Friday, November 12, 2004

How to Prune a Family Tree (Part 3 of 3)


HE THOUGHT HE’D NEVER REACH the house in Redwine, Georgia. After two interstates, a state highway, some paved streets, and a dirt road, he finally pulled up to the “white shotgun house with the pine tree in the yard, which you’ll know it when you see it coz it was struck by lightning so it leans. Plus it ain’t got no bark.”

But even before he saw the pine tree, Leon knew the house because it was a parking lot of thirty or forty cars - Cadillacs and Cutlasses; Thunderbirds and Trans Ams - mostly old, but all waxed and immaculate.

As he put his car in Park, Leon saw a curtain move in the front window. It appeared to be a stout White man in a dark suit. When the man caught Leon’s eye, he pushed the curtain back.

My God, Leon thought to himself, feeling suddenly underdressed, All these cars? Suits? Did Tammy die last night? Is this her… wake?

He climbed the front steps. It sounded eerily quiet inside. His stomach was a pit of guilt as he rapped on the tattered screen door.

“Come in,” a voice said, perhaps a little too quickly.

Leon opened the door and stepped inside. There was a roomful of White men and women - not all in black dresses and suits - but in polka dots, plaids, and more floral prints. Some badly bleached blonde, but mostly that unforgettable red shade of hair, much like his own.

Suddenly he began feeling hot. Perhaps it was from all the plastic slip covers on the furniture. Or perhaps?

Before he could knew what hit him, Leon was tackled from behind by two shanks of ham, which were trying to pass themselves off as arms.

“Surprise!” she yelled.

Leon spun around. No broken hip, not even a crutch, just a few bruises - it was Tammy.

“Surprise!” she yelled again, blowing a kazoo, leading the entire room of fifty or so men, women, and children as they converged to embrace him.

“What are you doing?” Leon screamed, struggling to free himself from her, from them. But it was no use. They were all around him. It was something akin to love, and Leon couldn’t stop them.

“Listen here, y’all this here’s my son. He’s a actor! He was actin downtown. He was in the newspaper. He‘s gonna be the next Denzel Washington!”

Leon hated Denzel Washington.

“Ooh, can I get your autograph?” asked a little red-headed boy, who was probably his cousin.
“Can I, can I please?”

Tammy was still holding him, holding this stolen memory, but she could not hold back nearly thirty years of tears. Grinning so hard her cheeks might break, she hugged him like a tree. She refused to let go.

“Why won‘t you leave me alone!” he screamed, “You’re ruining my life! You tricked me…. You said that you were dying!“

“But I am,” Tammy said, turning Leon around to see her own reflection in her son’s smoky eyes, as if from a dream, “one day…. at a time!”

It was the most beautiful thing she ever saw.

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