Sunday, March 09, 2008

Deus memor meus avus

ATTENTION:

THIS IS A WORK OF FICTION. I AM NOT THE NARRATOR. WHILE THE NAMES MIGHT BELONG TO MY RELATIVES, THIS STORY IS A CREATION OF MY MIND, AND NOT HOW THINGS ACTUALLY WENT DOWN.
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“Forgotten”
By Vollick Meiele


I believe in God. Yeah, the Biblical God, though I must say I prefer His New Testament incarnation to His Old Testament grumpiness. Maybe sheathing Himself in the flesh made Him realize just how hard it is to be human. Of course, that line of thinking is problematic because it might mean that God wasn’t omniscient, or that He could risk, or even learn things. Anyway, it’s germane to what I want to tell you, so here goes: I think God forgot about my grandfather.

Let that sink in for a second. I really think God forgot about my grandfather. Now, you might ask, if I believe in the Biblical God, with his lists of omnis—presence, potence, cience, how can I even consider that God forgot about grandpa....well, I can’t really just say it in a few words...it needs some explaining.

My grandpa was born on September 28, 1912 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. To rob a line from H.I. McDonnough, my great-grandmother’s womb was a lush and fertile field whereupon my great-grandfather’s seed all-too-frequently found ample purchase. In spite of his otherwise feeble body, his virility enabled him to sire a slew of sons with my great-grandmother—sons (7) that he could not maintain physically or emotionally after she died giving birth to yet another son, less than a year after my grandfather’s birth. So, John Agleston Buckner (1870-1928), did what any ailing widower did in that day and age, he put all of his sons that couldn’t work in the poor house...in this case, the Baptist Children’s Home in Weaverville, North Carolina.

I think it was sometime around this time, say late 1913, that God forgot about my grandpa; I can’t be sure exactly when it was, but that’s my best guess.

In the orphanage, my grandpa still had family with him—all of his brothers were there: John, Henry, Claude, and I can’t remember the rest...their names are unimportant to my readers, because God did not forget about them; they are all dead. When he turned sixteen in 1928, my great-grandfather came and got him out of the orphanage (no one ever adopted him), and they had a two hour conversation; John Agleston Buckner never visited his children in the home. In spite of his ailments, he did marry his dead wife’s sister (from photographs I’ve seen, she was so dog-ugly that it’s no wonder all she could get was an invalid for a lover) because he knocked her up out-of-wedlock, though I guess he was still too ill to get his boys out of the poor house (please note the bitterness of my tone). Evidently, Mother Nature compensated my great-grandfather for his weak body by giving him some of the most agile ovum-seeking sperm in the history of Western North Carolina. That very same night he came home from the poor house, when their two hour chat was over, my great-grandfather went to bed and promptly died of an aneurysm in his sleep. My grandpa only ever spoke to his biological father once, for two hours. He never knew his mother. Even though his step-mother was also his aunt, she would not let him live with her. Not wanting to return to the orphanage, he went to live with his aged grandfather. About two months later, 2nd Lieutenant Nineveh Taylor Buckner (1840-1928), 25th North Carolina Regiment, Infantry, CSA, died of a heart attack. Raymond’s elderly step-grandmother had only a widow’s Civil War pension to live off, so he decided to leave.

So, he left the only world he had ever known, the hills of Western North Carolina, hitchhiking all the way across the country to Monterrey Bay, California. Upon arrival, he lied about his age to an army recruiter, and enlisted in the regular Army in September of 1929, a couple of weeks before the Black Friday stock market crash. He fought his way across Asia in the Philippines, China, and Burma. In spite of having served, in combat, under arms, during the duration of World War Two (he was in China when Japan attacked us), he was never wounded. He never had a scratch, in fact, you can’t find a scar on his body--save one. In 1952, while stationed in Germany, with my grandmother holding my mom and worrying about whether he was going to be sent to fight in Korea, the blood flow to grandpa’s heart was occluded and he suffered his first myocardial infarction. While this saved him from the horrors of Korea, it did consign an old soldier to the horrors of motorpool maintenance in Fort McPherson, Georgia. When he had another heart attack in 1954, the Army told Master Sgt. Raymond V. Buckner, USA-retired, that his services were no longer needed. Suddenly without a job, with a family to feed, and aged 42, he enrolled in a course to become a medical technician. He found employment with the Department of Agriculture, and spent the next 20 years criss-crossing the Southeastern United States taking soil samples from farms and telling people what kinds of fertilizer to apply to get better crop yields from their fields, slowed only by his third attack in 1967. In 1974, at age 62, a year after my birth, my grandfather retired from his government job and gained employment as the parking lot security guard at the Hadley’s department store in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. He worked at this sinecure until 1981, when at age 69, he finally retired, drawing the maximum Social Security amount one can earn, along with a full military pension, and a twenty year federal government pension.

