imagine that. Men brought out pocket knives and whittled. Women rocked babies and mended clothes. There was soft laughter and a lot of sighing.
And when dark fell and the great existential questions of life were raised, no one had a gadget or a gizmo to divert to for canned answers. Instead, someone, usually the eldest, was looked to for wisdom. And most often, that person would gaze at some far point in the darkness way beyond the porch and say, once all ears were focused and listening, “I don’t know for sure. I’ll study on it.”