Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Ghostly Family Tree

My octogenarian parents no longer drive themselves around much anymore. So, on the weekends we kids try to plan things for them to do. Last night I called my Mom to invite her and Dad over to the house today for an Irish lunch of Soda Bread and Potato Soup. I added that it would give them a chance to see Kaitlin before she heads back to school, and I even offered to come pick them up. No sale. They had plans. Something about a visit from Bobby and Bill, Aunt Pinky's two surviving sons coming over to catch up. Not to be denied, I inquired as to what their plans might be for lunch after church on Sunday. Wouldn't it be nice to go out to O'Charleys with them and Kaitlin? I offered to pick them up and take them back home afterwards. Too late. Apparently, an earlier invitation from Dad's two sisters had been too good to pass up. They would be dining at Debbie's with Emma and Nancy. So much for their empty social calender.


My mother was disappointed that I had no earthly idea who "Bobby and Billy" were. Evidently, both men live here in Richmond and are actively involved in performing music in nursing homes. They called out of the blue the other day and sat a date with Mom and Dad to catch up. "Don't you remember them Douglas?" Mom pleaded."They were your Aunt Pinky's two sons." Ok, first of all, Aunt Pinky was not MY aunt. She was my Grandfather's sister, making her Mom's aunt. The last time I laid eyes on her was probably some time in the late sixties. However, I do remember her. Who could forget Pinky, her of the hot, florid face, wreaking of moth balls, and constantly pinching my cheeks with those white-gloved hands? She was a Dixon, one of many colorful members of that loud and dramatic clan.


I could regale you for hours with the fables of  Dixon family history. First of all, there were the marvelous names, from Aunt Pinky, and Aunt Rosalee to Bubby, Bootsie, Admire and Montague. With names like these, drama was sure to follow. Montague's story was the stuff of legend. He was a lawyer who practised in Charlottesville during the week and returned to his farm in Buckingham on the weekend. Montague had a soft spot for the downtrodden and was always hiring the saddest of his clients to work for him on his farm, until one of them shot him in cold blood upon his return one dark and stormy night. Although his loss caused quite a stir, his contribution to Dixon family lore did not end with his untimely death for it was the ghost of Montague who appeared at my Grandmothers bedside on June 6, 1944 to reassure her that her two sons, Harry and John, both involved in the fighting that day, were in fact alive and well. But this appearance wasn't the first, last, or even most bizarre ghostly tale associated with the Dixons. One day when my mother was very young, all the men in the family were away, leaving only Mom, my Grandmother and Mom's very sick brother Lloyd. As fate would have it, Lloyd passed away and Grandmother was reduced to tears on the steps of the back porch. As she held my mother tightly and let out her tears, suddenly there appeared a small white Scottish Terrier at the bottom of the steps. Then a man with a white suit and a panama boater hat appeared beside him. My mother remembers to this day the gentleness of his eyes as he asked Grandma what was wrong. He stayed and comforted her and then left right before the men returned. None of them recalled seeing any such man or dog before, and no one ever saw him again. Mom has no doubt that he was an angel sent to comfort Grandma in her hour of grief. Just another day in the rich history of the Dixons.


No wonder, I suppose, why Mom seems so put out with me when I don't remember some random distant cousin three times removed. To her, its all part of the wild story of her life. To me its just people with awesome names.