Storyglossia Issue 25, December 2007.

Family History

by Ron Burch


One uncle was struck by lightning hiding under a wooden hay wagon during a mid-July storm. Another uncle tumbled off a three-story building, searching the night sky for the handle of the Big Dipper. Uncle August died spasmodically in Barnsdall Park; they opened him up and discovered a thousand bottles of liquor. My own father three years back went out with a fully loaded gun: two holes in the wall behind the couch because he missed the first time. Over a hundred years ago, a great great grandfather, Henry, died quivering in a cold, wet field, killed not by a Confederate bullet, but by the tuberculosis that wracked his lungs, slowly squeezing the air from his body. A hundred years before that an early forebear, Daniel, drunk and stumbling in the back barn, fell from a quick kick in the head by a nervous cow. A relative whose name I cannot recall died eating corn from a poisoned plate, put out to rid the full yellow field of braying crows, not sufficiently washed before mealtime. Gaunt Uncle William hung from a tree, one boot missing, for being a horse thief; we still cannot find his gravestone. Brother Joe, who was always an uncle to me, chose the needle either because he couldn't kick it or because he knew it was coming.

Charted through old family bibles, name after name of young male relatives gone out in a sensational way. Nothing quiet. Nothing in bed. Family anecdotes told during a holiday meal while the football game plays are about cousin Harold run over by a train in Boston walking to the grocery store to buy fat free milk.

I have not married. I do not have children. One Saturday in the playground, nestled comfortably in the pocket park at the end of my street, I saw a family clustered. A clean-cut guy with squared-off hair and a crisp step next to his wife with the sad eyes, their knotted hands entwined like branches that have grown within one another. Their cute four-year-old daughter in her little red coat and matching tennis shoes ran circles around the swing. I enviously watched the little girl ask her Daddy to swing her harder as he pushed her forward with two hands. I worried for her and for her parents but the little girl hung on, laughing, as her father pushed her higher and higher.

I've always cited personal differences: she was too tall, she didn't like sports, she wasn't pretty enough. Reasons to myself I've explained away. My legacy.

Copyright©2007 Ron Burch