As his body aged and his health declined, it appeared to anyone who saw him that most men of his size, brawn, and stature do not live long lives—especially not men whose chests had exploded in searing pain three times before. When the Saudi irhabists crashed their planes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the veteran in my grandfather became enraged. He had fought an enemy once before who had attacked his country, and he had defeated them with his own sweat and tears, notice I didn't say blood. As he sat stewing that night, watching the news, his old ticker decided to breathe fire into his chest yet again, fulminating into an agony that few men survive once, let alone four times. It should come as no surprise to you, my readers, that his fifth, and most recent heart attack barely caused him any turmoil when it tried to rip him from this world in early February 2003, near the second anniversary of his wife’s death.

So, to say the same thing over again, at some point in his toddler years, God forgot about little Raymond Vines Buckner. Now, before you accuse me of blasphemy, let me state how exactly God did His forgetting. If God is truly omni-potent, then He has, conceivably, the power to do whatever He wishes, inside of the laws of Physics, and the laws that He set down when He created the world. So, I think God chose to forget about my grandpa. God saw that little Vines was getting a raw deal, and chose to grant him the gift of long life by forgetting about him. By all rights, my grandfather should be dead and buried. Five heart attacks, diabetes (after age 90), vascular disease, dropsy, repeated thrombosis, a botched circumcision (his only scar) at 85, and any other number of afflictions that Mother Nature and Father Time could throw at my grandfather have all been thwarted by the simple act that God willfully and purposefully chose to forget about him. Where other men should have and would have died, the act of God leaving off thinking of my grandfather, has allowed him to remain, to persist in this world far longer than anyone else would have. The Angel of Death hasn't been sent by God to reclaim Raymond, because he doesn't appear in the Book of Life.

He now lives in an assisted living facility near my mom’s house. He sits at a table for four people for every meal. The other three people are always the same ones—they have to have assigned seats because of all the dietary restrictions the elderly have (individually)—and in his six years living there, sitting at his table is akin to a death sentence. Scores of people have dined with him and died. I used to joke that even the staff wouldn’t dare sit down to a meal with him out of mortal fear. Now, I don’t joke, because no one will sit with him. Even though the geriatric myths can’t take much root because of the constant deaths of those who know the stories, the newcomers hear the staff’s whispers. They don’t want to sit next to the man that God forgot. The mortal don’t like the immortal—no one likes to be reminded of the temporality of their own existence, that all glory is fleeting, that the world, and Raymond will go on without them.

And yet, I think now this gift of temporary immortality has morphed from a wondrous condition to a clear burden. I no longer see the light of life in my grandfather’s eyes; I can’t actually see his eyes anymore because his back is so crooked that he can’t raise his head up from the cane crook position it now rests in. I see a very very old man who wants God to remember him, to hear his prayers, to allow him to pass into the next life and be reunited with the mother that he never knew, and with the wife that he loved dearly in spite of her onerous personality and poison tongue.

The dream of immortality has no appeal to me, at least not in the flesh, because I’ve seen its consequence acted out over the body of my grandfather, and I do not like the result. Immortality is a burden, a boring odious burden. God, if You haven’t chosen to forget about me too, please hear my prayer and remember my grandfather. He loves You so much.

Post Script, March 7, 2008: It would appear that my assumption was wrong. Thomas Aquinas theorized that God has all moments past, present, and future as simultaneous to Him. Ergo, God didn't forget about my grandfather, rather, he granted him the gift of living as long as he wished. This morning, in an act of unmatched charity, my mother had the courage to look her father in the face and tell him, "Daddy, it's okay. You don't have to stay here anymore. I'll be alright." He told her understood and then, of his own volition, he went to sleep, never to awaken. Raymond's will be done.

2 comments:

Paul Dunn said...

Mac,

Sorry to hear about your grandfather. That was a very nice short story you wrote in his honor. I didn't know the man that well, but it was cool visiting him and your grandmother in Asheville so many years ago. I'm sure your mother is upset, but she is probably also at peace now too.

chattypatra said...

Me hubiese gustado conocerlo y sentarme a la mesa con él.

Yo estoy convencida de que la única razón por la que mi padre no se ha muerto todavía es que no quiere dejarme sola. Claro está, si le preguntaras a él, te diría que una de sus hermanas vivió hasta cumplir 103 años y él quiere empatar el "record". Eso, y que 'LA NEGRA PRIETA'(la muerte) se olvidó de él, pero que cualquier día viene por ahí a buscarlo. Debo confesar que en esto soy egoísta y - como no quiero vivir sin él - me alegro de que Dios lo olvidara. ;)