Thursday, October 31, 2019

Miss Birdie and the Hereafter

Well, that’s the last of 'em—I’ve left my little bits of cake and had a word with each of the Quiet Ones. Let’s us set down over on this cement bench – ain’t it nice? Bernice’s boy put it there back on Decoration Day for us old folks to rest our bones.. We can have us a little cake too.

Story? Oh, honey, I reckon I’ve told you most all the stories they is about these folks here. Like as not, we’ll have to wait for the next burying – long as it ain’t me.

No, I’m funning you. I feel right peart for as many years as I’m carrying. But my mind’s been running that way – thinking about that dark feller don’t no one outsmart in the end.

Hit was them Witness people set me going, coming to my door with their little newspapers and such and asking me had I thought about the Hereafter.

What is it you’re here after? I wondered to myself, but I didn’t say it out loud and I let them come in and talk at me for quite a spell.

Now I’m of two minds about those Witness folks. By what they believe, they’re doing a fine thing, giving up their time to try and save folks from going to hell. But they’s an ornery part of me thinks they ain’t got no business bothering folks like they do. When Luther was alive and they come to the door with their little newspapers, he’d tell them he couldn’t read – which weren’t a bit of it true; that man taught me to read. And he read his Bible every day.

No, I didn’t never go to school . . . my mama was . . . well,  she weren't like other folk. . . it ain’t a time I care to remember. But it’s kindly all tied up with how those folks got me to thinking about the Hereafter.

Mostly I don’t worry about it none. But sometimes when I wake afore sunup, laying there in the dark, I think about some solemn things. Sometimes I name over in my mind all the folks I’ve knowed who’ve gone on to- well, to wherever it is we go. That’s a bad thing about getting up to my age–you got more friends below ground than above.

 And then I wonder to myself just how much longer I got to watch the seasons turn, to feel my heart lift at the sight of yellow bells in the spring, to taste the ripe maters and blackberries in the summer, to see the colors lighting up the hills come fall—look at that sourwood, jest a-blazing over yon—and to listen to the hush of a gentle snowfall, like me and Luther listened when we was first wed. I ain’t tired of none of that yet.

Get you some more of that cake. Do you smell the wood smoke in the air? Ain’t that a good smell? Friendly-like, speaking of home. . .

Naw, I ain’t what you would say worried about the Hereafter. I’d like it fine to be with Luther and Cletus and my angel children. But the more I study on it, the more I wonder about things. . .

Now you may not know it but, though I go to church of a Sunday, it’s mostly for the company. I have got to where when the preacher starts hollering about all those sinners who are going to the Bad Place to burn forever, why I just can’t make that square with my notion of a god who loves his children. But if that’s the way of it, why I don’t want nothing to do with that god.

I say this to you for I know you’ll not repeat it. The preacher would call it blaspheming and it would trouble Dor’thy, was she to hear me talking so. And it may be that I say these things because . . . well . . . because there was things I done when I was a girl . . . things I ain’t proud of . . .

Oh, I have asked forgiveness and said sorry for these things . . .and I have been punished too… I reckon that losing all them babies, and then Luther and then Cletus. . .being left to live out a long life alone…well, if that ain’t punishment. . .

The old woman fell silent, gazing across the graveyard into the dark creeping over the woods at its edge. A single tear glistened on her wrinkled cheek and she angrily wiped it away.

Ay law, how I do go on. I expect it’s along of this day—this one day when our world is so close to that other one, when the Quiet Ones ain’t so quiet but chatter in my ears till I have to think of the Hereafter whether I want to or not.

I thank you for listening, honey. And  I thank you for not asking questions but setting with me as the dark draws in.

Now give me your arm. We best get on down to your car. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Considering the Singular "They"

Sometimes it's hard to be someone who learned all their grammar in the 1950's. My initial reaction to use of they for a gender fluid person was that of an English teacher from the last century: “They can’t do that!”

But the more I read and the more I considered the very real case of those born somewhere in the middle of the spectrum that is gender, the more I began to accept this jarring usage, albeit while gritting my teeth a bit.

Recently, in editing one of the submissions for my class, I ran into a paragraph where a tarot reader is explaining the card for The Mage and says of the figure on the card ‘They’re pointing up with one hand…” As I was prepared to correct that they, I noticed that the writer had described the mage as androgynous. Aha! I pulled back my electronic red pencil, feeling inordinately proud of myself for having made this shift.

I refuse to be like the folks who still cling to the two spaces after a period or never split an infinitive despite the change in most modern style books. As long as I’m being paid for editing, I owe it to the writers to stay up to date and aware of current usage.

But I have found myself wishing there were a gender neutral pronoun so that they would continue to be plural forever.

Then I realized–we’ve been using they to refer to a single person for years--in cases where the gender is unknown. As in:
 Someone left a note on my car
Who was it?
They didn’t sign it

Or look back at that first sentence. 'Someone who learned all their grammar..."

 I'm that someone and I know my gender, yet I didn't write her.